It is not just in the U.S. that the big-budget TV is grabbing the momentum from feature film. In China, a big-budget drama, “In The Name of the People” has become a smash hit on broadcast TV and online. In three weeks it has garnered such popularity that web users are complaining that they feel peer group pressure to keep up.
Making the series more interesting than simply its big numbers, “In The Name of the People” is also an anti-corruption, police procedural that has been compared to “House of Cards,” which greatly amused Chinese audiences. The show’s detractors argue that production values are not as good.
But there is no doubt that propaganda this popular can only boost Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership and his ongoing anti-corruption drive ahead the National Congress meeting in the autumn.
The show runs to 55 episodes and stars some of the biggest names in China’s showbiz, including Lu Yi and Zheng Fengyi. It became an overnight sensation after it premiered on Hunan Satellite Television on March 28, which reportedly paid $31.9 million (RMB220 million) for the license.
Before it went on air, the series was expected to reach some 300 million viewers, but by the second week in April, it had already beaten that target. Online streaming platform iQiyi.com says the show has been watched more than 660 million times. On another platform, Youku, the show has been viewed nearly 200 million times.
In 2014, Xi told China’s media heads that the cultural and artistic sector must serve the people and socialism. “In the name of the People” is fully endorsed by the Communist Party through the Film and TV Center under the Supreme People’s Procurate of China and the Logistic Support Department of the Central Military Commission’s Jin Dun TV.
Produced at a cost of $17 million (RMB120 million,) it was made with the financial backing from several private companies including Joyhill Media Culture and Desen International Media.
Anti-graft drama serials were big in China over a decade ago, but the authorities halted them in 2004 because of political sensitivities and over-exploitation of the genre. “In the Name of the People” is the first series released since the ban.
Unlike previous propaganda drama series such as “The Liberation” (2009) and “The East” (2011), which evolved around the founding of the Communist Party, “In the Name of the People”, is contemporary. It is adapted from a novel of the same title by Zhou Meisen which follows anti-graft investigators efforts in taking down corrupt officials.
The investigators are portrayed in modern, FBI fashion. Scenes including busting an official in bed with a lover, and a wall of cash hidden in the home of another, mark striking resemblances to some recent real life cases.
The show’s director, Li Lu told Chinese media that despite the sensitivity of the topic and the detailed portrayal of the corruption cases, intervention from censors was lighter than anticipated. “Anti-corruption is not just the party’s, but a national, agenda. It’s unprecedented. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is all about fighting ‘tigers’ (top officials) and ‘flies’ (low rank officials). Their plots are even better than fictional drama,” Li said.
Hunan TV has often been at the forefront in China’s TV industry, with high end drama series and adapted formats. It is also the Chinese company that has a two-way partnership with Lionsgate.