Chinese microbloggers have been abuzz over new talent show The Voice of China, which kicked off July 13 and is aired Friday nights on Zhejiang Satellite TV. The Voice of China became an overnight sensation, clinching an audience rating share of 1.56 percent on its debut. However, it has courted as much criticism as acclaim, with viewers quick to point out pitfalls of the country's latest talent show.
The Voice of China, hosted by Hua Shao, enlists four famous singers - Liu Huan, Na Ying, Yang Kun and Harlem Yu - who select contestants that they then mentor. The program's format consists of a blind audition, battle phase and live performance show. It prides itself on giving the spotlight to singers' voices, ignoring other factors such as competitors' appearance.
Although Chinese audiences have been drawn to this new style of reality TV, Western audiences will be familiar with the program's format given that it is the Chinese spin off of hit overseas series The Voice, which originated in the Netherlands and has variants in nearly 30 countries.
This habit of adapting a hit Western show is hardly a first in Chinese TV. Many Chinese entertainment programs have been modeled on their Western or Japanese TV counterparts. For instance, runaway success Super Girl on Hunan TV had parallels to American Idol, The Song on Jiangsu TV copies UK program Just the Two of Us and China's Got Talent offers a Middle Kingdom version of Britain's Got Talent.
Experts dismiss suggestions that Chinese TV is capitalizing on the innovation of overseas programs, insisting that they breathe new life into programs by infusing them with Chinese characteristics.
"TV shows can learn from the strong points of other programs, but this process of 'learning' is not the same as plagiarism. We need to independently innovate to produce a TV program that resonates with viewers," said Shangguan Xiaopeng, a producer at the Shanxi Radio and Television Group.
"Even if a program's format is imported from overseas, we need to make a lot of effort to localize it so its appeal isn't lost on Chinese audiences," said Zhuang Xihai, a teacher at Southwest University of Broadcasting in Chongqing.
Despite criticism from viewers that such TV shows lack creativity, there are also other problems including familiar faces reappearing on programs.
Many Web users pointed out some contestants on The Voice of China have already appeared on other talent shows, prompting criticism that producers aren't making enough effort to unearth new talent.
A contestant named Xu Haixing appeared on The Voice of China's inaugural episode, even though she had previously featured on Super Girl and Blossoming Flowers on Qinghai Satellite TV. Another contestant on The Voice of China, Zhang Wei, is also a veteran on the Chinese talent show circuit.
"Western programs also feature many contestants who have appeared on rival talent shows. There's nothing wrong with this. If anything, it improves the content of a program," said Lu Wei, publicity director of The Voice of China.
Questions also have been raised about the habit of contestants sharing stories of heartache in a ploy to move audiences and attract sympathy from judges.
Xu confessed she entered the competition because her father, who died three months ago, was a fan of Liu Huan. Upon explaining her motivation, Liu burst into tears.
However, a crafty Web user quickly pointed out that Xu had used a similar tactic when she appeared on Blossoming Flowers, saying her grandfather had recently passed away and her grandmother was ill.
"There's no use telling moving stories as contestants are judged on their singing voices. Adding sad experiences into the equation might make the program more moving, but it can't overshadow the essence of the program - the voices," actor Liu Ting said.
"To make the program interesting and moving is worthwhile, but honesty and reality are the premises of the show," agreed TV show director Jin Gang.