China’s version of “Saturday Night Live” has been taken down from streaming platform Youku, as has another talk show featuring famous presenters from Taiwan. The removals come during a time of heightened political control of the media by the Chinese government.
The Chinese version of “SNL” on Youku was announced last year. The show has been running for a few weeks on Alibaba-owned Youku, but it is no longer available. The fourth episode was supposed to drop this past Saturday but did not. Previous episodes were also taken down.
Another program pulled from Youku is “Zhenxiang Ba! Huahua Wanwu” (roughly translated as “Truth! Everything”). The variety talk show reunites Dee Hsu and Kevin Tsai, famous presenters from Taiwan who two years ago bade farewell to their long-running show “Kangsi Coming,” one of the most popular talk shows in the Chinese-speaking world.
Youku could not be immediately reached for comment on the removals.
Although the U.S. “SNL” regularly lampoons political figures, particularly Donald Trump, the Chinese version steered clear of sensitive political jokes, which are taboo under the ruling Communist regime. Earlier this month, China’s State Administration of Radio and Television issued a set of guidelines calling for Internet content that helps young people with proper ideological development.
On its official Weibo feed, “SNL China” said it was working on the quality of the show to match audience expectation, but did not state when the show would resume.
Despite the high expectations, “SNL China” received only a 4.9 rating out of 10 on Douban. One user wrote: “My curiosity has prompted me to check out ‘SNL China.’ But my will to survive has caused me to exit the show as soon as I could.”
A critic on Chinese website Huxiu wrote that acquiring the right to a make a Chinese version did not mean the soul of the original would be included. Unlike the original “SNL” in the U.S., the Chinese version stars two comedians as regular show hosts and is pre-recorded.
“‘Saturday Night Live’ is successful because it encourages the audience to reflect on the reality behind the jokes and comic skits. It also ridicules American politics and culture, but this is obviously not allowed in China,” the Huxiu critique read.
To avoid political jokes, the Chinese version turned to other topics. One episode discussed feminism in China, with a sketch set in a Stone Age matriarchal society intended to make fun of modern-day sexism. But it ended up making feminists look ridiculous, according to the Huxia critique.
The state radio and TV administration’s guidelines urged streaming platforms to produce programs that are educational, positive and protect young people from the wrong values, calling on local censorship boards to “clear vulgar and harmful programs.” Programs such as reality talent shows, or shows that promote excessive consumerism, hedonism and materialism, are among the targets.
“Huahua Wanwu” features celebrities revealing their shopping lists, with a lineup of some of the biggest names from mainland China and Taiwan. The show was taken down after just one episode. The show announced on its official Weibo micro-blogging site that it is “working on” the matter and urged fans to be patient.
The Chinese version of SNL is the 10th iteration of the satirical show, with other versions being made in countries such as France and Finland. The original U.S. show has been on the air for more than 40 years.