The groans from actors unhappy about their new “call” status has been splashed in several publications in recent weeks. Of course, when the soap in question is Isidingo, such developments are par for the course given that it has been on air for 13 years and, in order to remain a talking point in this competitive market – especially with M-Net’s The Wild joining the soapie fray – a makeover is crucial to boost its appeal.

Creator and associate producer Gray Hofmeyr confirms: “A number of Isidingo actors have been offered a switch from full-time contracts to call times between March and August, 2011, depending on the length of their current storylines. The series is undergoing an overall shift as a result of research into audience likes and between SABC3, SABC Content Hub and Endemol. This shift includes some new cast, glamorous sets, lighting and wardrobe, and a slight shift in shooting style.”

Head writer Ilse van Hemert says: “From a writing perspective, contract or call doesn’t make a difference. With Tshepo (Maseko) last year I knew, for a while, we weren’t going to do major stories with him. Now he is becoming more frequent in the storyline.

Gugu Zuma enjoys comedy and she has got some interesting offers. She understood that she wasn’t going to have continuous stories. Chris Beasley, who plays Len Cooper, has been on a contract or a call basis on and off over the years. In Leeanda’s (Reddy) case, her character doesn’t operate in our central world but dips into it – we are concentrating on that. I think she is a massive asset to Isidingo.”

Another actor who will be leaving is Meshack Mavuso (Vusi Moletsane). Van Hemert says: “We are going to make it hard for him to leave by giving him fabulous stories.”

On what becomes of Karin van der Laag (Maggie), she says: “I don’t know. I know there was some dispute about the details of her contract. As you know, she is also the casting director. They are still in negotiations. I can say, unequivocally, she is one of the best actresses we have. The only character written to exit is Braam le Roux (Anton Dekker). The story ends on Marlien (Elize Cawood), but the character doesn’t end.”

Where does this leave Hlubi Mboya, who plays Nandipha Sithole? After all, there was a nationwide hunt to find a love interest for the character last year.

“It was a case of literally looking at how much she was utilised the previous year. She has been our damsel in distress for eight to 10 years. There is only so far you can go with the character. I think she is an icon for Isidingo.

“The character required a good rejuvenation and for that to happen, she needed to be put on a back burner. She has expressed a desire to not be in Isidingo. Once again, I’m hoping if we pitch a great story, she might be open to staying.”

Instead of dwelling on the changes that have cast a gloomy shadow over the soap, Van Hemert talks about Isidingo’s exhilarating transformation with the introduction of the Sibekos – Jefferson (Vusi Kunene), his stunning wife Katlego (Kgomotso Christopher), his surrogate daughter Ayanda Diale (Latoya Mangezi) and his ruthlessly ambitious niece, Nikiwe (Linda Sokhulu). The actor to play Sifiso (Jefferson’s son) is yet to be cast.

On the power shift in the storyline, Van Hemert says: “What became clear in the last two years is that we have been working on aspirational stories. It was Lesedi Moloi’s meteoric rise. The Matabanes were also a rags-to-riches story. It worked beautifully in the early stages of democracy. But viewers are now looking for that highly sophisticated, powerful black family. Over the last four years, especially in the last two, there was a steep decline in our black viewership. With the Le Roux family, we saw a small increase in Afrikaans viewers. Now is the time for the Sibekas and to increase the ARs of Isidingo.”

Hofmeyr adds: “We have to be open to these swings in focus in order to satisfy our audience. The last such “make-over” took place in 2005, when the series made the shift from predominantly mining stories to the world of ON!TV. It coincided with the arrival of Barker Haines and his children, Lee and Duncan, as well as Rajesh and Frank. That change saw the exit of many of the “mining” characters, played by, among others, Rapulana Seiphemo, Tony Kgoroge and Jamie Bartlett, all of whom have seen their careers continue to flourish. These changes happen from time to time and are handled professionally, fairly and without tension, by cast and producer alike.”

Following the character assassination of Isidingo’s decision-makers, the recent “upsets” were executed in the best interest of the soap and leave little room for criticism.

lThe Sibekos make their Isidingo debut on June 14.