Noeleen Quits — My Thoughts On What This Means For Local Talk TV

The biggest story yesterday was the sudden but expected, we all knew this was coming sooner than later, announcement that Noellen Maholwana Sangqu is ending her daily SABC3 talkshow. Many expressed shock and dismay, indeed this is the end of an ear but what exactly does this mean and reflect about the state of television in SA. 

With the introduction of 2 talkshows on etv, Masechaba Lekalake's Ek Se: Let's Talk and Khanyi Mbau's Katch It With Khanyi, one had expected that there would be some semblance of substance in television talk in South Africa but alas, we yet to crack that ceiling.

No disrespect to Sis Noeleen. An incredible woman who has built a career that is unparalleled in this business. Hers is a story that should inspire generations. A woman who hails from one of the poorest provinces in this country went from being a receptionist in a construction company to being possibly the most recognised and revered across the board name in TV broadcasting. Even with hosting this show — she was a replacement few weeks after the show launched when the initial host did not workout. That is a remarkable feet.

That said, when there were delays with the beginning of this season it had become apparent that what once was seen as a platform for South Africans to have a conversation with itself was never and could no longer be expected to step up.

While 3Talk with Noeleen had indeed educated, entertained and intrigued at times, the magic never really arrived on the set. We all knew that Noeleen had the ability to engage, disarm her guests and connect with the viewers but she always looks and seemed constrained on the show. This unfortunately rendered the show as dull. 

As a viewer you hoped that Noeleen could just go there and ask the petinent questions and not always try to smooth things over. I wished Noeleen would have asked Somizi in depth about his influence in pop culture and his perpetuation of gay stereotypes. It would have been nice to know what he thinks about that instead of allowing him to just take over the show. 

Another memorable episode was when she had Lunga Shabalala on and he made reference to his penis size and Noeleen just laughed it off. I sat there hoping she would say something. She was a mother and a sort of big sister, one expected that she would atleast call that kid to order and remind him that this is South Africa and while they can all call her Noeleen, he still needed to show some respect. 
In her defense, she worked in an organization that puts barriers on its talent's ability to just be open. Noeleen could not risk offending Lunga and by extension offend the SABC. The need for the show to pander to the egos and suck-up nature of the industry meant she could not ask the tough questions that we expected of her. She always just came cross as someone who was trying to be friends with everyone instead of her being our representative on the couch asking the question we would like to be the ones asking to these personalities.    

The other flaw on the show, much like other SABC3 variety shows, was product placements and advertiser funded programing. Talkshows all over the world do this but you will hardly have a episode on Oprah or Ellen dedicated to the promotion on a product. It is unheard of and takes away from the substance of the show and credibility of the host.

Noeleen had essentially become a advert lady for brands with those cooking shows. Which is the same problem that Top Billing is facing. The lines get blurred between creative independent credibility and sponsor advertising content. Consumers and viewers do not like being force fed advertising. 

As such the end of Noeleen on 3Talk was inevitably looming for a while. I could not possibly see this intelligent woman sitting on that couch for another decade knowing that she could have an influence in this country but is restrained by channel interest and can not just tell stories and be the interviewer she has the chops to be. 

Unfortunately her departure, while brave and admirable, casts a big shadow on the ability of the industry to do some introspection and change. She would have been the one to lead the evolution of talk tv in this country if she stayed and fought to change the show. 

In  her own words Noeleen says she is 48 years old and feels her time to bow out had come after 12 on the show. Fair enough but in my own selfish way, I feel she still had another 5 years in her to make a mark that would have etched her name in the history books. She never had competition and now just as she does, she closes shop.

Khanyi is doing very we but does she have the gravitas to be a force to change the industry... uhm no. No shade, but Noeleen is the Queen of Talk with or without the ratings. She commands respect and reverance that Khanyi, Masechaba and others do not. 

Masechaba Mokwele reigns supreme as the highest rated talkshow Queen with Motswako but she too does not have the midus touch that Noeleen has. If anyone was to change the face of talk tv, Noeleen would have been the one to lead the charge.

Looking forward, if the talkshow genre in Mzansi will have the same impact the international talkers have, a drastic step would have to be taken by the channel to let producers and host be independent of the politics of the channel. The day we have a talkshow where Sophie Ndaba can sit there and open up about the betrayal she felt from Mfundi Vundla and the SABC, is the day TV talkshows will matter in SA. 

O e lemile tema ngwana wa baa Mholwana-Sangqu !

I had the pleasure of being on Noeleen's show recently and that was a career high for me. That is the power of Noeleen. She is a woman who created a platform that we all saw as a place for validation for one's career and hardwork in this industry is made.

As a humanbeing, she is a just as bubbly and friendly as one expect her to be as you watch her. The few minutes I spent with her on air and in between breaks, I got to see why we all loved her. She is indeed a sweet soul and she will be dearly missed

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