A growing number of Chinese TV shows are being filmed overseas.
Foreign countries increasingly offer Chinese TV producers not only program innovations but also locations for filming. More mainland TV crews are heading abroad, and recent episodes of Jiangsu Satellite TV's hugely popular dating show If You Are the One made headlines because the contestants are Chinese-British and Chinese expatriates recruited in Britain.
Hosts and contestants on Zhejiang Satellite TV's new reality show Heartbeat Argentina, which was produced in Argentina. [China Daily]
The show sent a production team to England to recruit bachelors and single women.
But it's not the first time the show has been filmed overseas. It started with a shoot in Australia in May 2011, followed by talent scouting in the United States in July.
"Many foreigners have appeared on the stage of our program," producer Wang Gang says.
"We've seen a young American get a crush on a Chinese woman and a Korean woman fall for a Chinese suitor. It reminds me that nationality and distance can't defeat love, which inspired me to create an overseas segment. The possibility of helping foreigners and Chinese living in other countries find love and revealing what they think about marriage compelled me to do an overseas segment," he continues.
Wang says singles were encouraged to apply for all three overseas recruitments.
"But due to language concerns, we preferred applicants who spoke good Chinese, so most contestants were overseas Chinese."
Wang says his team's work in foreign countries largely lies in recruitment and shooting introductory footage for bachelors.
Contestant Liu Wei, recruited in England, and host Meng Fei, on the set of If You Are the One.
When that was done, the contestants were brought to the studio in Jiangsu's provincial capital Nanjing, where the work was the same as for domestic segments.
These feature about 20 women contestants standing behind brightly lit podiums who pepper potential suitors with questions. If a guy's answers turn her off, she turns the light off, and he's out of the running.
"We prepared a lot and haven't experienced major obstacles recruiting abroad," Wang says.
"Our successful experiences in Australia and US paved a path for our team in England."
The TV station cooperated with Sina Weibo - China's answer to Twitter - and the London-based Chinese Weekly to publicize and organize recruitment.
Yang Fang, a Chinese student who has been studying opera in England for four years, says she learned about the recruitment from Chinese Weekly.
"My connections and resources in England are very limited, and I didn't have many chances to meet guys," Yang says, adding her foreign friends don't play matchmaker like Chinese friends would.
"That's the major reason I'm still single, and that's why I applied for the program," Yang says. "There are lots of people outside China who need to find love. I saw many people register to be a contestant. The show's overseas segment came at just the right time."
The flood of applicants came from various occupational backgrounds, including IT engineers, university students and musicians.
Singapore will be the show's next overseas stop.
Another show that's creating a buzz with its overseas segments is Zhejiang Satellite TV's quiz show Heartbeat Argentina.
It's the first show for which an entire mainland crew has gone to a foreign country.
Winners get free round-trip tickets to London during this year's Olympics. Losers are ejected from the stage in such wild ways as being blasted out of a cannon, shoved off the top of a moving semi-truck and dragged underwater by a massive anchor.
"The original idea was to make a trailblazing program," producer Tao Yan says. "The idea for a foreign quiz show came from television and digital production company, Endemol."
Shooting took place in a studio that could move up and down in the tower that contained it. Various devices used to punish the contestants were also on-set.
"We don't have such a venue or devices in China, so we had to take the show to Argentina," Tao says.
"And because there's nothing like it in China, using such facilities makes us truly groundbreaking."
It took two months to complete the 12-episode segment. The success came with many challenges, Tao says.
"There wasn't much time left to shoot after we pitched the idea, signed the contract with Endemol, prepared the questions and recruited contestants last November," Tao recalls.
"And 10 contestants' visas weren't granted. So we started a frantic search for contestants the moment we stepped off the plane.
"Our two women directors rushed up to every Asian they saw. After verifying they were Chinese, they tried to recruit them. They both said they wished they had worn sexier dresses that day."
Capricious weather made filming in the 30-meter-high tower a trial.
"We were sometimes scorched by the sun and deafened by thunder other times," Tao says. "We had to stop during the rain and had to stay up late for many days to make up for the lost time. But we managed to present an exciting program on time. So the trouble was worth it."
And, Tao says, the team learned many techniques and got new ideas from Argentineans.
China Radio and Television Association critic Wu Jiakui points out the Jiangsu and Zhejiang stations' approach to filming overseas are different.
He says that since If You Are the One recruited overseas Chinese, it brought novelty to domestic audiences and publicized the show in the countries in which it was filmed.
Because Heartbeat Argentina was completely shot in Argentina, Chinese TV producers enjoyed opportunities to learn from foreign counterparts, he says.
"But both shows still lack originality and are borrowed from foreign programs," Wu says.
"It might be necessary to go abroad to add appeal to the shows, but it's important to be creative. We should watch and learn when overseas but also develop our own ideas."