The Wonderful Read: What makes a good variety show?
Updated 13:20, 04-Nov-2018
By Ai Yan
What is the most efficient way to recommend a book in a digital age that many say has brought about the demise of paper?
As the end of the year approaches, China's variety show market has witnessed the emergence of yet another dark horse: At the beginning of October, book recommendation show "The Wonderful Read" made its dazzling debut, captivating viewers, and earning a rating of 9.3 points on, China's answer to Rotten Tomatoes.
The show, jointly produced by Share Television Media and Tencent Video, is broadcast online on a weekly basis.
Think of a book reading session, a theatrical performance and a talk show all merged into one production.
Chinese actors Zhao Lixin (L) and Victor Huang interact while performing "The Moon and Sixpence". /Photo by The Wonderful Read

Chinese actors Zhao Lixin (L) and Victor Huang interact while performing "The Moon and Sixpence". /Photo by The Wonderful Read

Each episode recommends a literary work to the audience, which is then brought to life on stage by some of the most prestigious actors in the country. The host and studio guests share their comments, suggestions and analyses in the intervals.

Books on stage

"It's like laying out the essence of a book on the stage, and allowing them to shine like pearls," Zhao Lixin, one of the main actors, commented in an episode.
Zhao played the narrator in "The Moon and Sixpence" (W. Somerset Maugham, 1919) and the role of Luo Ji in "The Three-Body Problem" (Liu Cixin, 2006). His performance received praise due to his acting skills and character interpretation.
The studio of "The Wonderful Read". /Photo via The Wonderful Read

The studio of "The Wonderful Read". /Photo via The Wonderful Read

The stage of "The Wonderful Read" is built in a circular shape, with different parts hosting different scenes of the book. Spectators sit in the middle of the circle so they better get immersed in the atmosphere created by actors.
But what's more successful about the show is probably that it succeeded in touching the audience and inspired them to open a book.
"I suddenly found that I have bought the book 'A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline', which I had left to gather dust. But now I really want to go back to it and read," said a Douban user who goes by the name Gorillaz.
"Even the best acting could only present a small part of a good book," another Douban user, Weihua, commented. "The subtle emotions, the profound philosophy could only be fully expressed through words. So in the end of the play, Maugham said: 'That is enough, now you can go back and read.'"
Guan Zhengwen, director of the show, said the best feedback he got from the audience was when he learned that many picked up a book after watching the show.
"The Wonderful Read". /Photo via The Wonderful Read

"The Wonderful Read". /Photo via The Wonderful Read

"We are trying to provide a fitting room for the readers, so they could see whether the book is fit for them or not," said Guan.

The constant in an ever-changing world

The variety show market in China is in perpetual state of change, without a single program holding the spotlight for long. But how to create a hit show is the top concern of directors.
For Guan, the question has always been on his mind, but he has a ready answer for it.
"Cultural programs should finally return to content producing and form creating," he said. "For 'The Wonderful Read' all of our efforts were directed to producing refined spiritual grains for the audience, and help them spread that."
He said how to preserve the essence of books during the adoption phase has become one of the most important steps. While presenting the classics in the form of drama and films, how much the audience could get about the original book is what the producer cares about the most.
Reading is not replaceable, Guan asserted, adding that to trigger the audience's interest in reading through such a medium is why he made the show. Providing fresh knowledge and inspiring independent thinking are what Guan want to achieve from the show.
(Head image designed by Jia Jieqiong)