I was discussing the topic of TVB not treasuring its veterans in one of the AF forums and figured it would be a good idea to blog about the topic here as well, since I have alot to say about it.
Most likely, there will be more to come on this topic as well, since it's very hard to cover everything I have to say about this topic in one post.
The in-depth discussion sort of started when a few of the AF posters mentioned that TVB may not be entirely to blame for promoting younger generation artists over veterans because the reality is that there isn't really a market for the veterans anymore because of their age. Then the issue came up about how TVB focuses on promoting new generation artists who can't to save their lives purely on the fact that they are "good-looking" -- and in some cases, TVB tailors lead roles in series to these artists who don't have the skill or talent to do justice to the roles.
Looking at the newer generation of artists, there are very few who can really "take the baton" from the veterans because they lack the experience and skill that the veterans (primarily late 70s and early 80s/90s generations) had to make them successful.
My response to the above is as follows:
There are 2 main reasons for the above (why TVB treats the veterans unfairly and why there is no one who can 'take the baton':
1) TVB got rid of the Acting Classes that they were so famous for (which MANY great stars graduated from). Those who went through Acting Class got proper training -- they were the ones who had to play "extras" or "bit parts" in series after they graduate, then once they gained enough experience, then they were "promoted" to supporting and lead. Basically, these artists started from the bottom and climbed their way to the top through constant refining of their acting skills, accumulating experience, and pure hard work / dedication / perseverance. This is where majority of the most famous actors and actresses from the 80s and early 90s came from.
2) TVB changed direction of their company to promote based on favoritism and looks rather than skill or talent. Much of the promotion of the "newer" artists took place around 2003 when Virginia Lok was promoted to "artists' manager" and basically got to control all of the artists – she loves to promote the supposed "eye-candy" artists solely because they "look good", even though their acting sucks (i.e.: her "god-son" and favorite Kevin Cheng). The "favoritism" aspect is one of the main reasons why we continue to see the same artists over and over again in the series from the past 7-8 years -- "promoting artists" became a political game of whoever can "kiss up" to the most powerful higher-ups can be given more opportunities over others. And with Virginia Lok's "power" in upper management, she has been able to put all her favorites (Kevin Cheng, Moses Chan, Charmaine Sheh, Linda Chung, etc.) in almost every single series being made nowadays.
To support the above reasoning, there are two examples that I would like to bring up:
--- Sunny Chan: his acting skills are absolutely great -- he's good at every role he does and convincing (of course, he's from the HK Acting Academy, so his acting will definitely be good). He was very active in the 90s and was considered one of TVB's "siu sangs" -- but then he left in 2000 for ATV and since he returned several years ago, he has not been given many good, quality roles. Granted, he is still the male lead oftentimes, but many of the roles that he gets are really crappy and second-rate (i.e. Wintermelon Tale, Legend of Demigods, etc.) -- not to mention TVB has warehoused the majority of the series he made since he returned (hence, he is known as "Warehouse King" in the circles).
--- Roger Kwok: we all know about Roger – one of the most famous veterans at TVB, been with them over 20 years, truly talented acting, 2 time TV King, etc etc….he’s definitely one of TVB’s own and contracted too….yet, the management (namely Virginia Lok) “used” him to build Kevin Cheng’s career up after “The Seventh Day” and a few other series failed miserably. Kevin is a far inferior actor (he’s promoted because of his looks), yet because he is favored by management, he gets preferential treatment at the expense of Roger. In fact, Roger was actually quite upset and refused to renew his contract with TVB – Mona Fong (the head of TVB) had to step in to “soothe things over” and he eventually renewed.
Basically, I can understand the idea of “promoting one’s own”, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of other artists (whether contracted or non-contracted). Unfortunately, though, the reality is that this is never going to change because it is a core part of TVB’s politics….
