Exciting as soap

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-4-1 19:23:01


Du Chun (left) and Ma Yili star in Qingchunqi zhuangshang Gengnianqi 2. Photo: CFP
Du Chun (left) and Ma Yili star in Qingchunqi zhuangshang Gengnianqi 2. Photo: CFP


China TV shows exist in a system that promotes boredom

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Apparently, yes in some cases. Take for example the recent canceling of a poorly rated program on Beijing's BTV. The drama Qingchunqi zhuangshang Gengnianqi 2 (adolescence meets menopause) suffered from chronically low audience numbers and yet the moment it went off the air, there was a storm of online protests that eventually attracted media attention.

On March 14, without any kind of prior notice, BTV did not broadcast episode 19 of the second season of Qingchunqi. Instead, a new TV series called Bi Youcai (the protagonist's name) debuted that evening. For regular viewers of the prime-time soap, it was a shock.

Beijing TV told the Beijing News that it was simply a common programming adjustment. But when Global Times tried to contact BTV's drama desk, the staff replied the topic was inconvenient to discuss.

According to the CSM Media Research Company data, the series' 0.347 percent rating on the night before it was cut off nearly dropped BTV out of the national top 20 during prime time.

Tianjin TV and Shanghai's Dragon TV also bought the series. The program is doing fine in Tianjin; however, members from Dragon TV did express to the Beijing News that the show's rating was unsatisfactory, knocking Dragon TV out of the top 10.

"We hope the rating will improve after the protagonist gets a divorce later," a spokesperson with Dragon TV told the Beijing News.

The first season of Qingchunqi attracted quite a large audience when it debuted on Shenzhen TV in 2011 and many viewers were looking forward to its second season. It tells the story of a young man, played by actor Du Chun, who is torn between a marriage arranged by his parents and his girlfriend. He finally realizes that he actually loves his wife, played by actress Ma Yili, and decides to leave his girlfriend and commit himself to his arranged marriage.

In the second season, the storyline focuses on family conflicts, especially after the leading couple has a baby.

Who's responsible?

The poor quality of the series caused many jokes online. Continuity was inconsistent making the wife's pregnant belly expand rapidly then in later episodes become smaller. Characters often argue too long over some tiny incident. And netizens have rightfully asked, "Where is the adolescence anyway?"

Television is never in short supply of "nonsense" or cliché dramas. Family shows in which the mother and daughter argue every five minutes or love stories with lovers slapping each other every other episode are all too common.

Making a 20-episode series twice as long by adding unnecessary plots and lines and stretching it out with sluggish pacing is actually one way these programs obtain more cash from advertisers. In this regard, Qingchunqi, might not be as stupid or old-fashioned as many people think: it's just boring.

Audiences like to blame who they know best - the actors - for their disappointment. Pang Hao, director of the series, expressed publicly that both Du and Ma are good actors and they should not carry the blame.

Critics usually comment on lines and plots, saying the scriptwriter produces dialogue without careful consideration. On March 12, the scriptwriter of the series, Ma Guangyuan, wrote on Sina Weibo, "Who wrote so many unnecessary plots for the supporting role?" indicating that many of his plots had been altered.

Zhang Wei, scriptwriter of popular television dramas such as Talented Man with Beautiful Woman and The Story of Lala's Promotion, told the Global Times in a previous interview that writing television scripts in China is a job for which "everyone gives you advice." Scriptwriters face pressure and restrictions from producers, television channels and the regulator.

Considering a popular television series like The Legend of Zhenhuan, it is obvious that it attracts an audience for many reasons such as great acting, a quality script, attractive costumes and other high-quality production elements. A television production needs to tick all the boxes to pass the audiences' examination, which means everyone on the team is responsible.

System failure

Huang Hong, director of Henan TV program center, said in an interview with Orient Today that cutting unpopular TV shows is not surprising. He pointed out that the practice is considered business as usual in the US where ratings play a vital role.

According to Huang's analysis, a series that broadcasts an episode immediately after shooting it can be more flexible, changing with the times and including current events, essentially monitoring the pulse of its audience during the creation process.

This system contrasts greatly with the domestic situation in which a producer must provide dozens of episodes of a series and then attempt to sell the entire series to various channels throughout the country.

Liu Gang, editor-in-chief of industry magazine Dianshiju Yanjiu (television series research), said in an interview with Legal Daily that TV shows in China have to pass the censorship process twice, once before shooting and again after shooting. He said this is a key factor that leads television channels to only buy fully finished programs.

Broadcasters are naturally concerned about consistency and know that censors could put a sudden stop to any program that failed to pass both rounds of approval. This is also the reason that even when a television series' audience rating is low, TV channels still prefer to finish broadcasting the whole season.

Zheng Xiaolong, a famous television director also said it would be hard for China to change to filming then broadcasting on a per-episode basis. TV channels would be the first to be affected as their business model would be completely changed. Fans of a series would also have to change their viewing habits since Chinese audiences are used to seeing two episodes per day. They would hardly accept a sudden conversion to weekly episodes. Changes like these all take time.

Making the replacement of unpopular programs a routine occurrence may be one way to improve the quality of content on TV, but it cannot be the final solution for improving the way TV shows are produced in China. The key is just to keep the audience in mind in every step of the process rather than advertisers. Then, ratings won't be a problem.

Global Times

Posted in: Diversions

blog comments powered by Disqus