TVB Zone (an offshoot of TVB Weekly Magazine) recently started a ‘retrospective’ multi-part series of articles recounting TVB’s most influential TV drama series of all time, starting from the 1960s (specifically 1967 when TVB came into existence) until now. Of course, with all of the series that TVB has produced in the past 4 decades, there are surely many series that most of us long-time TVB followers would consider ‘classic’ – but when it comes to being ‘influential’, that’s a whole different story altogether. So far, the dozen or so series that the magazine chose to feature in its articles (note that I haven’t finished reading all the articles yet) have been ‘spot on’ – meaning that those series truly have a very important place in TVB history and certainly live up to its ‘influential’ status (in other words, I agree with most of the choices so far…LOL!). I also like that the articles so far have been pretty well written and it’s obvious that the author truly did do her homework (which I definitely appreciate, since that’s one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to reading stuff like this). As the magazine starts diving into the series from the 80s and 90s (series that majority audiences will probably be more familiar with) in subsequent articles, let’s hope that the ‘choices’ will continue to be the ‘correct’ ones (let’s see if the ‘so far so good’ trend continues…haha!).
So far, I’ve enjoyed reading this ‘special feature’ and taking that always welcome trip down TVB memory lane (especially given the current ‘pathetic’ state that the company is in). Since there hasn’t been a whole lot of interesting TVB-related articles worth translating lately (and frankly, I’m sick and tired of hearing about the same currently popular artists and series over and over again), I figured that a little bit of TVB nostalgia would perhaps be a welcome respite, both for me and for readers of my blog.
So read on and enjoy (and look forward to future articles, which I will continue to translate and post as I have time)! :0)
TVB Weekly Magazine Special Feature: The Most Influential TV Dramas from the Past 45 Years (Part 1)
Source: TVB Zone, Issue 818
Article originally published February 25, 2013
The year 1967 can definitely be considered an ‘earth-shattering’ year in Hong Kong television history, as that was the year that TVB opened its doors as a free-to-air television broadcaster. The emergence of this future powerhouse changed the landscape of HK television – not only was the previous ‘standard’ of having to ‘pay money to watch TV’ [TN: since HK only had cable operators up to that point and no free-to-air TV stations] officially broken, the long-held ‘monopoly’ that Rediffusion Television [ATV’s predecessor RTV] had on the HK television broadcasting market was also ‘dismantled’. From that moment on, television became an integral part of HK citizens’ daily lives – watching TV became a daily necessity (just like household chores), with discussion of the latest ‘hit’ shows or dramas amongst friends and family becoming an everyday, common societal trend.
In any discussion about TVB, it’s impossible not to mention the station’s TV drama series, which takes up a huge portion of the programming that is produced. In fact, the time period from the 1970s to the late 1990s is often referred to as the era when Hong Kongers ‘mixed television with rice’ [TN: meaning that watching TV was as common as eating rice and also referring to the habit of HK families back then of having the TV on as they ate dinner, watching and discussing their favorite programs while they ate.]. One reason for this ‘trend’ was due to the fact that not a whole lot of ‘entertainment’ existed during those eras, so most citizens would go straight home every day after work and eat dinner with their families, often with the television on in the background. Actually, the often-heard term ‘煲劇’ [TN: literally translated as ‘boiling series’, which is a term used to describe the habit of watching one series after another without stopping – similar to what we call doing a ‘movie marathon’ here in the U.S.] was already very common back then.
It all started with Fun, Hong Kong Style (太平山下)
In its 45 year existence, TVB has produced over a thousand television series, many of which hold important positions in HK television history. In the next few weeks, we [the writer(s) of the article] will take a trip back in time with you [the audiences] and recount some of those ‘important’ series that have had a significant impact on television history.
Of course, trying to choose only a few of the most ‘influential’ TV series from amongst thousands of series is not an easy task at all. In considering which series to choose, many factors were taken into consideration – for example: Was the subject matter of the series ‘exceptional’ or ‘unique’ (during that time period)? Did the series have an ‘all-star’ cast back then that can never be assembled again? Or perhaps the series was chosen because of its impact on the development path of future TV series? Etc….
The first series in our discussion is a situational comedy (sitcom) entitled Fun, Hong Kong Style (太平山下), which happens to be the very first TV series that TVB produced and aired (back in 1967) in the format of a ½ hour comedy skit every Sunday night. The series was produced by Chung King Fai (鍾景輝) and starred popular artists from that era such as Yung Yuk Yi (容玉意), Mui Yan (梅欣), Sheung Kwun Kwan Wai (上官筠慧), Lydia Shum (沈殿霞), Lee Tim Sing (李添勝), Helena Law (羅蘭), Lee Heung Kam (李香琴), etc. Since the broadcast of the series back then was sponsored by the Swiss watch-maker Tugaris, the time slot in which it aired was also known as the ‘Tugaris Theater’ segment.
TVB’s first full length series Love Story (夢斷情天)
The second series in our discussion is 1968’s Love Story (夢斷情天) – as TVB’s very first full length drama series, Love Story originally aired for only 15 minutes every night, however, due to the series quickly becoming a huge hit, 15 minutes turned out to be too short for HK audiences. Therefore, TVB decided to change the format and air 30 minutes of the series every night instead, which resulted in the series staying on the air for more than half a year.
