Monday, September 5, 2011

random thoughts: What TVB Means To Me Today

While anicabyss’ - drama zone is mostly dedicated to pretty much anything to do with the Asian entertainment industry (excluding pop culture news about who’s dating who and where so and so is showing up on the street -- come on, I’m not paparazzi), I had no intentions of blogging about some items from my all too familiar territory of TVB series. For those of you who are not familiar, TVB is a television station based in Hong Kong that churns out dozens of series yearly, airing a new episode everyday for each new series. Fore more information on them, there is a handy dandy website called which may also be found in my resources tab, that chronicles mostly TVB series, and recently lots of other types of Asian media.

The times have caused a bit of rushed ambitiousness leading to poor quality in hopes of higher viewership and more output due to the need for popularity. The directors are trying to shove more quantity out and the actors and behind-the-scenes staff are worked to death. And to this day, we don’t really know who they are competing with except for themselves.

Other country’s series are aired once a week and so it makes me wonder just how much harder the people of TVB are forced to work in order for enough television series to be aired daily. Then again, the entertainment industry is a grueling and harsh place -- I hope I never have to be there. TVB productions are typically filmed in completion before being broadcast with the rare need to change the ending pending the popularity ratings. And on the aside, stars from other countries also partake in the music area and some program show hosting as well. TVB artists are typically only drama series actors who may or may not occasionally partake in a theme song performance or the like. In this way, their drama series can be churned out one after another without fail.

As anyone would guess, I am thoroughly disappointed with TVB. I have never really touched on the other less popular television station in Hong Kong, ATV, because they have always had dragging story lines despite their wonderful actors. TVB, unfortunately, is following in that sense wherein, I will vouch that the actors are excellent, but the story lines are now terrible.

I grew up with TVB. I’ve watched, probably hundreds of series produced by this television station ever since I can remember from the wee ages of my young childhood. I’ve watched romantic comedies, police/crime stories, ancient Chinese wuxia fiction, modern day dramas... all the like, because TVB delivered excellent, good quality television to people like me who just like to be entertained in every possible genre. Their story lines were always on par with what society wants to see and acting has always been top-notch. Multiple genres were able to coincide with each series, allowing the general public to relate with any subject they desired. If you're watching action and really prefer some sweet romance, there is always a good romantic side plot. If you're watching comedy and would love to see some adventure, there is always a good adventurous side plot to follow. You're never disappointed. There have been classic stories told that, to this day, are still talked about and cannot be reproduced.

Lately, however, even with the great actors, story lines have become terrible.

Some of TVB's most popular crop, both those who have skill and those who are improving

As of late, while there are still very good actors in the industry in Hong Kong, there are also a lot of young, new stars who are dropped into a main role and expected to be good at what they do. The audience, therefore, is expected to accept this young new actor who can’t even seem to convey emotion more than staring wide-eyed at the camera and trying not to smile at the wrong times. Dialogue is “blocky” (if that’s even a description), and very few people are able to tell their story with action anymore. We are living in an age where the main cast is selected based on popularity, appearance, and how well-liked they are by the T.V. station’s higher-ups.

To top it off, TVB’s writers have gone down hill ever since the beginning of the 2000’s. Granted, there were still very good series coming out at that time. But many were slowly deteriorating into plot-less, celebrity clad television programs. It was a matter of, “How many famous stars can we throw together for people to enjoy?” The producers, it seemed, were catering to popularity rather than quality. People were selected because they had had enough exposure to the community and the media that the producers are sure the series would hit a high rating because of who was in that particular show.

After all, what is a fan if they don't follow every move made by their favorite celebrities; it doesn't matter if the role fits or if that person did a good job or if that artist can even act, because as a fan, you follow your idol to the ends of the earth in spite of all of their shortcomings.

It was a game of, “Who’s popular?” “Which couples are more well liked?” “What type of genre seems to hit it big?” and “What highly rated plot idea can we recycle with our favorite actors?”

TVB was beginning to work it's way into trends.

For instance, War and Beauty, aired in 2004, was easily one of the best gems that year (as well as many years surrounding it). While the concept of court ladies, concubines, the queen, and the like, fighting for their own control of power in the palace isn't a new concept, it's not like it was every truly elaborated on as the main plot. So this was a refreshing new idea for the viewers. I personally never saw the entire series; politics easily turn me away if it's the main plot (also, I'm not a fan of many of the actors cast in this series). But I caught a few episodes here and there and even watched the last trek of the series. However, on top of great acting and a new concept, the series was also included wonderful story telling, pacing, direction. Scenes were shot beautifully, especially in and around the palace setting. Dialogue was artistic; much like the way in which historical Chinese would speak in poetic form. Characters were created intelligently and portrayed to almost perfection by their respective actors or actresses (save for a few). We didn't have a hero or an antagonist; everyone in the story were fighting for their own vendetta, whether it was a selfish one, a bad one, or an even worse fate.

War and Beauty was truly a gem among TVB productions.

But the producers should have stopped there and tried to create something else new and insightful to continue their legacy.

Instead, they took the entire concept of political struggle among the women of the court and blew it completely out of proportion. Don't get me wrong. I love the idea of making the female protagonist the center of attention (I've got a mean feminazi streak to me after all). But sometimes... Enough, is simply enough. War and Beauty was great, even what little of it I managed to watch while sitting with my parents. A second similar series would have been nice, but the effect had already worn off by then.