Another argument that was brought up was the fact that TVB is a business and so of course they are going to look out for their own best interests, which is to promote artists who are contracted to them (the younger generation artists mostly) rather than those who are non-contracted (mostly the veterans) -- especially since many of the viewers nowadays are young and want to see "pretty faces" rather than good acting. This led to the discussion of how many of the scripts that TVB writers come up with nowadays suck and how they would give bad scripts to the veteran artists (since they aren't contracted and so TVB doesn't have a vested interest) -- the argument here is why the veterans still choose to accept the role if the script is so bad (and consequently that TVB is not to be blamed for the veterans accepting the script).
My response to the above (veterans accepting bad scripts):
In terms of the veterans being at fault for "agreeing to" bad scripts -- well, to some extent, perhaps so, but one thing to understand is that a lot of times, they may not really have much of a choice. Most of the non-contracted veterans that TVB invites back pretty much have established careers elsewhere and whether they go back to TVB to do a series because they still "owe" them episodes or purely as a "favor", some of these veterans are busy and don't necessarily have time to "wait" forever. So if they are handed 2 scripts -- both of which are crap because TVB does not have very many good writers anymore, they will most likely choose the "better" of the 2 (though it's still a crappy script) so they can get it done and move on...So in a sense, yes, maybe they are at fault for agreeing to go back and do a series for them in the first place...but if they still "owe" TVB episodes or "show" time, then they would have to fulfill their obligation regardless....
Drawing this back to the original discussion, I can certainly understand the argument that a good script is hard to come by and so TVB would want to promote the younger generation artists since they are the "future" of the industry and as artists get older, there may be less of a "market" for them (realistically speaking). But then, knowing that, shouldn't there be even more motivation to develop the up and coming young generation artists so that they CAN take over for the veterans? This is where I don't understand TVB's way of thinking and why I brought up the issue of them 1) getting rid of the acting classes and 2) promoting based on looks rather than talent. To be honest, one of the main reasons why TVB was so successful in the 80s/90s (other than the caliber of the artists themselves and the quality scripts) is that the management at the time truly did have an eye for talent and really focused on developing actors and actresses -- which is why there were so many great artists who came out of those generations and who are still popular even today (for example: Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, Sean Lau, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, etc. etc. -- just to name a few). With the change in management going into the late 90s/early 00s, the direction of the company changed and "promoting people" became a political game of favoritism rather than recognizing true talent and developing acting skills.
With the focus on promoting based on looks rather than talent, it's no surprise that TVB is starting to feel the effects of it now, since it's pretty much common sense that if you rely solely on looks, success is only going to be short term -- yes, the person may "look good" and so have a lot of opportunities because of that, but what happens once the person reaches their 40s, 50s, 60s when their looks will no longer cut it for them? If they had no talent to begin with and the company they work for doesn't even bother to help them develop the acting skills, then their careers are pretty much going to be over.
Just to take one of my all time favorite actors for example -- Chow Yun Fat. He is certainly good-looking and that's probably how he got "noticed" and entered the industry. However, he did not just rely on his looks to get him where he is today -- if he hadn't gone through TVB's acting classes and learned valuable skills, then gained valuable experience by starting off at the bottom playing bit parts and eventually becoming lead, today he would be just another "pretty boy" with no career. But look at how long his career has lasted -- over 30 years (and still going) -- and he is one of the greatest actors HK has ever had. And yes, TVB is certainly credited with having a hand in his development (which they are quite proud of even though this generation's management pretty much didn't have anything to do with it) and rightly so because the truth is that they did do a good job of that in the 70s/80s and early 90s.
Same with Tony Leung -- one of the greatest actors of the 80s generation (since Chow Yun Fat was technically the 70s). He is another good-looking guy who started in TVB's Acting Class and worked his way up. I remember watching the very first series he was in back in the early 80s (not as a lead, but as part of the cast) and even the "test videos" that he did before graduating from Acting class -- the huge differences in his acting skills then and now are quite obvious. Again, if he hadn't gained the skills and experience he needed going through the acting class, he would not have the success he has today (and yes, TVB still "boasts" about being part of his development as well).
The sad thing is that this is a thing of the past -- since TVB's priorities have changed, which is definitely a shame since now, there is no one who can take over -- so basically in another 20-30 years when the "veterans" retire, the HK industry will really be in big trouble....