Younger readers may find this difficult to believe, but there was a time before Netflix and online streaming platforms when there were only about four or five channels on local networks, and a lot less content on the air.
These early days, however, saw the birth of many memorable and influential shows filled with lively characters, relatable themes and gripping plots. For many Malaysians of a certain age, these programmes certainly coloured their childhoods and filled their lives with wonder and laughter.
In conjunction with World Television Day today, here are six iconic local TV shows that have left an indelible impression on the Malaysian entertainment landscape.
1. ‘Keluang Man’
Before there was “Mechamoto” or “Ejen Ali”, there was “Keluang Man”, Malaysia’s premier superhero. This dashing dude was our version of DC Comics hero Batman – only dressed in snazzy purple instead of black.
The series depicted the adventures of Keluang Man, who was really Borhan, a patient at a mental hospital in Tampoi, Johor. Borhan would fight villains such as Badut (the Clown) and Meow the Cat Girl, while clashing with local police chief Inspector Shahab.
Created by animator Kamn Ismail and team, the show ran for seven seasons from 1998-2005. A film adaptation of this crazy crimefighter’s adventures was announced earlier this year.
2. ‘Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu’
Created by Hatta Azad Khan, this comedy showcased the colourful characters of the low-cost Flat Seri Wangi and their shenanigans. Its title roughly translates to “back and forth, back and forth, yet nothing gets done”!
“Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu” featured many prolific local actors including Imuda, Zami Ismail, Wan Maimunah, Khatijah Tan, and Sabri Yunus. A talented multiracial cast and humorous scripts made the show a hit.
The series ran from 1985-2004, with 1,210 episodes produced and even a musical made in 2006.
It all started with a talent show called “Sinaran Pasport Kegemilangan”. Six participants, alongside its host, decided to unite as a group named “Senang Riuh” (Malay for “easily causing commotion”). This was eventually shortened to “Senario”, and Malaysian television history was made.
The series featured various hilarious skits, where the cast could be students in one episode, and beach boys or ghosts in another. It’s quite likely that this was the programme that introduced many Malaysians to sketch comedy!
The group underwent numerous cast changes over its history, with its most popular lineup arguably consisting of Wahid, Azlee, Lan, Yassin, and Saiful Apek.
“Senario” ran from 1996-2013 and spawned 10 comedy films, the most recent being 2013’s “Senario The Movie Ops Pocot”.
One of the most prominent local English sitcoms of the ’90s, “Kopitiam” told the story of Marie (Joanna Bessey), who inherited her father’s old coffeeshop and ran it with her group of kooky friends.
The seven-season series (1998-2003) was a launching pad for the careers of many of its cast, such as Douglas Lim, Tan Jin Chor, Lina Teoh, Mano Maniam, Rashid Salleh, and Bessey herself.
“Kopitiam” was rebooted (or “rebrewed”?) in 2019 as “Kopitiam Double Shot”, with new owners attempting to revitalise the titular kopitiam for the future. Several of the original cast members made appearances.
5. ‘Spanar Jaya’
Who knew that working at a garage could be so entertaining? Sitcom “Spanar Jaya” introduced viewers to Pak Selamat (the late Zaibo), a small-town mechanic who longed to make it big in business.
Other characters included his cheerful friend Stanley (the late Rambo Chin) and rock-music-loving mechanic Mat Rock (Opie Zami).
The series was also known for its numerous celebrity guest stars, including Chef Wan, Erra Fazira, Rosyam Nor, Jalaluddin Hassan, and Amy Search.
In 2019, the series was rebooted to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Now called “Spanar Jaya X”, it was directed by former cast member Ahmad Idham, who played Iskandar.
6. ‘Gerak Khas’
No list of Malaysian TV shows would be complete without “Gerak Khas”! Running for 20 seasons from 1999-2021, it has been recognised by the Malaysia Book of Records as the longest-running local drama series.
“Gerak Khas” told the story of a brave team of police officers in Unit Gerak Khas, led by the valiant DCP Datuk Helmi (Yusof Haslam). Viewers followed the team as they took down bad guys and investigated murders, drug smugglings, frauds, kidnappings, and other entertaining crimes.
Prominent cast members included Abby Abadi, AC Mizal, A Galak, Zul Ariffin, and Fattah Amin.