But then TVB continued on with Dance of Passion, another political struggle among women of powerful families (this one wasn't too bad save for the recycled cast and plot devices). Following we ended up getting series like Beyond the Realm of Conscience and Gem of Life, once again based on the "political" struggles of women in secondary power to the secondary men. Because while the series were about the women and their battles placing them as the main characters and the men as the secondary characters, they weren't truly fighting for the highest power like most men do in political stories. In a sense, these women were merely fighting to survive among powerful people (the men).

The ideas were nice. But they were recycled so many times right after the success of War and Beauty that even avid fans would become a little exhausted. Couldn't we at least try a different concept for a while before coming back to this one?

It was slowly becoming a disappointing area.

And so, for the past couple years, while finding a few very good series that were able to hook me, I have pretty much been ignoring the TVB area. It’s sad because, as I’ve already stated, I grew up with TVB during my childhood and have always thought that I could relate with their series the most. After all, we’re all Asian and we still think in a more conservative fashion; in America, we are becoming much bolder and the general ratings have begun to spring into the X-rated level... for public television.

I admit that I am a fan of popularity as well. When I find someone I like due to a specific character role or a certain charm, I hook on and continue to follow that person no matter what type of drama series he or she participates in. And even if the series is a sure losing bet, I will still watch that series and try to justify my own obsession. But there comes a point that even I have to admit that some of my favorite celebrities aren't at their utmost excellence and that the story line has been dragging for days. And even I know when certain drama series just aren't up to par despite the casts' determination to do their best at bringing characters to life.

Three fairly excellent and well-liked series produced by TVB
Top: Mysteries of Love
Bottom: Witness to a Prosecution and A Pillowcase of Mystery

I still have hopes for TVB. They have always run excellent series for as far as I remember. They have good ideas and good concepts to work on; but aside from that, it’s like the writers begin a story line and then they suddenly lose steam and finish it how they believe might be a popular ending. And so my parents have put it, they have no sense of “happy endings”, “justifiable means and ends” or “good versus bad” anymore. Things happen for no reason at all and don’t make sense at the end of the series. The beginnings of each series, I will admit, are extremely exciting and are able to build up a hook for suspense. You find yourself thinking, “This is going to be good.” The actors are able to twist their own charm into characters so that you can relate or even feel empathetic towards them, or just laugh along with them. Several actors in TVB have wonderful chemistry with their co-actors. But then you finish the series and realize that nothing really worked out the way it should have -- Where on earth did that stupid ending come from? Why were certain scenes included that could have been done without?

TVB had wanted to follow that popular trend that Korean drama had been conveying -- tragedies were in and happy endings were just too sappy. Unfortunately, while piling on the emotional scenes and the crying and the sad, depressing story lines, TVB had forgotten to include a good plot to go with it, or even some more sensible plot devices -- they only seemed to be interested in trying to make the viewer cry at every angle or instill unnecessary surprise at every scene.

And then you’re disappointed. Because no one wants to be depressed throughout the series and no one wants to be irritated throughout the series either. And definitely, no one wants to be asking questions of certain actions that will never be answered because the writers had chosen to randomly add something that does the plot no good.

A lot of issues aren't ever really resolved; however, the issues that are resolved... well, the resolution doesn’t make any sense at all. You’re left feeling empty and like you’d wasted twenty days waiting for a struggle to end in the most irritating way.

And that’s my soap box about TVB.

Again, I still have my hopes. TVB isn’t far from disastrous yet. I know they still have good plots and good concepts to play off of. And they definitely have good actors to help them propel their series. And so, maybe in the near future, I will give TVB another chance to hook me back into their arena. It’s worth it; after all, I don’t like to stray too far from the mothership -- I understand their language and they are like family to me since, well, once again, I grew up with them.


I have blogged in the past about TVB series -- the ones that were actually good enough to pique my interest to blog. Of course, even some of those I have had reserves about. Nonetheless, in the future of this blog, I may or may not include some of the series that I have blogged about in the past. I may even include some series that I have watched recently and actually enjoyed. And if the time comes to it, I might even be able to blog about more current series from TVB -- assuming that they have churned out a new story line that will hook me until the bitter end with satisfactory results. Of course, even with less than satisfactory results, I may still blog about it if I come around to watching a series up until the end -- if I don’t like it, then I will tell it as it is.

Specifically, there will be a thoughts post on one of TVB’s series that I had watched a while back. I blogged about the beginning of it , and mentioned something about how I had high expectations and was looking forward to a lot of things. Of course, as I will indicate in the thoughts post about it, I was sorely disappointed with the ending. For better understanding about why, I may even re-post that particular blog article to go with the second part. And so that will be one of the TVB series posts to look forward to -- one of the few.

And so with this, I feel much better about my own decisions.

After all, I’m sure a lot of people feel that the drama in Korean or Taiwanese entertainment or even Japanese industry have been much better than the series found from TVB. While every so often you find a gem in the TVB area, the Korean series have always seemed to be quite loved.

As a beginning to my new blogging life about Asian drama and the like I will also be posting a little thoughts featurette about my take on Korean series as a sort of "pre-judgment" impression piece. Further down the road, when I have had more exposure to that particular area, I may throw in another featurette about how I feel about Korean drama. The same will go for Japanese drama and Taiwanese drama.

Since I have followed TVB's series my entire life, there is no need for a "before/after" thoughts on my feelings towards TVB. This is where it's all at. Of course, if, for some reason, a miracle happens and TVB hooks me again, I will make sure to mention it.

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