Due to the tremendous popularity of Love Story, the series’ female lead Gigi Wong (黃淑儀) was catapulted to instant success and her position as TVB’s inaugural ‘first-line fa dan’ was secure -- back when the series aired (in 1968-1969), there was not a single audience who wasn’t familiar with Gigi’s character in the series Sui Fen (瑞芬). As for the series’ male lead Stanley Fung (馮淬帆) – well, he of course became TVB’s very first full length drama series ‘siu sang’.
The emergence of Love Story not only switched TVB’s most ‘lucrative’ programming from variety programs to drama series, it also set the precedence for Cantonese language TV series to become mainstream amongst HK television programs. When the series reached its 60th episode, additional ‘on location’ scenes were filmed and added to the series, which also ‘shaped’ the format of HK television series going forward.
The Fatal Irony (啼笑因緣) catapults Louise Lee to stardom
In July 1969, TVB’s third official TV series Hard to Escape Justice (法網難逃) began airing in Hong Kong – first in black and white and later in color. Therefore, this series can be considered a ‘classic’ in that it witnessed one of the television industry’s most important developments -- the switch from the ‘black and white’ TV era to ‘color’ TV. Hard to Escape Justice was a series that consisted of multiple short stories, with each episode dedicated to a specific criminal case – one particular story in the series, entitled The Audio Recorder Love Murder, was a special 90 minute feature that once again reunited Love Story stars Stanley Fung and Gigi Wong in the main lead roles. The series not only served as the ‘pioneer’ for TVB’s multi-story format series (單元劇), it also helped to further secure Stanley and Gigi’s positions as TVB’s first generation ‘siu sang’ and ‘fa dan’.
[Afraid that you have a change of heart, your lover’s tears all over the lapel (為怕哥你變左心,情人淚滿襟)….] Most seasoned TVB fans will probably recognize the above lyrics as the famous opening line to the theme song of 1974’s classic series The Fatal Irony (啼笑因緣) – the song, which was composed by Joseph Koo (顧嘉煇) and sung by Sandra Lang (仙杜拉), became an instant hit and marked the beginning of the TV theme song ‘golden era’. The series itself, which was adapted from Mainland author Zhang Hen Shui’s (张恨水) novel of the same name, starred actress Louise Lee (李司棋) in the dual roles of Shum Fung Hei and Ho Lai Na – two characters with very opposite personalities. With her meticulous portrayal of both characters, Louise brought out the willful and unruly nature of the rich young heiress Lai Na while at the same time evoking sympathetic tears from audiences over the poor Fung Hei’s pitiful plight.
The series’ male lead was one of television’s most popular ‘siu sangs’ at the time, Chan Chun Wah (陳振華) Other co-stars included veteran actor Chan Yau Hou (陳有后) as well as the series’ second female lead Pearl Au (歐嘉慧) [TN: Pearl was the ex-wife of TVB’s ‘golden emcee’ Ivan Ho (何守信).] Uncle Hou was one of the main instructors for TVB’s Acting Classes back during those days and throughout his career, taught many of the industry’s biggest stars [TN: Some of Uncle Hou’s famous students include: Chow Yun Fat, Liza Wang, Ng Man Tat, Johnnie To, Alex Man, etc.] -- therefore, Uncle Hou’s meticulous and natural acting in the series came as no surprise. Another ‘interesting’ fact that contributed to this series’ ‘classic’ status: international superstar Chow Yun Fat (周潤發) – who was relatively unknown at the time – can be spotted playing a random bystander during one of the street scenes!
The switch from ½ hour to 1 hour
On May 31, 1976, TVB introduced a new 20 episode TV drama series called A Heart with Thousands of Knots (心有千千結), which was adapted from popular Taiwanese romance author Qiong Yao’s (瓊瑤) novel of the same name. The series starred Shek Sau (石修) and Maggie Li (李琳琳) and also featured a theme song sung by the series’ male lead (Shek Sau) and one of HK’s top female singers at the time, Betty Chung (鍾玲玲) -- due to the song’s tremendous popularity at the time, it absolutely qualifies as one of the industry’s most ‘classic’ TV theme songs. The main reason why this particular series made it onto the ‘most influential series’ list was because it marked another major development in TVB history – starting with this series, the airing time for TVB series was changed from 30 minutes per episode to 1 hour. [TN: well, technically, if we look at actual drama series airing time, it changed to 45 minutes, as the rest of the time was made up of commercials].
Preview of next article….
Liza Wang (汪明荃) is one of TVB’s ‘gatekeeper treasures’ and the ultimate ‘Ah Jeh’ in everyone’s hearts. Liza, Gigi Wong, and Louise Lee were considered TVB’s ‘big 3’ fa dans of that generation (1970s) -- with their positions and busy schedules, the opportunity to have all 3 of them star in the same series together was definitely rare to say the least. However, such an opportunity did present itself and to this day, it is the only series in HK television history to feature all 3 ‘Ah Jehs’ -- TVB’s first generation fa dans – together. What was that series? The answer will be revealed in the next article….