posted on May 03, 2008 01:19
There's two things I took away from Monday nigh's audience participation in TV show Xin Shi Ting, it's how massive the infrastructure China has for doing live TV, and how informal and accessible state TV can be, despite its deserved reputation for stiffness and censorship. A Chinese friend who got a couple of tickets for Xin Shi Ting, one of the country's favourite variety shows, screened by China Central Television from its vast complex near the Military Museum on the west side of Beijing.
It was a Monday night, six o'clock and the queue clustered in an ugly mess around the west gate of the complex. This was a special episode, to mark the 100 day count down to the opening of the Olympic Games in August. After we'd had our tickets checked by the soldiers at the gate there was time for a quick snack and a coffee in the first fllor diner. To say the place hasn't moved on from central planning would be to exaggerate. I pointed to my cake, a glum attendant sent me over to another glum attendant who then shouted over to glum attendant no.1 to see what I was buying. Two flimsy slips of paper from glum attendant no.2 in return for my money, got me my cake and a coffee from glum attendant no.1. Pure state-job-for-life mentality.
Well at least the canteen time got me up close with the judges of one of the several pop idol-style talent shows CCTV is now running. A commander in China's fire service and ethnic Tibetan pop singer Han Hong, who came trundling along in dark brown sunglasses, are among the dozen judges picking the winners.
Downstairs, the smell of shampoo permeates the air as girls in white and perms totter out of the cubicles.families sit around low tables strewn with lunch boxes, coke cans and cigarettes. As with most things in China it’s a very public affair as the girls fix themselves in front of a massive hall of massive hand basins and mirrors.
Nearby, we entered a corridor for studio 8 and went to take our place for Xin Shi Ting. The informality of it all is familiar to anyone who's been to the theatre in China. Noisy punters in jeans and short sleeves go to little effort in dressing for the occasion, trundle up the scaffolded steps to jostle for seats. “Shut up,” shouts a hoarse producer dressed in the US style army gear and boots that appeal to so many Chinese men. “Sit down!” -Stop walking around! His voice is hoarser all the while but fails to dim the din of mobile phones and seats.
Performers in various shades of pink and gold take the stage, all against a backdrop of images on background screens of the Asia Games and an uncrecognisably ancient, green Beijing. The pop star with the white suit wanders around with a microphone and girls in hot pants and lads with grey leather jackets are pure laobaixing (working class) heroes. Anti-climax when they trundle off stage. Popstar Cai Guo Qing warbles before tables of VIPs sitting at yellow clothed VIP tables at the front with roses on. To add to the novelty factor a host from CCTV's economics channel sings a song.
A theme of sports star and singers began with Diver Guo Ming and Liu Wei. Wheelchair-bound former gymnast Sang Lan drew the loudest cheers for her several duets. Each performance was introduced by the Sonny Knowles of the evening, ageing comedian Hou Bao Ling. His shiny black-cherry dye job as visible as his wrinkles under the set lights Hou flirted with his skinny young co-hosts, and during off-stage breaks between his bright red tie.
To western eyes some of the costumes were as awful as the green-clean, free flowing Beijing flashing by on the screen was unrecogniseable to anyone who every day cycles its clogged and polluted streets. Worst dress kudos go to one singer's huge plastic silver waist band over a silver dress.
The clad-for-combat producer gets particularly exercised when a bald, fat audience member heads for the door during a performance. After a second take, bawls out a serious of reprimands before telling the audience to look smarter -“Take off your overcoats” - and to clap more: "You should clap 500 times a day, it’s good for you."