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China Insider: Why Cancelling “Big Bang Theory” is a Bad Move

Posted: 04/28/2014 6:21 pm

Yes, I’m afraid this will be canon from now on: “The Big Bang Theory” is no longer broadcast on the video streaming site Sohu TV and availabe for watching in China.

To lovers of comedy and TV shows with real nerd credentials like “Community” , this is of no relevant consequence. “The Big Bang Theory” is where comedy goes to die and when a night of apathetic entertainment begins, the couch being the piece of furniture set on the lowest expectations.

But to its millions of fans around China, the cancellation of Sohu’s broadcast of “The Big Bang Theory” on April 26, 2014 is the end of an era; it’s the dawn of a sunless tomorrow. This is the day the laughter died, its laugh track hushed, forever.

Sure, there happen to be other shows that were taken off the air as well in this recent purge: “The Good Wife“, “NCIS“, and “The Practice“.  But while these shows are popular and will be missed by some, these shows don’t compare with “The Big Bang Theory“; they don’t have the same bang for your buck.

The Big Bang Theory” is:

  • a connection to the West through via safe, non-threatening characters: by being an insular group of introverted elitists, the gang (and their subsequent girlfriends/wives/sorry, Raj) will not rock the boat of orthodoxy. You will laugh at their embarrassing mistakes until you love them.
  • a reason to actually enjoy English rather than just study it: English teachers will have their own opinions, but there hasn’t seemed to be a phenomenon like this since “Friends“: an English show that Chinese English students will watch just for fun. “The Big Bang Theory” is the one popular English show that Chinese audiences don’t mind that it’s in English. That may be because like Friends, it is…
  • the only English-speaking show that they can clearly understand: Do you like “The Office“? To a Chinese audience, that’s a half-hour of mumbling interspersed with awkward moments and “Jim” reaction shots. Despite use of scientific jargon and oblique nerd references, the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” speak the way they do on English instructional lessons. That’s because it employs…
  • a “vaudeville-style” of theater familiar to Chinese audiences: the sit-com format with three cameras may be a tired format on Western media; however, the concept of a static fourth wall is fresh as ever in Chinese media, even employed during news and photo shoots. Also, “The Big Bang Theory” may be the closest Western show comparable to the sound effect-laden dischord of Chinese variety shows.
  • a set of well-done subtitle translations: even if you don’t understand a word of English, and don’t understand Western culture at all, the Sohu broadcast of “The Big Bang Theory” used excellent translations that takes colloquial English and turns it into equally relatable Chinese. In fact, on many of its shows, Sohu includes extra “header” notes to explain cultural references in notes written on top of the screen for review during a second watching.

Streaming of Western TV in China would reach such enviable heights as broadcasting the second half of the last season of “Breaking Bad” not 24 hours after the initial Western broadcast. However, “Breaking Bad” doesn’t relate to Chinese audiences the way “The Big Bang Theory” does, or its closest rival, the well-loved racist sitcom of “2 Broke Girls“.

Even though nothing can compete with the breasts of Kat Dennings, or her parading of them before her other talents, “The Big Bang Theory” still stands apart for the cultural impact it has had upon China. While other shows may be as popular or boast the same strengths as noted above, these shows don’t have a relatable and well-loved Sheldon, an insufferable character who is selfish and self-righteous, sympathized with by audiences the whole country over.

Sure, there have been other huge breakout hits in China—ambitious emigrants looking to bypass the system may have been enthralled by “Prison Break“, attention-seekers may sympathize with the plucky gang on “Glee“—but the end of this public broadcast on Sohu will hurt the country immeasurably.

There is still no direct reason given for why “The Big Bang Theory” was pulled from the air by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television; cancellations happen often, and often without warning. The cancellation comes during a government crackdown upon obscene and copyright infringement material.

We may speculate that this has to do with Sheldon’s recent character arc at having falsely discovered a new element that was independently verified by a Chinese team, upon which some jokes were lobbed at the Communist Party. (As it’s “The Big Bang Theory“, it’s not really worth retelling anyways.)

Party mouthpiece People’s Daily expressed that “If you don’t have Internet order, how can you have Internet freedom?” And that’s what “The Big Bang Theory” has become: the disharmonious pangs of laughter.

Last Saturday, April 26 was the day the laughter died—and to an audience so accustomed to artificial laugh tracks, canned laughter is as fresh as a new-born baby’s gurgle.

Photo: SciFi  Mania

  • charlesliu

    Almost forgot: amid all the speculation as to who/what licenses were paid/not paid and the fact that every episode from every season of TBBT was pulled (never underestimate the power of overkill), we shouldn’t forget that Sohu was so proud of its acquisition that it saw fit to bring over Johnny Galecki for a promotional tour last year.

    Hilarious watching if just for the knowledge that Sohu’s investment would go right down the drain, and for the awesome “Br(eaking) Ba(d)” design tribute behind Leonard’s head.

  • Ray H

    To lovers of comedy and TV shows with real nerd credentials like “Community” , this is of no relevant consequence. “The Big Bang Theory” is where comedy goes to die

    Exactly! And oddly enough Community is still on Sohu.

    Although I’m not a fan it’s still sad Chinese don’t get to (legally) watch this safe watered-down show anymore. Still a good thing to broaden minds just a little bit.

    • charlesliu

      Community is just too weird for a Chinese audience that need that “fourth wall” that Abed is continually tearing down. And yet, it’s the show with more heart than any other sitcom on TV. And, it has Allison Brie.

      It’s now said that TBBT will now be aired on CCTV but in a “sanitized version”, but it’s crazy how the “unsanitized” version of 2 Broke Girls continues unabated. If Chinese don’t know the English meanings of “weed” and “dildo”, they will after watching that show.

      • Ray H

        You know censors, just busybodies who want something to do. Probably picked the show only because it’s famous. There are no consistent rules to censorship of course. But now they got the publicity so all Chinese know their loving government is to make sure citizen’s precious eyes only watch sanitized harmonious programming, even though duh not really.

        • charlesliu

          Sheldon made a joke about the Communist Party.

          It was not funny, but then nothing is on The Big Bang Theory.

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