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Reality TV pits networks against government


BEIJING — Reality TV is the order of the day for China, with “American Idol”-style skeins proving popular with auds — though unpopular with politicians who feel they undermine morality.

The biggest hits in the genre are “Supergirl” (Hunan Satellite TV), “Dream of China” (CCTV) and “My Hero” (Shanghai Dragon TV), which is a kind of male beauty contest featuring lots of singing. In this last, winners are chosen based on charm, bodies and moral integrity.

But the shows are under attack.

In March, pubcaster CCTV said it would not air a new season of “Dream of China,” a state-sanctioned version of “Supergirl,” as authorities continue their moves against the singing-competition genre.

The problem is often the way that people get to vote by cell phone for winners. China is not a democracy, and regulators fear that the popularity of voting by cell-phone text message (SMS) could give the more impressionable a taste for a one-person, one-vote political system.

Also in March, at the National People’s Congress, a Peking Opera star who was a delegate to the annual parliament meeting said reality shows should be curbed. Former culture minister Liu Zhongde said the skeins were poisoning young people’s minds.

Chinese programmers will be looking abroad for Korean skeins, such as the wildly popular Korean TV drama series “Jewel in the Palace,” which even Chinese President Hu Jintao admits being addicted to.

Toons such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Japanese mangas are popular with Chinese youths, but efforts to promote domestic toons could lead to slower pickups of foreign product.

Trying to encourage domestic production is still a priority, as much of the home-produced fare is weak and too focused on costume dramas. While these are popular, they will not be enough to fill the huge amount of programming air that the country’s increased use of digital TV will permit.

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