Friday, November 5, 2010

Analysis of TVB’s ‘Parties’ and ‘Cliques’: Real-life "Beyond the Realm of Conscience"?

Posted 19 March 2010 - 01:07 AM @

Thursday, March 18, 2010 Hong Kong
Translation: llwy12@ (part 1)

The recent scandal over TVB GM Stephen Chan’s arrest for alleged corruption has so far played out like one of the station’s own dramas. Though Stephen Chan and 4 others have now been released on bail awaiting further investigation, there does not seem to be an end in sight to the ongoing saga, with one person after another ‘spilling the beans’ on the inner workings and disarray at TVB. Of course, the ‘biggest’ news so far has been the rumors that Stephen Chan was ‘turned in’ to the ICAC by none other than his employer TVB due to his ‘falling out of favor’ with top management. As for TVB being overrun by ‘parties’ and ‘cliques’, this is a well-known ‘secret’ by almost everyone in the industry. Virginia Lok, Catherine Tsang, Tommy Leung, and Stephen Chan are the ‘head’ of the executive team and have the power to control and promote artists. If Stephen Chan loses all power due to the scandal, then the competition of the ‘4 parties’ will be greatly affected, resulting in only 3 parties remaining (Virginia Lok, Catherine Tsang, Tommy Leung). Out of the 3, it has been rumored that Mona Fong’s ‘favorite’ Virginia Lok would likely prevail and the group of young artists under her would become the ‘face’ of TVB in the future.

With the commotion surrounding Stephen Chan’s case now, the developments and the way things are playing out in the media rival that of the inner palace conflicts and struggles in TVB’s highly-rated hit from last year <> -- except that the real-life events are even more dramatic and interesting.

Part 1: The 4 Parties
The Chan Party – Leader: Stephen Chan

Stephen Chan: TVB’s General Manager, used to be a DJ. Prior to being arrested, he did the ‘voiceovers’ for various TVB variety and specialty shows and simultaneously hosted the interview show <>. Since becoming GM, Stephen’s presence has been quite strong and his flamboyance has attracted many to him. It is rumored that Stephen ‘loves’ promoting the artists that others [managers] don’t want – the greatest example is Fala Chan, whom he single-handedly pushed to the “Best Supporting Actress” position. TV Queen Sheren Tang, who is known for constantly going against Virginia Lok, is also highly favored by Stephen. In addition, Patrick Tang, Amigo Chui, etc. – also his favorites – were able to win many awards at the 2007 TVB Anniversary Awards ceremony, though there was a lot of backlash afterwards.

Favorite Male Artists – Amigo Chui, Sammul Chan, Patrick Tang, Wong Hei, etc.
Favorite Female Artists – Sheren Tang, Fala Chan, Tavia Yeung, etc.

The Lok Party – Leader: Virginia Lok
Virginia Lok: TVB’s Production and Resources Manager, with primary jurisdiction over all matters related to TVB’s artists; also one of the “official” representatives and spokesperson for the artists. The “Lok” Party consists primarily of the newer generation ‘siu sangs’ and ‘fa-dans’. With her position, it can be said that the fate of ALL TVB artists is in her hands. Virginia Lok has made quite a few new artists popular through promotion – Kevin Cheng is the biggest example of this. Back in the days, Kevin Cheng had been in the industry for a long time, but was never able to become popular until he officially became Virginia Lok’s “god-son” – after that, he started getting lead roles in series after series (most of them grand productions), which paved the way for his ‘TV King’ award in 2006.

Favorite Male Artists – Kevin Cheng, Moses Chan, Raymond Lam, Ron Ng, Bosco Wong, etc.
Favorite Female Artists – Charmaine Sheh, Myolie Wu, Linda Chung, Kate Tsui, etc.

The Tsang Party – Leader: Catherine Tsang
Catherine Tsang: TVB’s Production Department Head (Series); was once a broadcaster at RTHK; affectionately nicknamed “Jen Jie” by the artists. Catherine started with TVB in 1974 and has been credited with launching the careers of HK’s biggest stars such as Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Tony Leung, etc. She has gone through both the ‘Run Run Shaw era’ as well as the ‘Mona Fong era’ and has remained strongly standing to this day. The Tsang Party consists almost entirely of the most skilled and talented artists (in terms of acting) in TVB, however because Catherine’s focus has always been on directing behind the scenes, coupled with much of the power being in Virginia Lok’s hands, so her artists are never heavily promoted.

