Supposedly the hit show managed a meager rating of 0.5 during its run on Chinese television late last month. Other shows had averaged ratings of 3.0 to 4.0 in the same spot. Some blamed the failure on the time slot, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. every night of the week. (Three episode blocks were shown until the entire first season aired.) Some blamed the editing Chinese censors did to the content. Others blamed the Chinese dubbing. But China Daily‘s Raymond Zhou said the reasons for Desperate‘s demise were cultural:
To put it bluntly, “Housewives” does not have a demographic fit in the Chinese market. True, it is high in quality and has suspense, thrill and murder as plot hooks to entice a wider audience. But a typical television viewer in China is not someone well-versed in Western arts and literature, mesmerized by parallel narratives and ingenious tracking shots. It is usually someone with no advanced education but simply wants to kick off her shoes and relax after a hard day’s work.
The show’s fanfare was whipped up by media types exposed to Western reports and who have probably already seen it on DVD pirated more or less. As a matter of fact, many people who tuned in to CCTV but found the dubbing or scheduling annoying eventually saw the airing as a teaser, turning to the DVD market for the whole nine yards.
These young urbanites may make up a decent market segment for many product categories. But television being a mass entertainment platform, it cannot depend solely on the opinion leaders. Rather, it needs a bigger turnout willing to get on the ride.
For one thing, American serials like “Desperate Housewives”, with their witty innuendoes and multiple twists, are too fast-paced for Chinese taste. Some viewers complained they would get lost with the plot after a bathroom break. But with South Korean soaps, even if you skip three episodes, you can still follow the story lines.
On a deeper level, life on Wisteria Lane, the fictional California community in Housewives, is too far removed from ordinary Chinese, even the burgeoning middle class. A Chinese teenager would never, in her right mind, advise her single mother on the etiquette of dating. When Chinese housewives get into an adulterous mood, they would not turn to teenaged gardeners, who are usually migrant workers in rags, but to people with deeper pockets and higher ranks. A Chinese woman may act as fastidious as Bree Van De Kamp, but she would not take on the arch-conservative stance of an American Republican. A Chinese super-mom, in a country with family planning policy encouraging for one child, faces challenges very different from tending four unruly kids.
Simply put, the show fails to connect with the vast number of television viewers here because it implicitly requires prior knowledge of the US middle-class lifestyle, exaggerated for dramatic effect of course. That shouldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those who crave for quality programming, but its target audience shrinks from the culturally curious to the culturally adventurous.