A variety program on Chinese TV still wins audience approval nearly two decades after its debut, Wang Kaihao reports.
He Jiong, one of China’s most famous varietyshow hosts, is 41. HappyCamp, the program he anchors on Changshabased Hunan Television every Saturday evening, just turned 18 years old. It is perhaps the country’s longest-running such broadcast.
For Chinese who grew up in the 1990s, the then-young host’s good looks and onstage energy remain a part of fond childhood memories.
“I have my way to keep youthful vitality,” He tells China Daily. “I can attribute that toHappy Camp.”
Now, at a timewhenChineseTVis full of variety shows and galas, it is important to remember the mother ship.
And, for He, the journey has been remarkable, too.
In 1998, he first appeared on China Central Television as the presenter of a children’s program. Many TV hosts at the time had studied some form of stage presentation in college, he says, but his case was different — he earned a degree in Arabic from Beijing Foreign Studies University.
“I was a bit stiff onTVinitially, but gradually began to interact more with the audience and also joke with them.
“Nevertheless it’smy duty to keep the program running at the right pace. And never look like you think you are superior to the audience.”
But you can’t make all audience members happy all the time, so you need to be true to yourself and reach out to audiences in a friendly manner, the veteran host cautions.
Happy Camp has survived all these years trying to live up to people’s expectations.
“New programs will always naturally ignite people’s curiosity, and the long-running Happy Camp faces greater expectations. We cannot rely on habit, and we need continuous creativity.”
To expand on his creative ideas, He recently directed a movie, titled Forever Young, that earned nearly 400 million yuan ($64.5 million) from the box office.
Anhui Television’s Super Winner and Beijing Television’s Happiness General Mobilization became the two other major variety shows that simultaneously appeared in China alongside Happy Camp. But in the years that followed, the two shows were taken off air.
Happy Camp not only survived that phase but also stayed popular during the 2000s, when a wave of reality TV shows hit China.
The average audience rating of Happy Camp was 2.53 percent in the first half of this year, which is still high among popular variety shows on Chinese television, according to CSM Media Research, a leading television-ratings analysis company.
“It’s always better to take the initiative tomake changes,” He says. “If we had waited until the audience ratings fell, it would have been too late.”
Luo Xin, the producer of Happy Camp, says that each episode of the show has been treated as a single program since its debut.
“No matter how late it is after a recording is over, we (the team) meet to judge how the episode went and plan the next one,” Luo says.
Not all of the program’s aspects are taken from its past, as the team is keen that in order to popularize Happy Camp among Chinese youth, there’s a need to “be ahead of the trend”.
Although the show currently focuses on bringing on entertainment stars for sit-down talks and fun games, Luo doesn’t rule out outdoor activities in reality-show format.
“We need to walk in our own path like adding more new temporary sections. If they are popular, we can develop them into permanent sections.”
As for the future development of Chinese variety shows, He says that the shows will focus on emotional resonance with audiences rather than expensive appearances of flamboyant guests.
“However magnificent the scene on a TV show, what really touches audiences are still the perseverance, love and other strong emotions that prevail in the participants,” He says.
High-budget reality shows will likely fizzle soon, but those who care more about ordinary people’s emotions will last, he adds.
And, with more and more popular Chinese variety shows, including
HappyCamp, hosted by He Jiong (right), has grown into one of the country’s most popular TV shows since its debut 18 years ago.