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2020-02-20 12:35:57

China’s reality shows have been given a twist as they broadcast the reality of having to stay indoors during the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The new virtual trend — aptly known as “cloud variety shows” — takes place in the living rooms of celebrities and lay-participants who sing, dance, and eagerly await their time in the spotlight. Several television and online platforms including Hunan TV, iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku have hopped on the bandwagon, launching nearly a dozen reality shows filmed remotely.

On Tuesday, Hunan TV’s hit reality show “Singer” showed scenes of celebrity guests filming themselves individually from their studios or homes. In a preview of the next episode, scheduled to air Friday, singers are seen on conference call split screens, waiting for their turn to perform.

Hunan TV, one of China’s biggest state-owned television networks, has launched two new reality shows documenting the lives of celebrities amid the COVID-19 epidemic. As many as 780 million people are said to be under some form of travel restrictions, and millions of others are either holed up at or working from home as authorities try to contain the spread of the virus that has killed more than 2,100 in China and infected over 75,000 globally.

“Hey, What Are You Doing?” is one of Hunan TV’s weekly programs in which the show’s three hosts video chat with their celebrity friends about their time indoors. In the style of a vlog, they’re seen cooking, interacting with friends and family, and working out.

Song Zhuo’er, a 23-year-old resident in the locked-down city of Enshi, Hubei province, is a fan of the novel format. In one episode, the show’s host, Li Weijia, plays an interactive game with his mother, which Song later tried out with her father during their self-quarantine.

“But (the show) must have someone who knows how to keep conversations going, otherwise it would be so awkward,” she told Sixth Tone, referring to the quotidian settings.

Streaming platforms iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent Video have introduced similar shows to entertain the millions who are stuck indoors.

On Monday, iQiyi aired the first episode of “Karaoke Table at Home” featuring singers who take requests from virtual audience members before the show and then sing them on the air. Since Feb. 8, Youku’s daily reality show “Eat Well” has been inviting different celebrities to livestream what they cook and eat for lunch.

“The food itself is not that important, even if they only make a bowl of instant noodles or a sandwich,” Zheng Wei, general manager of Youku’s variety shows division told China Youth Daily. “The most important thing in this process is a sense of empathy and reality.”

Tencent Video premiered its new show “Good Time at Home” on Monday. The daily program features celebrities livestreaming while interacting with the audience in real time.

“The show has celebrities and topics that young people like — it’s in line with the needs of the audience,” the show’s production team told Sixth Tone in a written statement. “Celebrities are filming at home — in their kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms. The scenes allow them to express themselves in a more relaxed way, while making the audience feel close and connected.”

Eyeing the success of these new reality shows, more-established programs are also preparing to embrace similar formats.

On Tuesday, “Street Dance of China” said it had started to host online auditions for its latest season to avoid the public health risk of having hundreds of thousands of people gather at venues across the country. Now, participants are simply required to submit videos of them dancing, filmed at home.

Zheng of Youku remains optimistic about the new format the entertainment industry is exploring. He believes that, in spite of the challenges, this is a time for innovation.

“These extraordinary conditions now pose an extreme challenge for the industry — they interrupt original plans, but they also inspire new ideas,” Zheng told China Youth Daily. “Innovation made during this time might even give birth to new norms in the future.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Celebrity guests on Hunan TV’s hit reality show “Singer” film themselves at home during the coronavirus epidemic. From @湖南卫视 on Weibo)