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Cricket’s a ‘Bigg’ deal in India

Fantasy-reality sports show's a hit for news channel

LONDON — Fantasy baseball meets “Big Brother” in Hindi-lingo channel India TV’s effort to counterprogram the ongoing Intl. Cricket Council World Cup, which India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are co-hosting.

India TV, ostensibly a news channel, has created a cricket-based reality show it calls “Bigg Toss,” modeled on “Bigg Boss,” the local version of “Big Brother.” The show even features two “Bigg Boss” alumni — Indian actress, talkshow host and model Rakhi Sawant and Pakistani actress Veena Malik.

But there are also fantasy sports elements to the show, which divides 14 contestants into two groups, and sequesters them in a villa outside New Delhi the day before the Indian cricket team is scheduled to play.

In the pre-match episode, contestants perform various “Bigg Toss” tasks to win the chance to choose a player from the Indian squad. At the end of the episode, all contestants among the reality teams have selected players scheduled to compete in the next day’s match.

In the post-match episode, the two teams of housemates are awarded points based on their players’ performance. But in a final twist, the contestants must accomplish last-minute tasks to collect the points earned by their selected players. Viewers can win a cell phone if they’ve backed a contestant whose prediction about an Indian player is correct. The contestant wins a car.

The show’s contestants are an eclectic bunch. Apart from Sawant and Malik, there are musicians, politicians, models, an ex-cricketer, a radio DJ, a religious guru, a transvestite hairdresser and a wrestler-turned-cop. The winner gets a car; no one gets voted out of the house.

India TV news editor Hemant Sharma says the channel wanted to feature something other than the usual panel of expert commentators who dissect the day’s match in this cricket-mad nation.

“That concept doesn’t excite people anymore,” Sharma says.

While the show isn’t the first in its format — in 2001, ESPN created a show called “Scene Selector” that used many of the same elements — Vinod Kapri, managing editor of India TV, says “Bigg Toss” is a winner.

“We are getting great response, in terms of viewership, in terms of ratings (though those figures are notoriously difficult to pin down for Indian newsies) and in terms of perception too,” Kapri says, adding that reps from other channels have approached TV India to acquire format rights to create similar shows based on other sports such as baseball and rugby.

The ultimate success of “Bigg Toss” will depend on the success of the Indian team, which is among the tournament favorites; the show would end the day the Indian side is eliminated, though Kapri says the channel will try to create some other cricket-related content that runs until the tournament’s April 2 finish.