×
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

  • Series Mania: De Mensen, Reel One

    Series Mania: First Details on Co-Pro Pitching Project 'Capturing Big Mouth' (EXCLUSIVE)

    LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth. The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Make Progress in Contract Talks, No Blackout After Deadline Passes

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives went down to the wire Friday on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. The companies stayed in talks past the midnight Eastern contract expiration and the channels stayed up on AT&T’s platforms. Sources indicated early Saturday that the threat of a blackout had been averted. [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating show in which a group of singles will check into a tropical resort and compete to check [...]

  • 'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First

    'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First Docusoap on the State of Reality TV

    Netflix crossed another unscripted threshold on Friday with the launch of “Selling Sunset,” an 8-episode series that follows a group of real estate agents on the Sunset Strip. The show is believed to be the streaming service’s first docusoap, the now-ubiquitous format first popularized in the early 2000s by shows like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and [...]

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • 'Supernatural' to End After Season 15

    'Supernatural' to End After Season 15 on The CW

    “Supernatural” is ending after 15 seasons. Series stars Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins made the announcement in a video posted on Instagram on Friday. “We just told the crew that even though we’re very excited to be moving into our 15th season, it will be our last,” Ackles said. “15 years of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content