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The Same Song canceled: CCTV dumps another flagship program

Yangtse Evening Post
October 9, 2009

Update (2009.10.12): The Chengdu Business News report appears to be completely false, as the Yangtse Evening Post suggested but did not have the guts to follow through with. See this post for CCTV's denial and additional analysis.

The Same Song (同一首歌), a series of concerts that airs on CCTV and brings big stars into the living rooms of people across the country, is the latest program to be canceled in the network's programming overhaul.

Cities throughout China host the concerts, which typically feature a line-up of pop-stars and traditional singers who each perform a couple of songs before the entire cast sings the familiar theme-song at the end of the night. Premiering in January 2000, the show has remained popular over the past decade, although it has been criticized in recent years for becoming overly-commercialized and for failing to draw A-list stars.

The program recorded its final installment in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on September 29th, and arrangements to stage additional shows in Shiyan and in Henan Province after the National Day holiday were postponed.

From the Chengdu Business News, which broke the story:

Will the flagship program The Same Song be canceled? This reporter discovered no news about a cancellation on the program's page on the CCTV website. The Same Song is currently broadcasting its 2009 National Day special edition on both CCTV-1 and CCTV-3, showing loads of stars in Los Angeles, Yanzhou, Miyun, and Ningxia, singing songs for the motherland. But after the 8th, "The Same Song" does not appear anywhere on the program listings.

A staffer associated with The Same Song who did not wished to be named said that all CCTV channels were being overhauled, starting with the news channel: many programs were being shuffled around, but the ultimate fate of The Same Song had not yet been determined. CCTV-3's new schedule would be set after the 8th. CCTV-3 head Lang Kun, The Same Song producer Meng Xin, and operating director Zheng Bo'ang did not answer phone calls, perhaps because they were not in a good mood. Right before press time, this reporter received a text message from Meng Xin containing one English word, "Yes!", confirming for the first time that The Same Song would be leaving CCTV. Where would the program end up? Meng Xin replied, also in English, "Unwitting."

Today's Yangtse Evening Post article largely reproduces this report, but adds the following parenthetical:

However, when a reporter called back to confirm, Meng Xin replied by text message: "I have never been interviewed and I refute the rumor that I answered 'Yes'."

In a lengthy, impassioned post on the CCTV BBS, one commenter laments the station's short-sightedness:

We can see that China Television has made a mistake. Lucky 52 ran for ten years, Tell It Like It Is for 13. TV people didn't like Lucky 52 anyway, so losing it was no big deal, and there was always Yong Le Hui. But while Tell It Like It Is was loved by TV people, its "new father and step-mother didn't love it" and abandoned it. What does this mean? It means that China Television is a blackboard, where everything you've put your heart into writing will ultimately be erased. What needs to be abandoned are not China's big-name programs, but its theory of television. So many theories developed in studies and classrooms years ago, put into books that are treated like holy scripture and used to deal with China's television programming.

And this seems to have led us along a misleading, erroneous line of thinking: In this "breaking the four olds" and "Cultural Revolution" within the TV sector, must we only reform the "old" and "outdated"? But it's not the Cultural Revolution anymore! Should we get rid of the 5, 6, 7, and eight-year-old programs? What we should really reform is the damaging dogma of China Television.

The Chengdu Business News article included a sidebar listing three pressing problems that may have contributed to The Same Song's cancellation:

Crisis 1: Dogged by a lawsuit

In 2004, Chen Zhe and Meng Weidong, the authors of the song "The Same Song," sued the program for copyright infringement. Meng said that CCTV had turned his 1990 composition into a television program and had sung it countless times without informing them or giving them any compensation. As a commercial enterprise, the program had enriched many people, yet the two of them were constantly misunderstood: "They all said that the program was so hot that we had to have gotten rich! If I didn't come out to argue, this mistake would certainly have continued." The following year, The Same Song changed its theme song, but it kept its name unchanged.

Crisis 2: Shocking profits exposed

In 2007, Andy Lau turned down an invitation to The Same Song's "Hero Mothers" benefit concert, driving director Meng Xin to tears and kicking up a controversy that went on for a while. First, people criticized Lau for acting like a prima donna, but then netizens began a massive criticism of CCTV: The Same Song was a commercial enterprise, they said, but it "kidnapped" stars in the name of a benefit concert. After Lau's ground-breaking refusal, there was little public pressure on other A-list stars when they refused invitations to The Same Song.

Prior to this, Sanlian Life Week had published an exposé of The Same Song's massive profits based on the word of a government official in Baoji. This second-tier city had spent three years wooing the program, at a cost to the government of 7 million yuan (post-tax). This included 2 million to pay singers, 1.6-1.7 million for broadcast on CCTV, and the remainder for production costs. This 7 million did not include the venue fee, electricity, lodging for cast and crew, and the program also passed through the hands of Xi'an and Beijing entertainment companies.

A third problem is competition from similar programs on other networks, some of which are able to land stars that snub The Same Song, and from satellite music channels that feature the hottest pop acts uninterrupted by military vocalists singing patriotic songs.

However, the close of the Yangtse Evening Post article suggests that ownership issues, rather than any more sensational reason, may be at the root of the cancellation. At the end of 2003, ownership of The Same Song was transferred from CCTV proper to its wholly-owned subsidiary China International Television Corporation. CCTV's arts and entertainment division may have decided to axe a popular program it no longer directly controls to give its own stable of entertainment programming room room to grow.

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