China’s prime time – the “Badiandang” – runs from 8 pm to midnight. For those four hours, most people are returning home from work and turning on the TV to relax.
A decade ago, the prime time period was dominated by dramas set in Beijing or shaped by Beijing sensibilities. But during the last three years Shanghai has taken over the capital’s TV turf.
Shanghai’s rise marks a return to the early 1990s, when Shanghai-based series such as Weichang, Niezhai and The Woman Who Survives Winter transported viewers into the city’s iconic alleys.
Beijing-based shows barely registered during the prime time hours before I Love My Home debuted in 1995.
Eager to win back their place, the directors of Shanghai series went back to the drawing board. They threw the Shanghai dialect and Shanghai-accented Chinese and replaced the dialogue with more standard pronunciation. While that did attract a few more viewers, it also woefully alienated the shows’ home audience.
As Shanghai productions languished, their displaced actors and actresses flocked to the capital to further their careers in Beijing’s booming drama industry.
Zhang Kang’er, a Shanghai actor and director, told Tencent Entertainment that the diverse market required a new approach.
“Any show with a strong local character will have a hard time resonating with viewers across the country,” Zhang said.
But in the last two decades, Shanghai’s culture has changed. The city has put on a modern face and adopted a locale-neutral approach to fashion.
For the past five years, the Ipartment series impressed viewers with its “new Shanghai” style. Compared with historical dramas, the show propels the viewer into a modern metropolis that in the end isn’t terribly different from any of the world’s big cities.
Promotion of Du Lala and Tiny Times followed a similar formula to success.
While older shows favored the gritty mystique of Old Shanghai, new series are focused on family relationships – especially conflicts between wives and mothers-in-law. The eternal conflict between married Shanghai women and their northern in-laws is well on its way to becoming a trope.
While Shanghai once again commands the prime time spot, it’s a victory that may have come at the cost of the city’s culture.