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China reality shows grow amid constraints

Sassier series court viewers -- and censure

Like many other places in the world, the trend in China is toward the talent and dating show genres, but strict controls on the media mean that light entertainment skeins operate within tight constraints.

The government keeps a firm grip on what gets broadcast in China, and recent months have seen stern pronouncements from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) aimed at dating shows and romantic skeins, as well as programs about health issues, to emphasize that pubcasters have a social responsibility and that media leaders must be “responsible to lead the advanced culture trend,” according to research by Miao Di of the Communication U. of China.

Many dating shows that did not display enough moral character have been canceled. One of the biggest, Jiangsu TV’s “If You Are the One,” was lucky to escape the ax after one contestant, the Beijing model Ma Nuo, made the materialistic comment that she would “rather cry in the back of a BMW” than ride on a bicycle. The skein survived, but has had its wings clipped.

Despite this, the big success of last year was in the light entertainment area, Shanghai TV’s “China’s Got Talent.” The competition was won by Liu Wei, a piano player who lost his arms in an accident at age 10 and won with his performance of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” played using his feet.

This skein also shows how China is opening up to foreign ideas in a way that overseas companies can benefit from. “China’s Got Talent” was made under license by the Shanghai Media Group using the British TV format conceived and owned by Simon Cowell’s Syco, and increasingly there are signs that Chinese shingles are prepared to buy foreign formats for TV shows.

Hunan TV’s “Happy Boy” remains a firm favorite, as does a show featuring would-be participants in the Chinese New Year TV extravaganza, the Spring Festival show on CCTV, which is probably the most popular one-off skein on the planet with anything up to a billion viewers.

News programs remain the core concentration at CCTV, while old favorites on CCTV such as “Starlight Avenue” also keep growing.

The Chinese TV industry is very much a biz in flux — the Beijing government is still in the throes of merging around 1,000 regional radio, TV and Internet broadcasting systems into a single national cable TV network company, and SARFT said the new company will further expand into new businesses like mobile TV and online videos.

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