TV viewers and experts have reacted with delight to the conclusion on Sunday night of the first series of hit variety show The Voice of China, praising it for bringing grassroots talent and wholesome content to primetime.
The four finalists (Wu Mochou, Jin Zhiwen, Liang bo and Jiekejunyi from left to right) stand for a group photo at the grand finale of the Voice of China on September 30, 2012. [Photo/Zhejiang Radio and TV]
The program, a Chinese version of Dutch series The Voice of Holland, has been credited with helping rehabilitate the TV entertainment genre after authorities were moved to crack down on vacuous, vulgar broadcasts earlier this year.
The Voice of China's popularity also drew record advertising, the final episode attracting an ad spend of 500,000 yuan (about 79,550 U.S. dollars) per second.
Introduced to the schedules by Zhejiang TV in east China's Zhejiang Province on July 13, its format sees music stars Na Ying, Liu Huan, Harlem (Yu Chengqing) and Yang Kun act as judges cum tutors to appraise the singing talents of applicants drawn from the public.
The four sit on swivel chairs firstly with their backs toward the contestants, so as to judge them objectively based on their singing performances. They then offer professional guidance to singers selected for subsequent rounds to help them to hone their skills.
The show quickly become a hit around China and topped a league of all variety shows broadcast by the country's local TV stations, based on audience figures, according to Zhejiang TV.
"The Voice of China" remained among the most frequently searched-for topics on Baidu, China's search engine giant, during the show's run. On Sunday, over 52 million messages about The Voice of China were posted on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging service.
PRIMETIME REGAINS VITALITY, TRUST
More importantly, it has helped TV stations regain some trust from the authorities following restrictions placed on their programming.
Talent shows have saturated China's TV channels ever since the craze for Super Girl in 2004. They were joined by similarly formatted TV dating contests.
Both were criticized for being trashy mass-market fodder, and it wasn't long before the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) had stepped in. On January 1, it set quotas for the number of shows classifiable as "entertainment" that channels were allowed to air.
But The Voice of China seems to have won approval from the broadcasting watchdog. On July 26, after just two of its episodes had screened, the SARFT issued a report saying that the show's grassroots singers had moved people with their extraordinary talents, and praising the tutors' comments for their warmth and sincerity.
"Finally, the Voice of China has come and enlightened Chinese with abundant true feelings and both the singers' and the tutors' dedication to pursuing their dreams," said Xu Fan, a researcher with the Communication University of China, after the final episode was broadcast.
Besides its attractive form, the show transmits positive values and deep humanistic concerns, he said.
Yin Hong, deputy director with the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, added that only those TV shows that eliminate fickleness and transfer positive energy can maintain vitality.
"It is a common fault for talent shows to be flashy and noisy, but The Voice of China makes a good model for China's TV variety shows to walk out of the 'seven-year itch' since 2004," according to Yin.
Particularly popular contestants included Taiwanese blind girl Zhang Yuxia and minority singer Li Weizhen.
Upon finising runner-up in the grand finale on Sunday night, 20-year-old Wu Mochou said, "Finally, I have realized the dream of my family and myself to sing for common people, and to an audience of millions."
Li is a daughter of a folk pop singer, who used to drive his family and friends around in a caravan to tour and perform.
"It was my dream from childhood to form my own 'music caravan' team to travel around China and hold concerts," said Wu.
INTERNATIONAL FORM, CHINESE EXPRESSION
The show's creators imported the format from Holland, but it was not a simple process of copying, according to Xia Chenan, Zhejiang TV's head of programming.
"We tried to grasp the essence of The Voice of Holland and produce a Chinese version, with the singers' rich inner world and beautiful voices," he said.
In Xia's view, The Voice of China blazed a trail of "International form, Chinese expression" on TV.
To ensure quality , 27 cameras and 500 professionals were set to capture the subtle expressions and movements of the singers and tutors, explained Lu Wei, the director of the show.
Each 90-minute program was carefully edited down from over 10,000 minutes of footage, he said, explaining that the crew learned important lessons in technical aspects like lighting and scripts from their Dutch counterparts.
Despite the show's critical and commercial success, there is room for improvement in the second series that is sure to follow. Audiences complained about the amount of advertising and called for more attention to be paid to the back stories and off-set lives of singers.
"We will humbly accept these valuable suggestions, and strive to explore the Chinese creation of original TV programs," promised Du Fang, deputy director of programming at Zhejiang TV.