Mansha Daswani, the editor of World Screen, reflects on 20 years with the company and 25 years of covering the international media business.
It’s pretty shocking how many of the most-watched shows in the U.S. in 2002—a time when American content still ruled the roost globally—are still on the air today, in some form or another.
The number one show that year was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; after a six-year break, that drama was rebooted by CBS as CSI: Vegas. Joe Millionaire, which commanded a whopping 34.6 million viewers for its debut season finale, was resurrected this year as Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer on FOX. American Idol premiered that year; more than 20 million people tuned in to see Kelly Clarkson crowned the show’s first winner. It’s on a different network today but still commanding loyal audiences, as is Survivor, another of 2002’s top-rated series. Law & Order was also in the top ten that year; that show, too, is back on NBC’s grid after a 12-year break. The spin-off Law & Order: SVU is still on the air, making it the longest-running U.S. prime-time live-action series in television history. (So, if there’s one constant in the constantly changing media business, we can safely assume it’s Dick Wolf.)
What else happened in 2002? I strolled into World Screen’s (then much smaller) office, nervous and anxious and excited, to meet with Ricardo Guise and Anna Carugati in the hopes of scoring a job. I had just completed my Master’s degree at New York University. With a background in writing about music and TV—in the dizzying heyday of the explosion of pay channels in Asia, as Rupert Murdoch was courting Wendi Deng and China—I had looked at every entertainment journalism job posting I could find and was coming up empty. But then I met Ricardo and Anna—who, as it turns out, knew my former boss and mentor—and, well, clearly, I’m still here!
And what a time to be covering this business. I’ve frequently blathered about diversity and representation on these pages over the years. To be honest, there are still things I hear and read daily that make me properly cringe about how far we still have to go. And yet, the progress has been amazing. I was talking to a fellow British Asian friend recently who mused that when he was watching CHiPs as a kid, he liked to pretend that Erik Estrada was of Indian descent to feel like there was someone on television who looked like him. What a different universe we live in now. South Asians and other “underrepresented”—I’ll stop using quotes around that term when we no longer need to have that conversation—communities, on television, and we’re not all terrorists, convenience store owners or doctors? (At the very least, there’s been diversity in our stereotyping.)
The sheer range of everything accessible to us, with a click of a button, is staggering. I was a bit lost in awe at the volume of what’s being made today in a remarkable two-week period earlier this year when I got to speak to the creative force that is Sweden’s Josephine Bornebusch (director, writer and actor, who also happens to sing); the brilliant British Nigerian historian David Olusoga; the delightful and funny Jamie Dornan about his new show The Tourist; and the fearless Roo Powell, a mother of three in her late 30s whose Investigation Discovery series, Undercover Underage, sees her pretending to be teen girls online to identify child predators. If I start to think about all the other amazing interviews I’ve conducted over the last two decades—giggling with Andrew Lincoln; being starstruck by Idris Elba; telling Gary Barlow that I had met him in a previous life when he was just a singer, not a TV show judge, and I was making my way as a music reporter—I honestly cannot believe my good fortune.
But perhaps my greatest pride, professionally and personally, has been the role I played in getting World Screen to where we are today: From starting our flagship daily newsletter, World Screen Newsflash, soon after I joined the company to driving our coverage of the Asia Pacific—a beat that I still adore—to helping to accelerate our digital expansion, especially over these last two years. It’s never been easy. And I’m glad it wasn’t. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into these stunning print issues over the years—especially the ones that clocked in at 700-plus pages (and I do recall seeing one being used to prop up a patio umbrella on the front lawn of the Grand one blustery night)—and I’m so proud of every single one.
I have to say, the prospect of being able to celebrate my 20 years with the company (and, insanely, 25 years of covering TV) in Cannes, as the world starts to adjust to living with this seemingly never-ending pandemic, brings me tremendous joy. This business is remarkable, isn’t it? How lucky are we that we’ve been able to convene in one fabulous city or another every few months, dig deep into this medium that we all love, and have some fun in the process? I know this MIPTV will be different, with a shocking war being waged on the continent and as we all fret about another variant on the horizon. But I know I speak for many when I say I honestly cannot wait to be back—hopefully for many more markets to come.