With some 700 television stations, 3,000 cable channels and over a billion viewers, we decided it was time to do what our mothers warned us against… and get a little closer to the TV, PRC style.
China hasn’t been shy about borrowing from abroad to stimulate its own creative juices. TV stations have bought rights to a whole slew of entertainment shows, from big hitters like The Voiceto lesser-known formats like Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, and redeveloped them for local audiences.
While the government is trying to encourage more original ideas– and has allegedly been ruminating over banning remakes entirely– established foreign series are enticing for TV stations, which are looking for sure-fire hits. A Chinese remake of Gossip Girlis already in the works, with the team behind the American show signed on to lend support and Beijing starlet Yang Mi rumored to be producing and starring in a recurring role.
On the other end of the scale, there are also shows that unofficially scavenge from foreign comedies and dramas, only to be caught out and publicly shamed online. Perhaps most notoriously, sitcom Ipartmentwas taken to task by netizens who wondered how anybody who had seen US smash Friendscould fail to spot the similarities: a group of 20-something mates, all living in adjacent apartments, who occasionally spend time hobnobbing in a coffee shop…
To add insult to injury, thoroughgoing American comedy fans also picked up that certain plots, lines and jokes in Ipartmentsounded suspiciously similar to skits in How I Met Your Motherand The Big Bang Theory. Not so legen– wait for it– dary!
From the big fish to the little fish, another incident of rip-off tactics was the Chinese online talk show caught out copying an American talk show’s opening sequence– by none other than the host himself! Conan O’Brien exposed the chicanery on Conan, leading to a brief, light-hearted war of words between the red-headed presenter and his copycat counterpart Da Peng.
Many of the Chinese public, however, have found the incident and others like it less than amusing, with many bewailing that a country with a historic knack for invention has been reduced to cheap knockoffs.
News of the world
With an estimated daily audience of around 135 million– 14 times the audience of the highest-rated US news show – CCTV’s Xinwen Lianbo is one of the world’s most watched programs. Such is its power that last month the 2013 advertising slots were sold for a record RMB5.4 billion, with Wuliangye, Maotai and Gome spending over RMB1 billion between them on the five-second countdown before the show begins.
Chinese kids hate it though. They press the channel-changing button of the remote control furiously, only to find half of them are speaking the same line, only with a slight timelapse. Yup, it is shown simultaneously by most terrestrial television stations across the country.
First broadcast on January 1, 1976– albeit under another name for the first two years– at the very beginning it was just a collection of short videos without voiceover, starting at 8pm and lasting 10 to 15 minutes. In 1980, the time slot was changed to 7pm, reports were prolonged to 30 minutes and international news was included. That same year audience figures reached an all-time-high for a report about the trial of the Gang of Four.
On an average evening, Xinwen Lianboshows visits made by leaders and national conferences in the first 10 or 15 minutes; moral and educational news, provincial news and scientific progress in the middle; and sports and international news for the last five minutes. In special circumstances, the broadcast is extended beyond the 30 minutes allotted. After Deng Xiaoping passed away in 1997, Xinwen Lianbolasted 110 minutes to mourn him.
Spring Festival Gala
The most watched show on earth
Peer through the windows of a few random Chinese households after 8pm on Chinese New Year’s Eve and you’re likely to find the same program on every TV screen. The CCTV Spring Festival Gala has regularly attracted between 700 million and one billion viewers since it started in 1983, making it the most watched annual performance event in the world.
Screened on five CCTV channels, dozens of provincial channels and countless websites, the gala has grown significantly over the years, and despite criticism of the hackneyed content, most families will see three generations or more gather in front of the TV set. Rural areas will often hold gatherings so those without televisions can watch the program.
The makers try to target all demographic groups, with a few basic components that are staples. There are skits that have a focus on comedy, but often convey a moral. Xiangsheng, or cross-talk, is a sort of stand-up, rich in puns and allusions and delivered in a rapid, bantering style. And you can expect plenty of song and dance, acrobatics and magic tricks.
Live phone lines allow the audience to vote for their favorite performance of the night, with the ultimate favorites revealed on the CCTV Lantern Festival Gala, broadcast 15 days later. These favorites are then repeated numerous times over the following year, to the point where kids memorize the cross-talks, and short acts and expressions from them become catchwords all over the country.
Preparation of the gala traditionally begins in July, but the 2013 gala set a new record, starting three months earlier in April. The show presents new stars, popular songs of the past year and highly anticipated classics. Since 2011, the show has also featured ‘ordinary people’ performers, who are selected by popular vote on a CCTV3 show called I Want to be on the Spring Festival Gala.
As midnight approaches, the hosts lead a countdown to the New Year, ending with the ringing of the bell. Around a half an hour later, the program ends with the farewell song ‘Can’t Forget Tonight,’ letting viewers know it is all over, and the makers that they have three months before they have to start planning next year.
Xi Yang Yang yu Hui Tai Lang
A huge hit both domestically and abroad, Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolfhas been hailed as China’s answer to Tom and Jerry. The action follows a group of school-aged goats, who use intelligence and technology to thwart the efforts of sneaky but clumsy Gray Wolf and wife Red Wolf to make them their dinner. With over 800 episodes and numerous awards under its fleece, 2009 Pleasant Goatdebut movie The Super Snail Adventurebroke domestic box office records for a Chinese animated film, collecting RMB30 million in its opening weekend, while a combined box office haul of RMB548 million over four films has seen DreamWorks eager to produce the next movie and further episodes.
Lan Mao Tao Qi 3000 Wen
First airing in 1999, The 3000 Whys of Blue Cat, simply referred to as Blue Cat– Lan Mao– remains one of the longest-running children’s cartoon series in the world. In keeping with his species, our feline hero is curious, while blue signifies dreams– and Blue Cat is always exploring different eras and parts of the world with his imagination. The series has spawned some 36 series of children’s books, with over 500 volumes in all.
ShuKe he BeiTa
A famous fairytale series turned into animated form, The Adventures of Shook and Betasees a pair of mice from two different backgrounds run away from home to make a name for themselves. They become good pals very quickly and champion the meek, rescuing other small animals from danger in every episode. Brave and resourceful, Shook and Beta always prevail, allowing their little furry friends to live a happy, quiet life.
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