Posted by Joel Martinsen on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 4:40 PM
The hammer has come down on reality shows as, for the first time, SARFT has pulled a talent competition currently in progress. Previous regulatory interference in the crowded market for Idol-knockoffs was limited to name changes, design tweaks, and scuttling of programs pre-launch.
Dai Chuang debases himself by kneeling to offer Yang Erche Namu a ring.
Yesterday, SARFT issued a memo ordering the suspension of the Chongqing TV program("First Heartthrob", some in the media are calling it, but we'll call it "Shock to the Heart" for kicks), ostensibly for retooling into a less vulgar piece of entertainment.
From SARFT's public announcement of the memo:
The Notice continues with standard boilerplate urging other broadcasters and administrators to draw lessons from this episode and strengthen their own work habits, so as to "resolutely carry out banning orders and to exercise scientific management, bold management, and strict management."
As big a deal as this is, it was not entirely unexpected. Like other reality shows, "Shock to the Heart" has been the subject of rumors about back-room dealings and game fixes, but it was last Friday's on-the-set chaos (alluded to in the SARFT notice) that seems to have been the final straw.
The scene on Friday's broadcast involved panelists Yang Erche Namu and Ke Yimin (Liu Xiaoqing and Pan Yueming were also judges but they aren't part of the controversy). During one of the segments, contestant Dai Chuang knelt on the ground to present a ring to Yang (end of this clip), which she graciously accepted, but she then proceeded to lecture him about a real man's duty not to kneel at the drop of a hat.
Judges Ke Yimin and Yang Erche Namu
Then in another segment, Ke asked Dai to choose between her (in green) and Yang (wearing a pink flower in her hair) as a potential girlfriend. He chose Ke, at first saying that she was younger than Yang, and then, when pressed, saying that he felt Yang was stupid and Ke was smart. This prompted another angry lecture from Yang about sincerity and dignity (in which she said in English, "I don't like you."). Then she returned his ring and sent him out. After the next contestant came in, Ke gave an impassioned defense of her integrity, threatened to walk out, and then burst into tears.
Ke Yimin's agent said that her tears weren't because of the contestant, but because the director had issued an order directing her not to speak - the director was working on time constraints (this was close to midnight, and the show didn't end for another half hour), but Ke thought that she was being punished.
Impromptu? Scripted? In any event, it's obvious that such a program could not continue to be broadcast in a harmonious society.
In response to this latest SARFT move, QQ put up a tongue-in-cheek profile of the Administration (screengrab here if the link is removed). Asking "What if SARFT were a person?" it notes the following traits:
Spin from the producers is that this is just a temporary halt, and the program will be back in a week. However, as late as yesterday, a spokesperson associated with the production company was still cautioning people about "rash speculation" and denying that SARFT had anything to do with the suspension.
And the director has pooh-poohed the idea that the SARFT order came in response to the program's pandering to low taste - as he tells it, the Administration has the safety of the studio audience at heart. According to the Changjiang Times, "[show director] Zhou Zhishun told the reporter that in a live broadcast, safety is of paramount importance. This sudden event caused a loss of control on the set, and hence the restructuring was requested by SARFT."
So "Shock to the Heart" may be gone for good. Even if it comes back, clean and healthy, will there be any reason to watch?
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.