Scandals spice up reality shows

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They seem to be part of the script and do their job successfully that of attracting viewership


"The Voice" Vietnam's teary conference to explain the scandal of fixing results and deny rumors of a lesbian relationship between a contestant and music director

Allegations that results were fixed and a teary press conference to deny rumors of a lesbian relationship between a contestant and music director were expected to provide enough sleaze for "The Voice Vietnam" to attract viewers in its first season.

And they did.

Netizens have been scathing since the scams broke a few months ago. "Deceitful" and "unfair" are some of descriptions bandied about; Facebook is flooded with comments on Sundays before, during, and after the show.

But the sleazier its reputation gets, the larger its viewership and advertising revenues.

Many netizens say they are disgusted and will not watch the show any more. But viewership numbers tell a different story.

Though the ratings have not been disclosed, "The Voice Vietnam" is regarded as one of the most successful shows of the year, as its advertisement rates indicate.

According to Vietnam Television Ads, after the scandals broke out, the show's ad rates jumped by more than 10 percent to VND75 million (US$3,750) for 10 seconds.

The show's contestants, unknowns until a couple months ago, have been grabbing the headlines with their daily activities with the coaches, all leading pop and rock stars.

Like a charm

The scandals may in fact part of the show's bad script, and are doing the trick.

The show may have struggled without them since it has much going against it. The judges, thought to be charming in the beginning, now seem to deal exclusively in platitudes; the tears they shed when a contestant they coach does badly are distinctly crocodilian.

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As for the contest itself, viewers are not exactly pleased with the surfeit of English songs.

Thanh Tuan, a freelance showbiz journalist, told Vietweek: "You cannot blame [the show] for depending on scandals for appeal. Scandals are a part of reality shows, and their purpose is to pique the curiosity of viewers.

"The stories that happen backstage are one of the highlights of reality shows. Everyone wants to know about them as much as about the winner."

The same was also true of the first season of "Vietnam's Got Talent" that ended last May.

The franchised British show only became popular after a storm broke out in a tea cup. Quynh Anh, a contestant, was eliminated, and her mother, the principal of an international school in Hanoi, came on the show and accused the organizers of "being deceitful," "getting rid of her daughter despite her singing talent," and victimizing her family.

Anh wrote to the country's National Assembly to complain.

It became grist for the media, and the sham took center stage for over a month.

"Buoc Nhay Hoan Vu," the Vietnamese version of American show "Dancing with the Stars" has also resorted to scandals and stars, it appears.

The third season ended in June with whispers that one of the contestants, a model, only managed to remain in the competition because she was "sexy."

"Vietnam's Next Top Model" was one big yawn mostly because the host was shallow and pedantic. The organizers did try to set off a scandal, but it fizzled out and did not do much for ratings.

Nguyen Hai, production manager of Dong Tay Promotion, which makes many reality shows said recently in an interview that the keys to a reality show's success are the same as for a scripted show: strong characters, compelling story lines.

"But there are other ways to reach discriminating viewers too."

He was possibly referring to the fact that the quality of the contest and the contestants is usually a prime motivation for watching a show. After all, what is true of sports a war without the killing is also true of reality shows.

On the level

"So You Think You Can Dance" was one show without scandals.

Binh Chau, who covers entertainment for Phu Nu newspaper, told Vietweek that "So You Think You Can Dance" moved her as much as it did many viewers "not only for the dancing talent but also their will and ardent passion to overcome difficulties and pursue what is a difficult career."

The show ended in early December and Chau said she cannot wait for the next season to begin.

Adventure show "Amazing Race" failed to attract attention because of its poor quality and also possibly because there were no scandals.

Dien Quan Media Company is spending nearly VND25 billion (US$1.25 million) to make "Martin Yan Taste of Vietnam" with the world-famous cooking show host. The show trailer has wowed the press with its look at some stunning Vietnamese landscapes and foods.

Buu Dien, CEO of Dien Quan Media, told Vietweek that the show is unlikely to make money locally, but hopes to sell it to foreign channels.

One other promising show lined up for this year is "MasterChef Vietnam" franchised from the hit show "US Master Chef." Vietnamese-American Christine Ha's victory in the third season means it is already popular in Vietnam.

Freelance journalist Tuan said: "People like to feel better about their own lives.

"And reality TV offers a lot of people whose lives are far worse than our own. Sometimes they need to see scandals since they like to feel suspicion, anger, and indignation."

As for "The Voice Vietnam," despite the scandals the contest has been progressing without a hint of wrongdoing. The four best contestants Dinh Huong, Huong Tram, Kien Giang, and Xuan Nghi have all advanced.

On January 13 the winner will be revealed.

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