China New Year show mixes Communism, commercialism

Wed Jan 21, 2009 10:50pm EST
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By Ian Ransom

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Glitzy, kitschy and increasingly shunned by Internet-savvy youth, the politically correct TV marathon beamed across China on Lunar New Year's Eve still pulls enough viewers to put the U.S. Super Bowl to shame.

"CCTV Spring Festival Gala," a more than four-hour showcase of comedy skits, music and dance, has become a lounge room fixture for hundreds of millions of Chinese since the first edition beamed in the 1980s. Lunar New Year starts on January 26.

The show has also become an object of derision for much of the younger generation, poking fun at presenters' gaffes and the sometimes shoddy production quality, something of an annual sport among China's soaring Internet population.

China Central Television (CCTV), its producer and state-controlled broadcaster that beams the show on at least three different channels, cops especially raw criticism.

"The show once did give Chinese people much pleasure ... But in the last 20 years it has become more and more insufferable," said Ling Cangzhou, a Beijing-based editor leading an online campaign to boycott CCTV.

"It not only monopolizes TV screens on New Year's Eve, but also repels young people with its crass commercialism."

The negative online publicity has not stopped the stodgy state broadcaster, which describes itself as a non-profit organization, from reaping a bonanza from its enormous ratings.

The show boasted 396 million viewers last year, up 3 percent on the previous year after numbers dipped slightly in 2007, according to figures provided by the network. The 2008 Super Bowl was watched by 97.5 million U.S. viewers, a record number.   Continued...

<p>A worker prepares red lantern decorations for the Spring Festival Temple Fair at the entrance to Ditan Park in Beijing January 20, 2009. Red decorations are customarily used by the Chinese to usher in the Lunar New Year, which starts on January 26 this year. REUTERS/Christina Hu</p>