Favorite Male Artists: Bobby AuYeung, Steven Ma, Wayne Lai, etc.
Favorite Female Artists: Ada Choi, Maggie Cheung, Shirley Yeung, etc.

The Leung Party – Leader: Tommy Leung
Tommy Leung: TVB Producer; Head of Series Production. Started with TVB in 1973 and is considered an ‘elder’-type figure [started with the company from the beginning]. His specialty includes grand commercial productions. 2001 was the “Year of Leung’s Party”, as the ‘siu sangs’ and ‘fa dans’ under him at that time – Louis Koo, Gallen Lo, Jessica Hsuan, Flora Chan, etc. – were all “high ratings guarantees”. After strong competition with Tsang’s Party for many years, Leung’s Party had already lost some of it’s steam – then, when Virginia Lok came to power in 2003, his Party had to battle with hers as well. Currently, almost all of Leung’s artists have left TVB.

Favorite Male Artists: Gallen Lo, Roger Kwok, Louis Koo, etc.
Favorite Female Artists: Sonjia Kwok, Jessica Hsuan, Flora Chan, etc.
Part 2: Competition
Tsang Party vs Leung Party: Won’t Concede to Each Other
Between Catherine Tsang and Tommy Leung, all this time, they refuse to concede to each other. Back in the days, at the height of the “Tsang/Leung Competition”, Catherine forced out Tommy’s wife Siu Siu Ming, which solidified his desire to stand in opposition to Catherine. Subsequently, Siu Siu Ming’s “favorite” – Louis Koo – also left TVB. Not too long after, Catherine also forced out ‘golden’ producer Gary Tang Duk Hei, which resulted in the demise of popular series such as <>. In this particular battle, the Leung Party was defeated.

Every year’s anniversary gala is the event where the ‘competition’ between all the Parties is the most intense – for years, the Tsang and Leung Parties have battled each other for the awards.

In 2001, the TV King award went to Leung’s party [Louis Koo], however the TV Queen award could not be fairly settled between the parties, so it eventually went to Liza Wang.

In 2002, the Tsang Party sacrificed Ada Choi in order to guarantee that Charmaine Sheh would get into Top 5, so the Leung Party had no choice but to sacrifice Jessica Hsuan, however the results were opposite of what was expected [Flora Chan became TV Queen].

In 2003, with the hit series <> favored to ‘bag’ the major awards, which would mean a victory for the Leung Party, Catherine Tsang sacrificed Charmaine Sheh and Ada Choi in favor of Maggie Cheung to win the TV Queen award – not only that, but Gigi Lai and Kenix Kwok also became “fish in the pond.”

In 2004, with the overwhelming popularity of the series <>, it was pretty much a guarantee that the Tsang Party would ‘bag’ all the awards this time, however the audiences would not vote for Charmaine Sheh, causing Sheren Tang and Gigi Lai to be the top 2 contenders for TV Queen. As for Ada Choi, she didn’t even get into the Top 5, so she obviously became the sacrifice that year.

In 2006, the Leung Party’s <> was poorly received and miserably defeated – in addition, Tommy’s actions of promoting his daughter Toby Leung harmed his years-accumulated image of being fair and just. Another defeat for the Leung Party.

In 2009, the Tsang Party’s <> also defeated the Leung Party’s <>.

Lok Party vs Tsang Party: Mutually Restricting
Catherine Tsang is known for reacting swiftly and decisively, therefore, she has made countless enemies throughout the years. In 2003, Virginia Lok “took flight” at TVB, becoming the ‘artists manager’, which undoubtedly put some of the Tsang Party artists in an awkward position; Catherine’s “god-son” Steven Ma was one of those affected and ended up having to ‘reduce his workload’. However, the series that the Tsang party produced were traditionally highly regarded in terms of public praise as well as ratings (series like <> and <> for example).

