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Looking East for Inspiration

2011-12-14 | China Daily

A Chinese-American media mogul offers suggestions for domestic TV producers to give their programs pizzazz. Sun Li reports.

Pioneering TV icon Yue-sai Kan suggests Chinese TV producers go beyond "tired cliches" and dig out fresh goodies to enable their programs to lead the pack. She attributes groundbreaking angles to the success of her first TV production, Looking East (1978) - a series introducing Asian cultures to American audiences that propelled her to fame.

"At that time, no other TV programs opened a window into Asia for American viewers," Kan says.

"So my show easily drew attention."

The Chinese-American media celebrity made the comments during her recent visit to Beijing to receive her title as an honorary professor at the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts.

Chinese TV programs that bridge East and West are today not only commonplace but also more vivid and dynamic, she says.

It's time for producers to look for new territory, she believes. And her homeland's remote areas provide ideal hunting grounds.

"Since a large number of programs introducing Chinese culture to the outside world are in the form of travelogues, the producers should avoid oft-repeated destinations," she says.

"The hosts should be ready to choose the road not taken, confronting obstacles to be the first one to cover a faraway place less traveled."

While working on Looking East she became one of the first foreign TV journalists to film ice sculptures in Heilongjiang province's capital Harbin, and first to travel on Heilongjiang's Heihe river.

"The bone-chilling weather in Heihe almost froze my nose off," she recalls.

"But it paid off, as the show garnered rave reviews."

Yue-Sai's World (2005), in turn, featured interviews with Western artists and celebrities, such as designer Valentino, R 'n' B singer Usher and actress Catherine Deneuve.

Kan believes the reason few Chinese programs stand out is production crews don't do enough research.

"An interview program is seemingly simple - to sit down and have a chat," Kan says.

"But, in fact, it is rather difficult because you need to do a lot of research beforehand and to sort out information properly to ask good questions. However, many hosts cannot pop interesting questions to their guests - proof that they didn't do their homework well," she continues.

"The hosts just ask questions that have been asked many times. The answers to those questions could be easily found on the Internet. So the programs are run-of-the-mill, and audiences won't waste time on these shows."

In addition to hard work, a strong rapport with interviewees enable her to ask funny questions other hosts wouldn't think of, she says.

"Many guests on my show and me are, literally, friends," she says.

"I know them, and I know their families well. That enables me to get some valuable firsthand information."

When dealing with someone with whom she's not familiar, Kan uses her resources and connections to dig up something new.

Kan says Chinese TV hosts should develop more relationships and resources.

She did not, for instance, know Thailand's former prime minister Abhusit Vejjajiva well. So she called up his sister, whom she was familiar with, and asked her to help Kan develop personal questions. The politician's sister also e-mailed Kan family photos.

The interview turned out to be "very special", she says.

Kan believes Chinese producers should also work on production values - that is, camera use, editing and audio-visuals.

She points to the Usher episode of Yue-Sai's World as an example. Video vignettes of the singer's performances and footage of the star's growth were edited to embellish the show, she says.

Additional footage included talks with his mother, his spectacular wardrobe room, his practice room and his future projects - all shot on location in Atlanta, Georgia.

"And my camera didn't simply move from the celebrity guest to me, which seems very dull," she says.

Kan cites ABC's The View, a talk show featuring a panel discussion, as a format Chinese TV producers could learn from.

"Multiple interviewers, instead of just one host, could bring in diverse styles and make the program more interactive and lively," she says.

"I believe that's the trend for interview programs."


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