On 27 March 1941, a day before she committed suicide, Virginia Woolf wrote to her publisher requesting he defer the release of Between the Acts because it was “too silly and trivial”. Similar to many other experimental works of fiction at the time, the novel spans a single day, revolving around a village pageant about English literary history.
If Woolf considered this “silly” and “trivial” it is hard to imagine how she would react to the torrent of reality shows on modern-day TV. In China in particular, producers have been stretching the format into ever-changing shapes. Here at WiC we have reported on some of them – from celebrity dads looking after their kids to female pop bands being forced to hike through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet.
A common theme is celebrity, of course, and we now have a new twist with Me and My Agent.
Produced by Tencent Video, the 10-part programme focuses on the delicate relationships between performing artists and their managers. Since debuting in mid-March, it has been one of the video-streaming platform’s top three most-watched shows (as of April 9).
The roster of celebrities being featured includes Bai Yu (best known for playing the leading role in local fantasy drama Guardian), musical prodigy Ouyang Nana, rising actor Zhu Yawen, and actresses Zhang Yuqi (see WiC254) and Qiao Xin. They are all rostered to the Beijing-based talent management agency Easy Entertainment.
Apart from the usual curiosity about celebrity and starpower, what audiences seem to like most about the show is the light it casts on surviving in the workplace.
Take Zhang Yuqi, who debuted in Stephen Chow’s CJ7 and subsequently took a major role in box office smash The Mermaid (see WiC315). Due to tittle-tattle around her marital status last year, Zhang lost most of her blue-chip endorsement deals. Me and My Agent follows how her agent gives her the unpalatable truth as these contracts start to fall away, as well as managing her expectations for new roles in future.
(With her film career on ice, Zhang has become more of a fixture in reality shows; late last year she was one of the contestants in Space Challenge, where celebs train to be astronauts; see WiC435.)
In the current series, Zhang’s tests are less about dealing with zero-gravity and more on how to negotiate contract renewals or fire ineffective staffers. There are, of course, plenty of tears too, including those of 26 year-old actress Qiao Xin, who had enjoyed a rapid ascent to celebrity status for her part in Ode to Joy – a sort of Sex and the City variant about five fashionable women who live in the same apartment block in Shanghai (see WiC324). However, Qiao has struggled to get more high-profile roles since then, leading Easy Entertainment to want to let her go.
The conversations can be brutal: at one point Qiao’s manager says the agency won’t grant her a contract extension because she “has no special characteristics”.
Cue another round of sobbing from the former star, plus a promise to take no more days off work until she gets her career back on track.
Aside from the relationships with clients, another point of interest at the agency is its work culture – particularly as the office is testosterone-free (Easy is entirely staffed with women).
“[Me and My Agent] is more engaging than a lot of workplace dramas,” wrote one netizen on Douban. “The scenarios in the show are very similar to what I experienced as a fresh graduate starting a career years ago. Whether you are a minion second-guessing your boss the whole time, or a powerful manager overseeing everything – there is always something that you can sympathise with. I’d rather classify it as a workplace variety show as opposed to a celebrity show,” was the verdict of another.
On Douban the series fetched a rating of 7.2 out of 10, which compares favourably with other recent reality shows, including Viva La Romance featuring A-lister Zhang Ziyi (see WiC443) and last year’s big-hit Produce 101 (see WiC416), which scored 6.8 and 5.8 respectively.
Of course, it’s no accident that Me and My Agent is helping to burnish the profiles of the participating stars, especially the struggling ones.
But it is probably Easy Entertainment’s boss Yang Siwei who steals most of the limelight. Before founding the agency, the 34 year-old worked with Fan Bingbing over a period during which her career prospects boomed. Similar to Simon Fuller, who is often as high-profile as the artists he represents, Yang is also one of the most frequently searched names on weibo in the entertainment business. Audiences like how she gets things done. Pages with the hashtag “Yang Tianzhen’s business competence” have already been viewed 170 million times. (‘Tianzhen’ is her nickname.)
The favourable reception for the series has seen it shrug off accusations that it is another rip-off of a South Korean idea. Airing last March, an earlier Korean production featured a group of commentators discussing the daily coverage of various celebrities, much of it orchestrated by their agents. The idea was to take down the façades of entertainment stars.
Regarding the speculation on that series – called Omniscient Interfering View – the Korean producer MBC clarified that the rights to the format in China had been sold to a local partner and that a version is already being filmed.
MBC did not say whether it believed that Me and My Agent had plagiarised its show or whether it planned a legal response, however.
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