Reality Shows, Rom-Coms and Ping Pong Dramas: Chinese Producers Show Off TV Exports

CANNES — At its best, television serves as a mirror for its audience. This year, the Mipcom conference trained its annual country-of-focus spotlight on original TV content produced in China.

That proved to be a timely choice as the conference came on the heels of last week’s headline-making clashes between Chinese and Western cultural values in the world of sports and entertainment. The NBA has endured a controversy that ignited after an official with the Houston Rockets tweeted his support of Hong Kong protesters as the league was in the midst of a pre-season showcase tour of China. “South Park” had its foul-mouthed animated characters bash both China and the U.S. in an episode called “Band in China” – and wound up banned in China.

Against this backdrop, Monday’s presentation of a slate of more than a dozen contemporary TV series and specials produced by Chinese media companies offered an intriguing glimpse of pop culture on the mainland, as sanctioned for broadcast by the ruling forces in the world’s most populous country. The Mipcom event was organized by China’s State Council Information Office and its National Radio and Television Administration.

The production values on display were strong and the genres familiar. One scripted drama centers on a drifter in Beijing who finds the meaning of life after meeting a young woman. A romantic comedy turns on two real-estate agents who accidentally rent the same apartment. An action-drama revolves around two very different rival ping pong players. Then there’s the reality show that sends fathers who have strained relationships with their children out to seek adventures with those estranged sons and daughters.

Here’s a look at some of the programs presented:

“Mr. Fighting”: An hourlong drama about a drifter who finds his purpose. It had the look and feel of an uplifting 8 p.m. broadcast network drama. Premiered on Hunan TV in July.

“Ping Pong”: The 48-episode scripted series is set to premiere on streaming platform iQiyi in July 2020. The show seems to emphasize action sequences featuring the two bitter competitors working the paddles in front of stadium crowds, complete with slow-motion sequences set to a Wagnerian score. Both young male players seem to be extremely emo to boot.

“Your Home Is My Business”: Two young real-estate dynamos in Shanghai meet cute and then clash in classic rom-com fashion. She sports a Winona Ryder-esque bob haircut as she asserts herself all over the place, including in the apartment that they both call home. The 52-episode series from Shanghai Youhug Media Co. is set to bow in the first quarter on a broadcaster TBD.

“P. King Duckling: Adventure Buds”: An animated series with a catchy theme song revolves around an always-enthusiastic duckling and his friends, a wombat who loves books and a pig who is a genius inventor.

“Life Matters 2”: The second season of a docu-series following the lives of doctors, EMTs and patients at hospitals in Shanghai. There’s plenty of emotional drama as everyday people face life-threatening illnesses. There’s also a focus on the organ donation process. Ten new episodes are set to premiere in January on Dragon TV, from producer SMG Partners.

“The Biggest Birthday Party”: A 50-minute documentary highlighting 10 everyday people who are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in their own way. The special produced by NGC will air later this month.

“The Chanting of Pu-er Tea”: A five-part documentary series on the history of a tea from Hunan province that is believed to have healing power. It premiered earlier this year on YNTV.

“Once Upon a Bite 2”: The second season of this foodie travelogue series explores Chinese food from seven different perspectives, including an episode about the influence of foreign ingredients on Chinese cuisine. It’s set to premiere on Tencent Video next year.

“When I Grow Up”: Five sets of fathers are sent out with cameras in tow to travel and take on “surprises” that will test their already-frayed relationships with their adult children. There were a lot of furrowed brows and scowling on the part of the dads in the clips presented. The 13-episode series premiered in August on the Mango TV streaming platform.

All of these series are being shopped by sellers in Mipcom’s China pavilion to buyers outside of the Middle Kingdom. He Ping, who is affiliated with the “Chanting of Pu-er Tea” documentary, told Variety through a translator that she believes such documentaries are important to educating the rest of the world about her homeland.

“It’s very important to present Chinese cultural traditions in small towns,” said He, who is director of the international exchange and cooperation department of the Hunan Radio and Television Administration. Having a presence at a global TV market like Mipcom is part of an effort to “build a network” for Chinese programming, she said.

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