television formats

television formats
The most notable trend in Chinese television programming during the late 1990s was the phenomenon of cloning (kelong) television formats (jiemu xingshi). The need for new domestic programmes had been made acute by the advent of multichannelling and the expansion of cable television stations during the 1990s. Producers on the lookout for new programming ideas that deliver ratings were quick to recognize the advantages of replicating successful formats, even if they originated from a neighbouring television station. The rise in format cloning is significant for the internationalization of Chinese television and the diversification of Chinese culture. Despite criticisms that format cloning signifies a lack of cultural imagination, it nonetheless demonstrates the capacity to integrate and localize global media trends. While television formats, in particular trade in ‘reality television’, have been a feature of global television industries, Chinese variations have, with a few notable exceptions, been unlicensed. As with international trends, most format cloning occurs in game shows and talk shows. However, there is also considerable evidence of copying of television dramas.
Examples of licensed formats include Sesame Street (Zhima jie) and Joy Luck Street (Xingfu jie). The former was produced by Shanghai Television in conjunction with New York-based Children’s Television Workshop. The parent company and Shanghai television producers localized the global Sesame Street format to suit the expectations of Chinese educators and to accommodate local cultural idioms. Sesame Street was first broadcast in February 1998. Joy Luck Street represents collaboration between the UK media company Granada and the Beijing-based Yahuan Cable Company.
Joy Luck Street was based on the English soap Coronation Street and was syndicated in a special 6.30 theatre time slot to Chinese cable television stations.
In contrast to the few licensed formats, unlicensed formats predominate. Many come from SAR Hong Kong and Taiwan where they have been successful. The sudden proliferation of dating shows in 1998 can be attributed to the success of the Taiwanese-format Special Man and Woman (Feichang nannü) distributed by Phoenix Satellite Television to Chinese cable stations. Within two years there were dozens of imitations on the mainland. In 2001 the influence of international reality television formats extended to the Chinese media. Expedition to Shangrila (Zouru Xianggelila) was produced by the Beijing-based production company Beijing Weihan Culture and Media Company, in collaboration with eighteen provincial Chinese television stations. This adaptation of the wilderness reality format drew heavily on the original European Survivor but with sufficient localization to make it politically correct and culturally appropriate. Rather than contestants seeking to outwit each other for an ultimate prize, two teams challenge each other to perform thirty tasks in the harsh environment of Tibet. The format also allowed audience voting and feedback through branded websites. Even the well-known international format Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has had Chinese clones, such as Millionaire (Baiwan fuweng) and CCTV’s The Dictionary of Happiness (Kaixin cidian). While the prizes are more modest than their Western counterparts there is the same fascination with winners and losers, a sure sign of the times in China.
Keane, Michael (2001). ‘Send in the Clones: Television Formats and Content Creation in the People’s Republic of China’. In Michael Keane and Yin Hong (eds), Media in China: Consumption, Content, and Crisis. London: Curzon Press, 176–202.
——(2002). ‘As a Hundred Television Formats Bloom, a Thousand Television Stations Contend’. Journal of Contemporary China 11.30:5–16.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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