C21 Formats Lab Weekly: Viewpoint

No-one wins in ridiculous gameshows

Veteran Asian TV entrepreneur Robert Chua believes the poor standard of the Asian gameshow formats business has serious cultural and moral implications.

"Quizzes and gameshows are produced very cheaply in Hong Kong and Taiwan, with famous singers and TV and film stars taking part instead of ordinary contestants. To avoid losing more viewers to cable and satellite, terrestrial TV should be producing more quality quizzes and gamers to take advantage of the fact they don't have to compete with a 24/7 channel dedicated to the genre, such as the Game Show Network in the US.

Other genres, such as movies, sports, documentaries and cartoons, have several dedicated 24-hour channels competing for the same audience, but not gameshows. On average, only two hours of such programmes are shown a day on terrestrial TV in Hong Kong.

It is a shame that few overseas TV formats are taken up by Asian channels. Instead of licensing overseas formats, many Asian stations prefer to create their own brand of programmes inspired by Taiwanese-styled gameshows. Some locally created shows are poorly conceived and produced tastelessly. I can excuse poor quality or conception due to lack of experience, but I cannot accept tasteless content, which is down to lack of judgment.

Korea hardly ever licenses foreign TV formats. In Hong Kong, only two international gameshow formats (Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100) were licensed in 2007 between the two terrestrial channels. Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam licensed more TV formats than Hong Kong and Taiwan. I believe South-east Asia, led by Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, offers more opportunities for the format business.

The quality of gameshows in Asia has gone downhill over the years. I put the blame on a lack of creativity and on irresponsible TV executives who fail to maintain reasonable moral and social standards in their programmes. I believe television is responsible for the declining cultural and moral values in Asia, as demonstrated by the shameless, tasteless and downright stupid quizzes and gameshows created in Hong Kong and Taiwan. I cringe each time I watch one.

Hong Kong and Taiwan are home to Asia's most famous Chinese singers and TV/movies stars. With such a large pool of famous personalities, they are able to produce gameshows while paying hardly any talent fees, merely offering the chance to win prizes. Gameshows with ordinary contestants have no replay or distribution value, but shows with 'personality contestants' have, as they can be distributed to maximise profit. Where is the incentive to try to create or acquire TV formats when any silly and ridiculously conceived show can be guaranteed success by merely adding famous personalities?

One recent gameshow hit from Hong Kong is a five-nights-a-week programme simply about tasting, sensing and feeling food. It includes a cast of beautiful young ladies in mini-skirts to help spice up the show, with famous singers and TV/film stars there simply to win cash prizes each time they get a correct answer or perform a stupid, silly and degrading stunt.

These feats include a personality being blindfolded and singing a song while trying to identify different kinds of sauces or ingredients as they are slipped into their mouth or onto their tongue. Another stunt requires the celebrity to be blindfolded and feel two objects to identify which is edible. If the wrong object is chosen, the contestant will be asked to eat it, or lick it if it's inedible. For example, it could be a watermelon or a man's bald head. In another example, the celeb sucks up a string of noodles in one breath for five seconds and then spits it out to measure its length.

Is that not disgusting and revolting? All these stunts are done just for laughs as the stars make fools of themselves. Real bank notes are counted loudly as they are handed over each time a personality wins. It is a display of greed, and such showing of cash used to be frowned upon in the early days of TV.

If we watch people behaving so poorly, foolishly and disgustingly we just condoned the imitation of such behaviour. I am sure that children will be influenced by their idols' actions on these shows and treat it as the norm. Instead of responsible edutainment or infotainment, this provides Hong Kong with what I call 'degratainment' shows.

Broadcasters should not produce shows that degrade their community's cultural and moral values."