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Low blow for High Rollers

TV

FANS of SABC3’s High Rollers and industry peers have come out in support against the channel pulling the plug on the daily drama.The family saga is set against the backdrop of the gambling world, where the stakes are high for casino kingpin David King, who owns and operates Kings Casino, along with its five-star hotel on the north-eastern outskirts of Joburg.

The tables quickly turn, though, when his older brother, Paul King, is released from prison and the tug-o’-war for control of the empire ensues. Although the TV show started airing once a week, SABC3, in fulfilling the mandate of SABC’s former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to show 90 percent local content, decided to tap into its pull by giving it a regular weekday slot.

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Justin StrydomTerence Bridgett

With the show nearing the end of its third season, rumours of SABC3 pulling the plug on it have been spreading like wildfire. Meanwhile, there has been a petition on Change.org to stop the SABC from cancelling the show. The actors have been canvassing for support via their social media platforms, too.

Tonight spoke to some of the cast to find out how they felt about this state of flux. Justin Strydom, who plays ex-con Paul King, is a veteran in the industry. And his rough-around-the-edges character has marvellously ingratiated himself into the heart of viewers. He said: “Having been with High Rollers from the very beginning, I always felt like I was part of something special, something very inclusive. It was different because it was a drama that required the intensity and stamina of a filmic performance but, because of the pace we shot at, it often required the technical discipline of a soapie. This made High Rollers one of the most taxing productions I ever worked on.

“More importantly, because we were under such incredible pressure, it was the first time I’d worked in an environment where I leaned on the production crew as much as I did my fellow actors. This culture developed and has remained intact, even when we made the transition from a three-times-a-week telenovela to a daily weekday drama. The only difference is we all work harder to do more and maintain the quality our audience has come to expect.

“The transition to daily drama meant that as a family, we had broken through that tough barrier of being freelancers to long-term contractors. We dared to believe that we could make plans that were based on stable contracts. When billboards of our show started going up on bridges over highways about two months ago, we felt that we had joined the other soapies; SABC was finally backing us. Some of our cast and crew decided to get married and start families, buy cars, buy houses. At the same time, many turned down long-term work with other productions and some even relocated permanently from other provinces.

“This call by the SABC is nothing short of devastating. The aggression and disregard demonstrated by the SABC has shocked me. There are no well-considered answers to our collective questions. There are talks of it being for business reasons. If that is the case, why is the SABC refusing to comment? Why will they not meet with us? It all leaves a very bloodied, bitter taste in my mouth.”

Another prominent face in the industry, Terence Bridgett, who plays Denton, says: “I am astounded, confused and disappointed. Astounded, as I believe High Rollers to be one of the most sophisticated, nuanced and entertaining products on South African television. Confused, as it is my understanding that since the SABC themselves increased our season from three transmissions to five times a week and shifted our time-slot to prime time, our ratings have been steadily climbing. Hence the fact that we are in pre-production for season four. Disappointed, because I love playing Denton. I haven’t had as much fun playing the ‘bad guy’ since Chico in Isidingo. And I get to go to work every day with a spectacular cast and crew – a combination of exciting, new, young, talent working with some of my favourite, more established, local actors, all of this with a strong footprint across the demographic.

“This is also one of the most committed and hard-working crews I have ever encountered in television. All in all, High Rollers is an eclectic and incredibly cohesive team, across the board. So it would be a travesty to dissolve it all, so unexpectedly and inexplicably.”

In the meantime, Rous House Productions anxiously awaits the fate of the series on Monday. Rumour has it that High Rollers was given the green light for two more seasons earlier this year. But it looks like all bets might be off!

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