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August 7, 2009

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Song & Dance

TRADITIONAL talent contests that are proving increasingly popular on TV are reminders of a golden age of small-screen entertainment, writes Xu Wei. The 93-year-old Kuang Biru didn't expect that her performance of singing and dancing at the talent show "Come On, the Whole Family" would be so popular.

The grandmother and her family, in traditional Tibetan costumes, presented "Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau," a signature song from Chinese singer Han Hong. Her performance had the audience cheering and clapping for more.

After the show, Kuang said she was very lucky to see the Beijing Olympics in her lifetime. "Now I hope I can live long enough to see the World Expo Shanghai next year with my own eyes."

Kuang's son, Liao Jianping, the tenor soloist in the highly acclaimed performance, says her mother has a very simple wish: live long, live young.

Kuang exercises each morning in the neighborhood park and participates in Expo English lessons in a local school. Now she can speak some simple sentences such as "I'm happy to be here." And she has also compiled her personal experience of practicing "Yi Jin Jing," a kind of Chinese qigong (an internal Chinese meditative practice which uses slow, graceful movements) for health care, copies of which have been sent to other elderly people in her community.

"Though granny Kuang didn't advance into the next round, we were deeply impressed by her confidence and optimistic attitude toward life," says Shi Wei, a director of the show.

"Come On, the Whole Family" is broadcast live every Monday to Wednesday at 9pm on Dragon TV. After the current elimination rounds, 50 families at home and abroad will enter the final rounds running from November to next February, featuring more Expo-themed quizzes, promotions and performances.

The show's producers say they have received an extra license from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to include SMS voting. During the final rounds, audiences can help decide on the winning families together with professional judges.

So far hundreds of expat and local families have applied for the contest. Many overseas families who plan to attend the 2010 Expo and want to be on Chinese television have also submitted videos.

Prizes for the winners include one-year car rental, free tickets to the Expo Shanghai and being honored as an "Expo Goodwill Ambassador."

However, what has attracted most families to the televised contest is that the talent show enhances the bond between family members and showcases their unique talents and characteristics as a team.

"Many ordinary families have given proof of extraordinary courage and the beautiful side of human nature," director Shi says.

The applicants include a father named Wan Shengli who hopes to find a boyfriend for his daughter. Over the past two decades, Wan and his daughter have looked after each other since the death of his wife.

Some young people also expressed their gratitude and love to their parents during the show while middle-aged parents are encouraged to fulfill their long-time dream of shining on stage.

Timothy Nicol's family, who sang the Australian folk song "Click Go the Shears" at a recent show, advanced into the next round of the contest later this year.

Shen Kefei, Nicol's Shanghainese wife, says that she got to know her Australian husband on a business trip. Though their seven-year-old son has already been a veteran performer at some children's talent shows, the contest was a stage debut and a big challenge for her and her husband.

"Our former experience in practicing songs and dances was very sweet and rewarding," Shen recalls. "It is also a good chance to show the unity and harmony of our family, as well as our aspirations for the Expo Shanghai. My mother-in-law will come and tour around the city during the event."

Since it began last month, the family talent show has achieved an average 2.2-percent viewership rating, a fairly good performance for a domestic entertainment show.

Another new Chinese folk singing TV contest which invites domestic and foreign singers to perform classic folk songs such as "Say A Word in Heart" and "A Big Bowl of Tea" with modern elements such as rap has also been gaining popularity.

The popularity of these two shows has insiders and experts wondering whether they can rejuvenate the brilliance and vitality of entertainment TV programs years ago.

To many local residents, Shanghai Television's "Casio Family Singing Contest" was kind of a legend. The show was broadcast on Shanghai TV for 11 years from 1985, and once enjoyed a 94-percent viewership rating. Other classic and hit programs in the 1980-90s included the quiz show "Intelligence Surfing" and "Happy Turnplate."

Bao Xiaoqun, general manager of Channel Young Media, a fashion media subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group, says that amid the flourishing of new media, televised entertainment shows can no longer just rely on traditional broadcasts.

"TV programing is just one facet for such shows, and we need to think big," Bao says. "The programs can actually integrate with online and mobile TV platforms and give inspiration for some public live events."

Internet discussions, print publications, e-commerce and mobile TV offerings are now incorporated into most of the channel's fashion and entertainment shows like "My Wedding" and "OK Lady," which are targeted at young white-collar women with strong fashion sense.

"Later this month we will also launch a travel reality show, and a selection of the city's fashion landmarks at night," Bao reveals.

"With special sectors to interact with audiences and the Expo, these programs are expected to develop into a wide-ranging and integrated multimedia brand instead of a single TV show."

Shanghai Interactive TV (SiTV) will also collaborate with more than 20 provincial Internet companies on an initiative about China's "next-generation broadcasting."

The new broadcasting service plans to merge traditional entertainment and news TV programs with online value-added services, which means the audience can select distance education, distance medical treatment, e-commerce and interactive games directly from the TV screen.

Professor Wu Gang, a TV expert from East China Normal University, notes that it is difficult for today's entertainment shows to recreate the feel of those "golden days" if they don't improve their creativity and include some cultural elements.

"Entertainment TV shows are mainly targeted at a young audience from 16 to 26 years old," Professor Wu says. "Many of them still rely on simple singing and dancing performances to hook viewers.

"The lack of originality and thought will make them less competitive than the novel and interactive online programs, and they can be finally forgotten by the public," he concludes. Popular domestic entertainment TV shows

"My Wedding"

This first wedding reality show in the history of domestic television attracted about 1,000 newlyweds to take part.

Since its debut in June, a few couples have shared their romantic stories and had their tacit cooperation tested through a series of interesting games.

In September, the most popular couple will be chosen by the judging panel comprised of a psychologist, an online novelist and TV hosts.

The couple will be rewarded with a magnificent wedding ceremony on a luxury Caribbean cruise.

Show time: 8pm, every Sunday, Channel Young

"Let's Shake It"

The televised dancing competition gathers more than 50 TV hosts from different programs around the country.

As early as 2006, the first edition of the show evoked local people's long-standing passion for dancing. And for the first time, the audience was able to see an unknown side of TV anchors from the show.

This year's show will wow the audience with more sparkling costumes and glamorous settings. It will present a nostalgic feel for each genre of dance, such as tango and waltz.

The final will be held during next year's Spring Festival holiday. The show will also collaborate with the World Dance Council to organize the International Ballroom Dance Championship in early 2010.

Show time: 8:30pm, every Saturday, Dragon TV

"Challenge 100 Percent"

The show features many popular and chic games from around the world.

Each team is composed of both ordinary people and a celebrity as captain. The winners will be invited to October's private party of kung fu star Jackie Chan and have the chance to tour the world.

A difference from traditional televised competition is that the show incorporates unique games created by famous games designers.

The program also has a close connection and interactivity with online communities. The video Website will broadcast the elimination rounds live and present video clips about the stories behind the competition.

Show time: 9:35pm, every Sunday, Jiangsu Satellite TV

"Day Day Up"

The hilarious talk show is one of the most popular domestic entertainment TV shows these days.

It was selected as the favorite entertainment show among university students during the 15th Shanghai Television Festival.

The eight TV hosts of the show share their knowledge of business etiquettes and social moralities with today's young people. The program also includes lighthearted drama and singing performances by both TV hosts and the audience.

Show time: 7:35pm, Friday, Hunan Satellite TV


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