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US TV looks to China for value and inspiration

LOWER production costs and potential new series ideas will drive the increasing collaboration between the Chinese and United States television industries, leading American writers, directors and producers told an industry forum in Shanghai yesterday.

Creative minds behind hit series such as "Desperate Housewives," "House" and the blockbuster "Kung Fu Panda" addressed the China-US TV and Film Forum, a key event at this week's Shanghai Television Festival.

Deran Sarafian, an industry veteran who has worked as a director and executive producer of hit series "House," said American studios may look to China to cut costs.

Sarafian is set to film an American television show in Australia, a popular low-cost production alternative for the US industry.

"American television is thinking globally more than ever, particularly in terms of production costs," Sarafian said. "One of the appealing things of this visit is that I will be able to go back to Warner Brothers, who I work for, and say I could make a show cheaper in China and that will appeal to them."

Also speaking at the forum were Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff, who worked on the story of animated blockbuster "Kung Fu Panda" and wrote the script for Ridley Scott's upcoming "Robin Hood." The pair also created and produced the acclaimed TV series "Sleeper Cell" and have a production company responsible for US$100 million worth of budgets.

Reiff said the industry was also casting an eye to China's domestic television market for potential local shows that could be adapted for an American audience.

"There is so much interesting material here to tell a cool story and I think it is possible that we will see Chinese shows that are adapted for an overseas market," he said.

"This is a more realistic ambition right now than a Chinese show being a hit overseas. It might happen but it would be a bit of a long shot."

The pair also told the forum the US television industry had become a global powerhouse on the back of a system that gave writers the primary role in the creative process.

"If you want a worldwide market penetration and the global popular cultural impact that American prime time scripted television shows have earned themselves over the past 30 years then we suggest that a writer-centered model is followed."

Zheng Xiaolong, a famous Chinese director/producer, said due to the fierce competition between TV channels in China, he usually works 16 hours a day to produce a TV drama as fast as possible.

Chinese TV dramas are frequently broadcast daily, often with two or three episodes showing every day.

"In the Chinese television world, we have to work very hard to be successful," said Chinese actor Zhang Guoli.

"However, we're still lucky as China has such a big market and we have so many loyal TV fans," Zhang said.


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