Reporter’s Diary: The making of a special talk show
By CGTN’s Cheng Lei

‍Like making a mosaic, TV production is lots of little pieces coming together. Details are important. Shows can fail from tiny mistakes. If your TV friends seem jumpy, that’s because every email, every text can bring down their world of dominoes.  

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It all starts with an idea – let’s do the show at the Guangzhou Fortune Global Forum in a spectacular location, with a panel of four guests. 

Then like worker ants with their missions, we set off, some to have meetings with partners, suppliers, officials, engineers. Others, like me, reach out to our ever-growing networks of PR/communications people, well-connected friends, WeChat circle, and at times, even executives themselves.  

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For weeks, this goes on. Our hides get toughened by rejection. In one record, my email for an interview was turned down within two minutes, such that I had to ask “why?” The answer was simple, the interviewee had already been asked for interviews and his assistant already knew the answer. Well, at least it wasn’t because I typed his name wrong.

When a “yes” comes (internal high-five), so do the questions – understandably, the guest’s side wants to know everything, who the other panelists are, what color will you be wearing, what does this question mean, how many minutes does it take to walk to the venue if cars aren’t allowed access. Like helpline operators, we clarify everything to every degree to soothe their concerns.  

Cooked ducks can still fly away, as the Chinese saying goes. Business people will prioritize meetings over us, so cancellations (the closer to the date, the harder the blow) have to be anticipated. There’s no time to whine, just have to get back to the drawing board.

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The studio was finished only hours before go-live, because there had been a massive jazz concert on the balcony the night before. Nobody had gotten much sleep and nerves were frazzled, but the testing went smoothly and the afternoon show – with one guest, went well. But the real test was still to come.  

So Wednesday night, when I went to the hotel to pick up guests – Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald and former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb, it felt like a farmer harvesting after a tough season of toiling and droughts. At the same time, my colleagues were picking up the other two panellists.  

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When we all came together in the waiting room, to get to know each other for more rapport later on-air, with even the luxury of 10 minutes spare, it was like a dream and I couldn’t help but grin.  

You are so used to glitches in the field of live TV that there is almost shock when there are none. The setting was perfect – new Guangzhou in all its glory behind us, reflections over the sparkling Pearl River, a beautiful evening for a televised conversation with my new friends, who were charming and inspirational.  

When it’s all over, you puff up with team pride – because you know you were all walking the highwire together. A wrong phone number, the wrong satellite booking, the wrong calculation and the wrong accreditation can all bring your collective downfall.  

But the heady mix of relieved euphoria only lasts moments, because you are only as good as your next show.