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November 5, 2016

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Reality show script claims stir controversy

STAR swimmer and Olympic champion Sun Yang questioned the authenticity of reality TV in China as he and other celebrities were allegedly told to “act” according to a script in the second season of Hunan Satellite TV’s popular army-life reality series “Takes A Real Man.”

On October 28, Sun posted on Weibo that he never expected to be asked to follow a script on a reality show, especially a series like “Takes A Real Man.” When he tried to be himself, he was duped, he wrote. Soon afterward he deleted the post.

The series, based on a South Korean program, gathers eight stars of different ages in China. In addition to Sun, it also features actresses Yang Mi, Tong Liya and Zhang Lanxin, actor Jiang Jingfu, singer Huang Zitao, TV anchors Li Rui and Shen Mengchen who receive weeks of tough trainings at military camps.

Since its debut on October 21, it has drawn a large audience. Many viewers believe the show’s drama is real and that they are seeing the celebs’ true personalities as they face the challenges of army life. Sun’s microblog post has stirred heated controversy on the Internet.

According to People’s Daily, some netizens said that Sun is not an actor and he rarely joins such shows; therefore what he said on Weibo should be true. Others said this is just a stunt to draw attention to the show. Sun did not appear in the new episode of the show this week. Though it’s said that Sun missed the show because he had to attend an Olympic honors ceremony, many viewers think his words on microblog are the real reason for his absence.

Despite the appearance of verisimilitude, scripts are often used on reality shows. Popular Chinese actress Zhao Liying has told reporters that scripts are always set for the stars in such shows. “I used to think it was fun to join reality series,” Zhao said in an early interview. “But later I found that it is more natural for me to act in films or TV dramas.”

Reality show scripts usually outline basic characteristics of the stars and conflicts for the show.

One tip-off that reality show drama may not always be genuine are the goofs frequently identified by viewers. For instance, the hairstyle of a star may change when she is singing a song.

Hunan Satellite TV’s another hit reality show “X-change,” launched in 2006, featured city-bred children changing places with their counterparts from a poverty-stricken village for one week. Each episode contrasts the personality and lifestyles of the children. In the end, the city kid usually “grows up” and understands what life really means.

However, CQ Magazine interviewed some participants of the show and found that the characters, plot, setting and even conflicts and quarrels were all scripted. The magazine also reported that children who did not cooperate in the show were actually intimated by the production team.

Shi Ningjie, an urban teenager from a rich family, participated in the show’s seventh season in 2014. Contrary to what was seen in the episode he starred in, Shi did not adapt to village life after two weeks of shooting. While he was shown eating potatoes for each meal in the show, he said he instead ate bread and specially prepared meals.

“When the directors needed you to be a ‘bad’ boy in the show, they would irritate you,” Shi recalled. “But when they needed you to behave well in the new episode, you would find each of them amiable and smiling. They would keep telling you how great you are and to be good.”

Just for fun

Despite the controversies, some actors deny that there is scripting in reality shows. Actress Yang Mi, another participant on “Takes A Real Man,” responded to Sun’s words by saying that all the hardships and sweat while experiencing army life were real.

Pop singer Xue Zhiqian, who was in town this week for the launch of the new outdoor series “Our Challenge,” to be debuted on Jiangsu Satellite TV on December 4, said he hadn’t received any script for the show.

This year will see an estimated 400 reality-based programs on domestic TV channels and video-sharing websites. Most of them borrow successful foreign concepts and feature pop idols, heartthrobs and star wannabes.

The popularity of reality shows in China nowadays reminds some viewers of Peter Weir’s 1998 satirical comedy-drama film “The Truman Show.” Truman, played by Jim Carrey, is an unwanted baby raised inside a reality television show revolving around his life. One day he discovers all the falsity around him and decides to escape.

“I hate to be fooled by such shows which usually have certain plots,” says Elene Zhou, a 30-something engineer in Shanghai. “I would rather spend time reading.”

TV fan Linda Jin, a college student in Shanghai, says that she and her classmates never expect too much from such shows. In her eyes, these programs are just for fun and laughs.

Push for positivity

In recent years, Chinese officials have repeatedly called for original, positive and inspiring reality shows. Last year an announcement from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television urged domestic TV producers to present shows of high quality and positive energy. Superficial and vulgar shows would be banned from airing. Despite criticism of the authenticity and duplication of many reality shows, some programs have received praise from both critics and audiences.

The outdoor reality series “Infinite Challenge,” which aired on China Central Television early this year, won high praise from many young netizens. The show featured a group of celebrities facing interesting and unexpected challenges as they took on the jobs of ordinary people, such as firemen, car washers and tea farmers.

“Let’s Go,” the first-ever historical reality series in China, also aroused patriotism and enthusiam for Chinese history among today’s young generation when it was shown on Sichuan Satellite TV from last year. The program has been recommended by over 20 noted history scholars for its knowledgeable, fun and creative presentation of history.

Experts and critics say that scripts are difficult to be avoided in the entertainment industry as producers always try to make high-rating shows.

“To draw a big audience, many scenes and conflicts in reality shows are specially ‘created’,” says Professor Gu Xiaoming, a TV and film expert from Fudan University. “People are real, but the story may not be. It’s appropriate to honestly tell viewers about that rather than confuse or mislead them.”


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