Indonesian teen drama Pretty Little Liars captivated Asian audiences as it addressed themes such as cyberbullying, complicated female relationships and empowerment—all set in the picturesque location of Bali. The 10-episode series, which is streaming on Viu, features an ensemble cast including Shindy Huang, Anya Geraldine, Eyka Farhana, Valerie Thomas, and Yuki Kato.
The teen drama has received many accolades since its premiere in April 2020, among them the Best Adaptation of an Existing Format award at the 25th Asian Television Awards. Sahana Kamath, the Executive Producer of Pretty Little Liars said that the original U.S. show came out at a time when young adult shows were mostly centred on coming-of-age stories, romance, or betrayal.
“Pretty Little Liars had that mystery layer at the centre of the show,” Sahana told Television Asia Plus. “And that drove a huge amount of engagement and binge-ability even before ‘binge’ was a thing. I think this show always had those kinds of hook points that you knew were just going to keep people coming back for more.”
The original U.S. version of Pretty Little Liars spawned several spin-offs including Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists and Ravenswood. “It’s a very timeless kind of show,” Sahana said. “The series had a huge fan base around the world, but it wasn’t massively known in Indonesia, Malaysia and the surrounding markets. It was a chance for us to bring this story to a new audience and have it be very fresh and relevant in the way it was adapted as well.”
Trends in adaptations
Sahana observed that there has been a lot of movement in scripted formats, calling it a “Renaissance” period with a lot of formats coming out from Asia. In her lengthy career, Sahana has worked on a lot of format adaptations including most recently the Scandinavian format, The Bridge, and the Korean format, Black. “We’ll see a lot more Asian formats being adapted for Asian countries, simply because of the similarity in taste, storytelling, relationships and values,” she predicted.
Sahana, who has also worked on many comedy adaptations throughout her career, commented, “People can be quite reticent to take on a comedy format because there’s this idea that comedy doesn’t travel as easily. It is indeed harder to get it right, and it takes a lot more time and thoughtfulness in the writing and performance of the adaptation. But when it hits, it hits big and it can hit for a region.”
With the COVID pandemic raging on, Sahana believes that people are looking to be entertained with content that is lighter and takes them out of the more difficult challenges ahead. “I think whoever takes the risk on a big comedy format adaptation and does it well is potentially going to have a huge success on their hands. I hope somebody takes that risk [and] I’d love to see that in the next few years,” Sahana added.
More focus on premium content
Asia has seen a lot of streamers producing their original content and the competition among big and small streamers is huge in the region. Sahana said, “I think there’s always been a lot of competition across Asia. But now with the local, regional and global streamers coming in, there’s a great depth and breadth in terms of what’s being produced.”
Sahana added that there’s been a lot more focus on premium content. While daily dramas are seamlessly produced in markets such as the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, there’s now a trend in producing content that can compete with the global streamers.
“The trend that we’re seeing now [is that] everyone is stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘Let’s show what we can make out of Asia.’ Having more money coming in, more resources for everyone, and more opportunities created inside of what has been quite a closed system in the past… I think that’s what’s amazing to see right now about the current ecosystem around premium drama across the region,” Sahana said.
The Executive Producer’s fearless forecast for popular genres in Asia in the next year or so includes romance, comedy, rom-com and mystery, pointing out that lighter is better for the current moment. She said, “I suspect that in the next year or two, broadcasters who had previously handled exclusively darker genres like crime and horror will perhaps start moving towards balancing their slates with series that are tonally less heavy, just because that’s where the audience is right now. I’m sure that it will swing back at some point, but I feel that this is probably where the audience’s mindset is right now, and we always, always follow the audience.”
Watch out for more interviews with past Asian Television Awards winners with our coverage of the Asian Television Awards Alumni Spotlight.