"Indian Idol" is now being called Sony's "Kaun Banega Crorepati".
Katyal smiles and says: "It is big. But it's a different show. 'Indian Idol' doesn't have (Amitabh) Bachchan. But it has ordinary people living out their extraordinary dreams. Apart from the judges it's the talent that's the USP. Abhijeet Sawant, Amit Sana, Aditi Paul...these discoveries will outlast passing fancies. This is a Cinderella story with real people."
But "Indian Idol", like Sony's other successful series "Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin", is adapted from a foreign source. Katyal seems sure of what Sony wants to achieve.
"What do we brush our teeth with when we get up in the morning? Colgate? Isn't that a multinational company? Almost every popular brand in the country comes from outside. So why single out 'Jassi...' or 'Indian Idol'?" he asks.
"Time will prove that Indian television has its own identity. Right now reality television in this country is on a learning gig. We'll get there. Experimentation on the level and format of 'Indian Idol' would be too much of a risk for any corporate house," he says.
But yes, reality television is a reality on Indian television. Katyal cautions against making too much out of it. "A show like 'Indian Idol' gives the Indian middle class a chance to live its dreams. Fiction programming never allowed them to participate. Now they can be part of the home-viewing dream," he says.
So was reality TV Katyal's chosen genre to counter the fiction monopoly on Star Plus? "Not really. Every channel will do what it's got to do. I don't think we can go into a genre just to be different nor can we live in constant fear of what the other channel is doing. If we do we can never make progress."
Katyal says that having worked with Star Plus for five years, he knows exactly what the channel is doing. "But we are doing what we think is right for our channel."
Sony still has a long way to go with the soaps. "And we're aware of that. I admit we couldn't make our new soap 'Yeh Meri Life Hai' a grand success. Old habits die hard. The nation is hooked on to 'Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and 'Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki' on Star Plus. Personal relationships and domestic crises are USPs on the soaps."
Though Sony has strengthened its position with reality TV, it has no intention of giving up on the soaps. A new soap from software tycoon Ekta Kapoor is about to be launched on the channel.
"And the hero of the soap is a pop idol," laughs Katyal.
He's still reluctant to talk about his controversial departure from Star Plus. "I just had to do it. I decided to go with the flow. There are stories about how I threw coffee on my colleague's face at Star before leaving. But life isn't a soap. The parting was most undramatic. The TV industry is very small. We can't afford to quarrel."
Katyal informs that Sony is planning the second series of "Indian Idol". "Then we've the dance talent hunt 'Dance Dance'. Sony earlier had a very good dancing franchise in 'Boogie Woogie'."
He says Sony stresses on variety. "We've done the espionage thriller 'CID' and horror was franchised in 'Aahat' successfully for years. We've to keep trying new genres to avoid monotony. But the soaps will continue to be the staple."
"One of the favorite shows on our channel is the women's-issue based 'Rihaee'. It's picking up in the ratings. Like our crime series 'Crime Patrol', 'Rihaee' too will take time. But I'm sure it will succeed."
Sony plans to do another reality show middle of the year. "So I guess Sony has decided to get real," Katyal says as a parting shot.