You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Sony TV’s ‘Mad About You’ Adaptation Broke Ground in China

Hollywood is familiar with the many hurdles that need to be cleared before a U.S.-produced movie hits the multiplexes in China. But how about a TV series based on an American property?

Sony Pictures TV navigated the process over nearly a two-year period before closing a deal earlier this month Dragon TV for a Mandarin-language adaption of the 1990s NBC rom-com “Mad About You.”

The studio and its local production partners essentially had to commission 60 episodes on spec before securing a network deal. China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television censorship board had to sign off on all of the scripts and review the finished episodes. No network would license the show until the episodes had SARFT’s seal of approval, according to Andrea Wong, president of international production for Sony Pictures TV.

Sony tapped into the local political savvy of Chinese production partners Huaso Film/TV Digital Production and Croton Media to guide the show through the approvals process. It started with selecting 60 scripts from the “Mad About You” archive that would both resonate with Chinese audiences and, of course, pass muster with the censors. Jeff Lerner, exec VP of scripted programming for Sony Pictures TV International, spent a lot of time in Shanghai shepherding the project for the studio last year.

“If they don’t approve your scripts, they will shut down your show,” Wong told Variety. “Our team went to China and worked with our partners to identify the scripts that would resonate with Chinese cultural norms and with SARFT in mind.”

The “Mad About You” development process is believed to mark the first time a Chinese scripted comedy has assembled a writers room to develop scripts in the traditional group setting used by U.S. sitcom producers. Chinese screenwriter Shu Huan spearheaded the adaptation with a handful of Chinese writers and assists from a team of U.S. consultants brought in by Sony. That list included Bill Grundfest, supervising producer of the comedy that ran seven seasons on NBC from 1992 to 1998.

Directing and editing consultants were also brought in to instruct Huan and his team how to lense a multi-camera sitcom. The production schedule for each episode was a speedy two days, compared to five days for a typical U.S. sitcom.

The Chinese version, “Xin Hun Gong Yu,” which roughly translates to “Wedding Apartment,” stars husband-and-wife actors Li Jiahang and Li Sheng in the roles originally limned by Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. The series is set to premiere Jan. 4 on pay TV channel Dragon TV, with second runs to follow on the popular streaming platform Youku Tudou.

The key to getting “Xin Hun Gong Yu” on the air was identifying the 60 scripts from the “Mad About You” archive of 162 episodes. The series revolved around the trials and tribulations of a young married couple — not exactly politically charged stuff but understanding local tastes was still vital. “It has to work within the context of the culture,” Wong said.

Sony has experience in doing local-language adaptations of classic American sitcoms. The studio put “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Nanny” and “Married with Children” on the air in Russia, and at present it has “Raymond” and “I Dream of Jeannie” airing in India. But China is a trickier market to crack because of the state’s firm grip on media.

SARFT censors scrutinized each script twice and kept an eye on production and post-production. But the timetable of production went smoothly without major delays, according to Wong. She credits that to the relationships of Huaso Film/TV, which is a joint venture of Sony and CCTV6’s HuaCheng Pictures, and Croton. In fact, it was a Croton executive’s fondness for the original “Mad About You” that sparked the deal.

Sony Pictures TV hopes to do more original series and library adaptations for the Chinese market. Wong notes that co-productions are attractive to Chinese media companies because of of the country’s interest in exporting content. Sony’s Left Bank Productions is working with a unit of CCTV on an English-language drama series co-production aimed at the global market as well as China, she said.

“China is so interesting right now — there’s so much that can be done,” Wong said. “The exciting thing is that you can pursue different models for doing production. There are no rules.”

More TV

  • Lena Dunham

    HBO Max Orders Lena Dunham-Produced High School Dramedy 'Generation' to Series

    HBO Max has given out a series order to the half-hour high school dramedy “Generation.” The project had been ordered to pilot at the nascent streamer earlier this year, meaning this is the first HBO Max pilot to get picked up to series. The ten-episode series follows a group of high school students whose exploration [...]

  • British Writer Nick Stoller Arrives For

    'Neighbors' Director Nick Stoller Sets 'Florida Man' Put Pilot at Fox

    A one-hour rom-com procedural set in the Florida Panhandle is in the works at Fox. The network has issued a put pilot commitment to “Florida Man,” which hails from “Neighbors” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nick Stoller, and “Bones” producer Carla Kettner. “Florida Man” centers around the loquacious, eccentric Bell Prescott, who hasn’t left the [...]

  • Consumer Reporter Jeff Rossen Joins Hearst

    Consumer Reporter Jeff Rossen Joins Hearst Television

     Jeff Rossen, a TV journalist who became a fixture on NBC’s “Today” with reports about consumer tips and avoiding scams, is taking up a new role at Hearst Television. Rossen will become the company’s chief national consumer correspondent, a new role, and will continue to deliver his “Rossen Reports” that help people analyze how to [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: The Butterfly in

    TV Ratings: 'Masked Singer,' 'The Moodys' Lead Fox to Wednesday Win

    Fox walked away with a win in the Wednesday night TV ratings, thanks to another solid performance from “The Masked Singer” and the debut of its new comedy miniseries “The Moodys.” “The Masked Singer” was down a fraction on last week both in terms of rating, coming in at a 1.8 among adults 18-49, and [...]

  • Dark

    'This Is Just the Beginning,' Netflix Exec Says of Non-English Programming

    Netflix is just “scratching the surface” of what it plans to do in non-English-language programming, the company’s head of international originals said Thursday, adding that, for the streaming giant, “Hollywood is not the be-all and end-all of storytelling.” The streamer’s success with series such as Germany’s “Dark” and Denmark’s “The Rain” means it will go [...]

  • Gabrielle Union Julianne Hough

    Julianne Hough Praises Gabrielle Union for 'Speaking Her Truth' on 'AGT' Controversy

    Julianne Hough praised Gabrielle Union Thursday after Union revealed she had a five-hour meeting with NBC about the culture at “America’s Got Talent.” During an appearance on the “Today” show, Hough commended Union for standing up for herself, and also congratulated NBC for agreeing to sit down with her for discussions. “When I see that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content