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Mo Abudu – “Africa’s Oprah” – Talks Africa as the Next Big Television Market + Projects She Has in the Works

Mo Abudu - "Africa's Oprah" - Talks Africa as the Next Big Television Market + Projects She Has in the Works

Driven by the tastes, expectations and usage patterns of an extremely young demographic, innovative business models and rapidly rising consumer adoption of pay and satellite television, the African marketplace is now worth half a billion dollars in annual TV content wholesale sales – double the figure from 2010.

Meaning, this should be a great time for content creators in Africa, and we will begin to see even more of the diversity that exists within the continent, represented in stories told in film, as well on TV, as the growth of Africa’s content industry and its role in the international marketplace continues to accelerate.

As South Africa’s Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, states, “… Our continent is increasingly being viewed as the continent of hope, the continent of the future and a new growth frontier. We have no doubt, therefore, that emerging […] will be effective partnerships and programs aimed at accelerating the growth of film and TV production across the African Continent.”

Enter Mo Abudu, also known as “Africa’s Oprah Winfrey” (not my words; that’s what she’s been called within and outside of Africa, although she’s originally from Nigeria, born and educated in the UK primarily. And I should note that it’s a label she rejects. I wonder if the two have ever met. I couldn’t find any evidence that they have).

Abudu is a talk show host, TV producer, media personality, and more. Her talk show, “Moments with Mo,” was launched in 2006 on South Africa’s subscription-funded TV network M-Net, and is said to be the first syndicated daily talk show on continental African regional television.

The talk show was an instant success, immediately drawing comparisons to the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” covering numerous topics ranging from lifestyle, health, culture, politics, entertainment, and much more, with guests including celebrities, Presidents, Nobel Laureates, and even the 67th US Secretary-of-State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Abudu is also Executive Chairman & CEO of EbonyLife TV – no affiliation with Ebony magazine; a multi-platform broadcaster, and subsidiary of Media and Entertainment City Africa (MEC Africa) in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Speaking to MIPTV (an arm of MIPCOM – the international TV and entertainment market held in Cannes once every year) in an interview published today, Abudu discusses the need for the growth and diversity of local content in the continental African television industry, and shares what her company is doing to fill in gaps. 

She speaks of being in currently production on a feature film about 4 African women (she doesn’t specify country) who are approaching 50, describing them as “modern African women, with modern day challenges,” and wondering how a film that tells their particular story will fit into the larger narrative, given its uniqueness. She speaks of the potential challenges that lie ahead in her attempts to bring forth stories about Africans – contemporary stories – for film and TV, that typically aren’t seen, especially by westerners. She’s certainly not the first, nor will she be the last producer of African descent to share this frustration, as well as mission.

But back to the feature film she mentioned that is currently in production. I haven’t been able to confirm yet, but my guess is that the project is the “African version of the ABC hit TV series “Desperate Housewives,” although as a feature film instead of a series. 

Announced at MIPCOM 2013, Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney, revealed a co-production deal with Mo Abudu’s Nigeria-based EbonyLife TV, to bring “Desperate Housewives” to Africa, featuring what was said will be a pan-African cast, and will be set in Lagos, Nigeria, where it will also be shot, with a summer 2014 debut date set, airing in 44 countries within the continent.

That never did happen – the summer 2014 premiere.

“We are going to make it relevant, number one, by using local talent — talent that our viewers will know and love; two, we are going to work with local stylists, local fashion designers, local interior designers,” said Abudu in press a statement at the time. “We are going to give the stories an African flavor. We will localize it, because there’s nothing that the West has that Africa doesn’t have: we love, we fight, we kiss, we make up. We like all the good things in life. There’s good and there’s evil globally. So all those human interests, those things that appeal to you, believe me, appeal to us also.”

As you’ll recall, the original ABC TV series followed the dramatic lives of a group of women in their 30’s and 40’s, over a 13-year period, and 8 seasons, as seen through the eyes of a dead neighbor who committed suicide in the very first episode. 

The series has seen remakes in Turkey, Colombia, and Brazil, since its debut.

A casting call for Abudu’s version happened a year ago, but no updates since then. It could simply be that the script has evolved over time, and has now become a movie, instead of a series, inspired and not necessarily based on “Desperate Housewives.”

A webpage for the upcoming film is set up on EbonyLife’s website, here, although all that’s currently on it is a video announcing last year’s casting call, which I’ve embedded below. 

Or it could be an entirely new project altogether. Or maybe it is indeed a TV series, and she simply misspoke, calling it a film. But I’ve reached out to EbonyLife TV for comment, but no reply yet. When/if I receive one, so will you.

First, here’s the MIPTV interview with Abudu; and underneath you’ll find the casting call video:

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