Pan vies to be new ‘King’ of yakkers

Show using face-to-face format to talk up 'human stories'

SHANGHAI — Sensitive topics including politics are still off-limits in China, but a new talkshow is about to break the mold.

A new head-to-head interview show from the Pan Media Corp. will hit screens in China and Taiwan in January thanks to a broadcast agreement with Hong Kong-based Sun TV, one of a handful of broadcasters with satellite landing rights in China.

The pilots, hosted by veteran presenter and Pan Media CEO Jack Pan, begin shooting at the end of this month.

“This is a new type of talkshow for China, with one guest per program and the chance to really probe the mind of our interviewees,” Pan Media COO Steven Chung says.

Pan’s interviewing style, well known in the region after his stint with Phoenix TV, has attracted comparisons to Stateside vet Larry King. Bill Moore, who will head production, is also drawing attention.

Moore was for many years the senior producer of Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” and went on to become VP of broadcast operations and engineering at ABC.

There are important distinctions between Pan’s new show and “Larry King Live” or “Nightline” as Chung is quick to point out.

“For one, due to regulations, we are not live. Secondly, there are things that we can’t talk about. We will focus on the human stories, the life stories of our interviewees. And, though the majority of interviews will be conducted in English, they will be dubbed into Mandarin for broadcast.”

The show will go out on Sun TV, which has access to legitimate audiences in high-end hotels and foreign residential compounds where satellite systems are allowed, as well as millions of domestic households that receive the signal illegally.

It’s “the only specialty programmer in the country and attracts an audience of wealthy, educated viewers that are just right for us,” Chung adds.

The broadcaster suffered a setback earlier this year when Chinese authorities blocked its signal for about two weeks.

But Chung points out that Sun TV is now back on air and restructuring, adding: “We’ll be promoted as their new flagship talk show.”

Interviewed recently in local magazine Youth Digest, Jack Pan explained how his new program would differ from conventional Chinese talkshows, often criticized for their sycophantic tone. “Why… in an interview with a company executive, must the guest be portrayed as a perfect leader, a husband and father? Why not talk about his embarrassing points, his company’s weaknesses? Heroes are not afraid of failure.”

With syndication on the horizon, Chung estimates that the show will have potential coverage of 95% of the 1.3 billion Chinese population, numbers that foreign broadcasters looking to enter the Chinese market can only dream of.

Pan Media has skirted the restrictions that dog foreign companies like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., limited to broadcasting in a small area of Guangdong Province, by registering as a local production company, despite a management team loaded with foreign talent.

Producers with Chinese ambitions may want to take note.

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