Why It Matters That Ellen is the First U.S. Talk Show in China

Show may be a spark for change in attitudes toward LGBT Chinese

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In a press release issued yesterday evening, and in the clip shown above, The Ellen DeGeneres Show broke new ground for an American daytime talk show, with the announcement that it would be the first show of its kind available for Chinese viewers. The deal — between Warner Bros. International Television Distribution, the show’s distributor (and part of TimeWarner, TIME’s parent company), and Sohu, a Chinese online-video provider — means episodes of Ellen will be provided for this new audience within two days of their original U.S. broadcast.

“It’s basically the same show, but it’ll have subtitles and it’ll be called The Happy Lady Dance Hour,” DeGeneres explains to viewers, jokingly, before urging her billion new viewers to buy her merchandise.

The press release makes clear why Ellen is a no-brainer for Sohu’s audience. Its friendly, upbeat content makes it the perfect choice for breaking into the Chinese market, explains Warner Bros. TV’s Jeffrey R. Schlesinger:

Ellen has clearly differentiated herself and her talk show from so many of the controversial conflict-oriented talk shows as it has become an increasingly positive alternative in daytime featuring the biggest stars from worlds of film, television and music… She has an unmatched and unique brand of family-friendly humor and love of pop culture that appeal to audiences of all ages in a very fun one-hour of programming.

Which is all true — being fun is pretty much the hallmark of the show. But DeGeneres, particularly when it comes to her personal life, is equally as known for speaking up as she is for having a good time. For example, when an anti-gay group advocated in 2012 for JCPenney to fire her as their spokesperson, she addressed the conflict on-air. In less weighty moments, her  relationship with wife Portia de Rossi is frequent fodder for the show. And that openness makes Ellen matter — especially since a spokesperson from Sohu tells TIME in an email that, “as far as I know,” Ellen will not be edited for the Chinese audience, beyond the addition of the subtitles. (Warner Bros. did not yet respond to requests about the same question.)

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According to a 2010 report from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the matter of homosexuality in China remains largely in the shadows; homosexuality has been decriminalized there since 1997 and is no longer officially considered a mental disorder, but neither are gay people protected by law. “The legal status and position of homosexuality in China bears the hallmarks of a subject which has been little considered within official Chinese governmental circles,” the organization notes. But, when it comes to the media, there appears to be more consideration. The report continues:

Laws and regulations continue to place broad restrictions on the diffusion of LGBT-related content across all sections of the media. Laws and regulations continue to define homosexuality as ‘abnormal’ and fail to differentiate between sexually explicit and non-explicit LGBT content in broadcasts, television programmes and films. The internet provides the most open forum in which LGBT content can be accessed.

More recently, in an interview with The Atlantic last August, an anonymous Chinese researcher who studies LGBT rights noted that the Internet’s role continues to be crucial; LGBT-focused organizations in China are using video to help expose mainstream Chinese audiences to the personal stories of gay Chinese people. (Online dating for gay people is also huge, she notes.)  Though the state media doesn’t ignore same-sex relationships, the researcher gives more credit to NGOs and the Internet (where Ellen will be available) for changing attitudes. But despite rapid changes and broadening acceptance — as evidenced by events like this December’s public gay and lesbian kiss-a-thon in Shanghai — the Atlantic‘s anonymous interviewee makes it clear that being gay in China is still no walk in the park. In many fields, coming out would be the end of your career, she claims, and many officials believe that LGBT issues are not relevant to Chinese society. A June 2013 Pew poll found that 57% of Chinese respondents say that “homosexuality should not be accepted by society.”

Which is why Ellen on Sohu could be more than just a talk show. By the time the show came on in the U.S., its host’s sexuality had already been dissected and discussed (including on the cover of TIME). But years earlier, just a few months after DeGeneres’ sitcom went off the air in 1998, Will & Grace debuted. The show is now often credited with actually affecting mainstream attitudes and public policy. If Ellen is a hit in China (in the U.S., it’s still setting ratings records in its 11th season) and if Ellen really does get shown on Sohu intact, “Ellen and Portia go hiking” and all, it could have an impact beyond its viewership — and that’s something we’re betting would make the “happy lady” of the “happy lady dance hour” even happier.

12 comments
polarcityman
polarcityman

Despite the calls for more industry liberalization, ideology presents
a tricky "red line" – no pun intended – in a country where the
Communist Party insists on having the final say on what is acceptable
in media and art.

Will ELLEN last more than a few weeks or even get
streamed at all? Stay tuned. Nothing is simple in the USSR, er, China.

polarcityman
polarcityman


Nota Bene 2: Yes, Internet companies inside Communist Red China have shown they are
ambitious about exploring the growing market, one that also involves
appliance manufacturers, telecom operators and broadcasting companies.
However, behind the excitement are some uncertainties because
regulators are mulling gradually tightening controls.

.

Broadcast industry sources inside Red China note  that the IPTV market
is too disorderly, with all sorts of content, including foreign
programs, available. The industry, at least in the eyes of some, has
circumvented regulation on content and the media regulator is
considering updating its polices.

polarcityman
polarcityman

While the ELLEN show is claimed to be aired in Communist China soon,
there is some news from China that ''As Internet TV Grows Popular,
Regulator Mulls Show of Force." In other words,
regular dudes and dudettes inside China like the idea of getting
programs and movies from the Net, but the communist media watchdog
inside Red China is not as amused.Just ask reporter
Qin Min, who notes that, yes, Chinese companies have been busily
tapping the potential of the Internet protocol television (IPTV)
business over past year, with more than 20 new Internet TV screens and
streaming boxes have been launched by various companies.

polarcityman
polarcityman

It might have 5000 viewers total in China via Sohu. Do your homework,

polarcityman
polarcityman

It's not like ELLEN will be shown on national TV in China, Just one online website will show it, and who knows who can watch it. There are internet minders in China, and it will be interesting to see if a year from now this show ELLEN ever aired even once. 

demej00
demej00

Please degenerate Ellen, stay in America. China doesn't need or want you.

meddevguy
meddevguy

I thought the reason that Ellen would be the "first talk show in China" would have been because she is talented and has a great production crew who can appeal to many cultures!


Why don't you clowns with an agenda just sit down and shut up for a little while? We'll never know if the newest cast member of SNL got there because Lorne Michaels got pressured by the political correctness police or if she is the BEST at her craft. Why label Ellen as an only, solely, an LGBT person rather than a great performer and manager? What's going on here are the activists stealing the spotlight and thunder to push a cause that gives their pathetic lives meaning.


And we are printing "anonymous" studies in Time Magazine to prove a point? How about this one -- "An unnamed source says those who shout LGBT and other PC subjects do it because they have nothing going on and are really jealous of those they pretend to laud."

whistleblowerlm
whistleblowerlm

@polarcityman  Do YOUR homework man. China's online streaming market is MASSIVE. Popular shows on Sohu have view counts in hundreds of millions.

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

@meddevguy News-flash: 97% of Chinese do not give a sh*t about LGBT. They're socially conservative, traditional, and family-oriented.


They'll be laughing at the goofy white lady. Just like they laugh at OweBama (D), pretending to be a leader. Like the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road" movies.

Jenc23
Jenc23

The point of the article is not why Ellen is the first talk show in China, it's why that MATTERS. Visibility matters. People who don't think they know gay people are much more likely to not think gay people deserve equality.