In recent years, the show business in Vietnam has been overwhelmed with reality shows, which have lost their appeal and credibility and brought up questions on their usefulness after hatching so many scandals.
More than 50 reality shows have now been aired on television channels across the country, with most broadcast on national broadcaster Vietnam Television (VTV) and Ho Chi Minh City Television (HTV).
Since the 2007 debut of “Vietnam Idol,” the local version of “American Idol,” reality shows seem to boom ‘out of control.’
The TV programs come in a wide variety of areas, ranging from singing, dancing, cooking, modeling to fashion design, interior design, and taking adventure trips.
The shows are purchased from entertainment groups based in the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
In March 2014 alone, four new shows and the second season of another one have begun airing on VTV and HTV.
They are “Ngoi Sao Viet” (VK Pop Super Star), “Hoc Vien Ngoi Sao” (Star Academy), “Guong Mat Than Quen” (Your Face Sounds Familiar), “Nhan To Bi An” (The X-Factor), and “Nguoi Bi An” (Odd One In).
The reality shows are similar in formats and the way the games are played and how they confuse as well as bore TV viewers.
These viewers cannot really tell the local versions of “The Voice” and “VK Pop Super Star” from “Star Academy”; “Vua Dau Bep” (Masterchef) from “Sieu Dau Bep” (Iron Chef); “Thu Thach Cung Buoc Nhay” (So You Think You Can Dance” from “Vu Dieu Dam Me” (Got to Dance) and “Buoc Nhay Hoan Vu” (Dancing with the Stars); and “Nha Thiet Ke Thoi Trang Viet Nam” (Project Runway) from “Ngoi Sao Thiet Ke Viet Nam” (Fashion Star).
Though TV viewers’ interest in reality shows has been on the wane, most producers maintain that the ‘land’ remains ‘fertile’ to work.
They noted that the number of such shows in Vietnam is still small compared to that in other countries, and many internationally-famous shows have yet to make it to the Southeast Asian nation due to exorbitant costs or cultural differences.
Dong Tay Co., a pioneer in introducing reality shows to the local showbiz by producing the first and second seasons of “Vietnam Idol,” affirmed that reality shows will continue to thrive in the coming years, as they remain a considerable source of profits for their producers.
There are also many intermediary companies who specialize in introducing the world-famous formats to local companies.
This year, the company has launched four new shows, namely comedy reality show “Odd One In,” singing series for professional singers “The Ultimate Entertainer,” dancing contest for kids “Baby Ballroom,” and comedy show “Thank God” along with its two familiar competitions, “So You Think You Can Dance” and “The Winner Is.”
Fun and scandals only?
Among the reality shows ‘imported’ into Vietnam, talent-seeking programs account for some 30 percent.
With limited talented people, many contestants compete in several shows in the same year.
That explains why contestants in the following seasons tend to be weaker than those in the previous ones, which also results in viewers’ waning interest.
Meanwhile, K-pop influences are pervasive in “Ngoi Sao Viet” (VK Pop Super Star) as the program, the collaboration between a local company and a Korean partner, requires that contestants perform mostly K-pop songs with Korean stars’ signature choreographed dances and styles.
The show has a Korean artist on its jury and its winner and finalists will join professional training courses in Korea.
Many viewers have expressed their disapproval of such dominant K-pop influences, adding that the lack of real talents makes the show even less appealing.
With such a shortage of talents, producers have resorted to tricks and even ‘dirty’ gimmicks to gain viewers’ attention.
According to Thai Tran Minh, who produced several shows including “So You Think You Can Dance” and is now a head program producer at HTV3, the most conspicuous weakness plaguing local versions of foreign reality shows is the lack of realness and authenticity, due to inadequate directing and editing, and contestants’ poor skills.
“Thus instead of bringing viewers worthy, intriguing experiences, most shows now serve as an entertainer and time-killer only,” he noted.
Unlike in the early days of reality shows in Vietnam, when novelty drew quite a large number of expectant audiences, viewers are now no longer credulous regarding what is going on in the shows, the contestants’ talents and experiences or the final results.
Instead, the local media and viewers have now switched their meager attention to behind-the-scenes trivia, contestants’ squabbles and scandals, which are rife in the Vietnamese show business.
Contestants, particularly female ones of “Big Brother Vietnam,” stripped themselves almost naked to shed as much weight as they could in one of the show’s challenges during a December 2013 TV broadcast.
Even before its debut, the TV series attracted mixed opinions and many have voiced concerns that it might be culturally inappropriate to display the contestants’ personal lives 24/7 over 65 consecutive days.
Result fixing is also suspected in such programs as “The Voice of Vietnam” and “The Voice Kids.”
Earlier this month, local viewers were outraged as singer Anh Thuy cheated on them by dressing up as a poor, scar-riddled coffee attendant and making up a pitiable story in one “The X-Factor” episode.
Thuy, playing the girl with a mask and a woolen hat, successfully aroused mercy and sympathy among many viewers, who were soon frustrated to learn that it was a mere trick.
What’s worse, the show producer, Cat Tien Sa Co., claimed that they had no knowledge whatsoever of the trick while failing to confirm the identity of the coffee attendant.