Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TheTVObserver: Felicia Mabuza

Picture © Felicia, Inc
If you've had the pleasure of meeting Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, you will know that the lady has class and style. She is South African TV Royalty. When it came to her show, especially towards its end, most of the viewers had so much to say about the lady that it felt as if the same country she served with her brand of talk-tv was against her.

Born: Felicia Mabuza on June 3, 1950, in Sophiatown, South Africa; married Earl Suttle, 1976; children: Lindi, Zani
Education: Marquette University, BA in Journalism, 1980s, MA in Mass Communication, 1980s.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Opportunity came knocking in 1992, when the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offered Mabuza-Suttle a job to host a talk show that would engage audience participation in a manner similar to the Donahue and Oprah shows in the United States. The talk show was a new concept in South Africa, and Mabuza-Suttle's show became an overnight hit.

She worked very hard, and like with most people who are paranoid of failing miserably on television, she become too controlling. Those who’ve attended her taping will know exactly what we are talking about. Watching her tape her show was much more entertaining than her seasons towards the end when she was broadcast by etv. She perfected the art of missing her cameras so well that it quickly become her signature. Although her early days where fantastic, the show was a national success until things or episodes started to be questionable.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Moving to etv was a big mistake which possibly meant a bit more money for her but it eventually led to a much celebrated end to one of South Africa’s notable TV personalities as she exited TV. It was sad to see her leave the airwaves but her show had turned into an example of bad television and it needed to be upgraded or canceled. So, they canceled.

Felicia was one of very few, if not the only, personalities who would call her advertisers to thank them for running ads during her show.

What most people do not know is that Felicia Mabuza wanted her show to mean more than talk and she tried as much as she could to have a show which will improve the lives of South Africans but unfortunatly reality bites.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Lesson #1 of having an opportunity as huge as Felicia had, is to own your show and produce it in your own environment. Felica was and still is, well connected to build her own studio which would have produced her own show. Part of the reason why Oprah turned into a success was because she had a good business manager, who owns around 5% of Harpo. He helped her establish her production company and she then owned her own studio. That could influence how much is spent on producing the show and makes the channel look at your show and production more differently.

Oprah also started out producing her show at ABC, much like Felicia when she also produced her show at SABC. But Oprah moved to what is now known as Harpo Studios which she owns. That was a great business decision which Felicia, who admires Oprah, could have learned.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Many people think a talk-show is an easy exercise, but until you work for Harpo, NBC’s Late Night with Jay Leno (who is leaving by the way) or David Latterman including Ellen’s show, you have no idea how much work it takes to produce over 180 shows a year. Hence most producers opt for the tabloid version of talk-tv. It’s trashy but people will watch anyway. High quality talk-tv is very taxing and needs a strong team. Oprah has a staff of over 500 working Monday to Friday and sometimes right through Sunday. She produces the show and sends the signal or tapes for broadcast nationally to over 250 stations in America, as distributed by King World.

With the right team and business management, The Felicia Mabuza Show could have been what we truly call the Oprah of South Africa. Felicia was and still is a households name…well to a certain age group. A good way to tell if you’re old…anyway moving on. Everyone is talking on South African television but no one could have the same impact as Felicia had.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Felicia commented in Ebony, "I knew I could use television, a medium I had studied to help in the rebuilding process." At the beginning she was allocated a very small budget, hardly enough for an audience, but she took it as a challenge and went on to tape 3 shows every Sunday, which enabled her to build a loyal audience. Initially the program, featuring a mixed race audience, was called Top Level, with topics focussed on the social issues driven by the political changes taking place in the country such as affirmative action, desegregation, capital punishment, etc. The timing was just right as the country was preparing for the first black vote and many citizens were taking a new pride in the state of the nation.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
In 1995 Top Level was renamed The Felicia Show and the focus changed as Mabuza-Suttle set out to tackle social problems of the day while including forays into entertainment. The program was extended to an hour and that when things took an interesting turn for Felicia. One week she might feature "Prostitution," or "Rare Syndromes and Diseases," and the next might be "South Africa's Talented Kids." In this she believes she is both educating and entertaining. As she told Sean Houghton, "My dream has always been to try and unite South Africans through communication.... In South Africa, television tries to educate and inform too hard, they should also entertain.... Even information and education can be presented in such a way that it becomes entertaining.... We need to refocus and as far as Felicia Mabuza-Suttle is concerned, television has to entertain first, and inform and educate last."

Picture © Felicia, Inc
The show has made a difference in some people's lives such as, the families who have been reunited, the men whose paternity identity has been verified, and the doctors who have volunteered their services to perform complicated corrective surgeries. Some guests have found employment and shelter though Mabuza-Suttle's program. But her crusade has encountered a few barriers along the way, leading some to criticize her for making false promises. For example, a handicapped woman from Soweto, the largest black community in South Africa, appeared on the show. One week later the Felicia office informed the guest of an "American guy" who had offered to build a house for her. Weeks turned into months and nothing materialized. When questioned, a staff person from the show confirmed that an American guest had made a promise to build a house but unfortunately never came through. Mabuza-Suttle told News24 that "we do get feedback from viewers who voice concerns on the various plights of our guests. But there is little we can do if guests don't fulfill their promises."

Together with a group of other women, she formed Pamodzi Investment Holding, South Africa, a consortium of investments that began with a small capital of three million rand. The estimated value in 2003 was approximately 100 million rands.

Picture © Felicia, Inc
Felicia will always be remembered as the South African queen of talk in a country that needed to talk, but who could forget those moments when things went very wrong during her show. I particularly remember when a guest shouted “Rubbish” whilst Felicia was talking and another asked “where is she going” whilst Felicia made her way to the audience during taping.

She has received many awards in her careers and come of these include: The Star/Agfa Award for Popular Television Personality, 1995; Ralph Metcalfe Award, Marquette University, 1999; People's Choice Award for Entertainment, Vivid, 2000; People's Choice Award for Humanitarianism, Vivid, 2000; All University Alumni Merit Award, Marquette University, 2000; Tribute Achievers business category finalist, 2001; Soweto Legends Award, 2001; Prestige Rapport and City Press Achievers, 2001; Business Woman of the Year, 2001.

There is a lot we could say about this wonderful mother and celebrity, including how world events such as September 11th also affected her not to forget the world icons and Hollywood stars she has met.

By TheTVObserver
Contact: mailtheobserver //at//
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