When media mogul Rupert Murdoch set out to conquer the Chinese satellite television market, he brought America’s most popular judge, Judge Judy, to Chinese screens. The top-rated courtroom show was called TV Court. Since then, television stations across the country have followed suit, copying foreign hits such as Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. Ugly Betty, the popular US sitcom, is the latest to receive a Chinese makeover.
In this case, Hunan Television Station actually bought the rights to recreate the show in the mainland. Ugly Wudi, as it is called in China, follows the unattractive yet good-natured Wudi in her career at an advertising agency, and her quest for love.
Like the Hollywood Betty, Wudi struggles with big glasses, bulky braces, and a dishevelled mop of hair. The show was hugely successful in China, ranking number one in its time-slot across the country during its first season. On opening night, 73 million viewers tuned in to watch Wudi’s struggle to succeed in today’s superficial appearance-obsessed world.
Ironically, the show that promotes inner beauty is exclusively sponsored by Dove skincare. Unilever, the owner of the Dove product range, has brokered a deal that gives it exclusive product placement rights, as well as input into a script that is shaped by a Dove advertising campaign for the “Real Beauty”. Unilever’s marketing staff worked with the show’s writers to integrate 3,300 seconds of the Dove brand into the show’s first season.
The potential for a mixed message (Wudi’s beauty is more of an inner thing, but on the other hand, why not buy a set of soaps and lotions from the local supermarket?) might confuse some of the more impressionable viewers.
Perhaps, however, a concern with external appearance reflects harder realities. With the local job market now so competitive, a growing number of college graduates are turning to plastic surgery to gain a perceived advantage, says Xinhua. The news agency reports that four or five college graduates are having plastic surgery every day at the No.1 Hospital in Anhui. The bulk of the graduates reckon that the surgical alterations increase their performance in interviews. “My improved appearance makes me more confident in interviews,” says one patient.
Perhaps Wudi should consider going under the knife too.
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