In the 2004 Anniversary Awards battle, Gigi Lai’s actions of ‘exchanging her contract’ for the TV Queen award stifled the Lok Party’s Charmaine Sheh from rising to the top, so she (Charmaine) had to wait until 2006 to successfully become TV Queen.

Therefore, it can be seen that the struggles between the Tsang Party and Lok Party would rise and fall in succession, oftentimes surrounded by peril.

Chan Party vs Lok Party: Not Accepting of Each Other
The relationship between Stephen Chan and Virginia Lok can be said to one filled with contradiction – primary reason is because the 2 of them refuse to be overruled by each other, which made their competition especially fierce. Virginia Lok’s ‘rule’ for promoting artists is pretty much in line with TVB’s conventional method – “loyalty” is number one and “internal conflict” is frowned upon. Stephen Chan’s method is completely opposite – his approach is “if you are not able to promote them to stardom, I will” – which, in a sense, was a means of “belittling” the opposing Party. Fala Chan is the ultimate example of this, as she was single-handedly ‘promoted’ by Stephen Chan to the position of Best Supporting Actress; it was rumored that Fala’s personality was too ‘open’ – every couple days, she would be ‘in the news’ or ‘out getting attention’ – causing both Catherine Tsang and Virginia Lok to dislike her. So Stephen took Fala under his wing and started promoting her.

Over time, internal conflict escalated between Stephen and Virginia.

Part 3: Possibilities
Will Virginia Lok ‘smile’ until the end? Will the Leung Party and Lok Party collaborate to ‘overcome’ the Tsang Party?
With Stephen Chan’s arrest and the chances of him returning to TVB very slim, the ‘Party politics’ that has played out behind the scenes at TVB for ages will undoubtedly undergo significant changes. Due to Virginia Lok’s advantage of having a group of immensely popular younger generation ‘siu sangs’ and ‘fa-dans’ in her Party, plus the so-called ‘support’ of Mrs. Shaw (Mona Fong) behind the scenes, there is a high possibility that the Lok Party may join forces with the Leung Party to “stifle” the Tsang Party. However, Catherine Tsang has been known to have “Nine Lives” [comes back strong each time she gets beaten down], so this particular “battle” will definitely be very interesting.

The Lok Party: Siu sangs and fa-dans become the ‘pillars’ of TVB
It is rumored that Stephen Chan’s “fall from grace” will ‘elevate’ the status of the various siu sangs and fa-dans in the Lok Party. Virginia Lok’s number one favorite (and god-son) Kevin Cheng, other favorites Bosco Wong, Raymond Lam, Moses Chan, Myolie Wu, Charmaine Sheh, Linda Chung, etc will likely be heavily promoted. Even Kate Tsui – who chose to ‘get close’ to Virginia Lok on her own accord – will probably have a lot of acting jobs coming up. In addition, rumor has it that TVB’s internal production team has received “secret orders” to promote all the above artists – whether through new series or variety shows – so that they can eventually become the ‘pillars’ of TVB. As Mona Fong’s ‘favorite’, there is a huge possibility that Virginia Lok could be ‘smiling’ until the end [come out on top].

The Tsang Party: Rely on true talent and praiseworthy performances to stay on top
Though Catherine Tsang may not be as strong in the competition between the Parties, it cannot be denied that her view of people as well as series is extremely accurate – in addition to the palace-scheming, war-themed hit series <> and <> (which were produced by her Party), part of the success of last year’s award-winning <> can also be contributed to her, as she was the one who personally picked Wayne Lai to star in the series. Also, she possesses the ‘big card’ that will surely be an advantage to her Party: “Golden Producer” Lee Tim Shing. With the high anticipation for this year’s <> sequel (produced by Lee), there is almost sure to be a ‘ratings surge’ for the series.

The Leung Party: Continue to “run with the pack”; possibility of joining Lok Party
With veteran artists Jamie Chik, Ray Lui, Kenix Kwok, Gallen Lo, and Anita Yuen returning to TVB last year, the Leung Party seized the opportunity to have their series <> elevated to the status of ‘grand production anniversary series’ alongside the Tsang Party’s <>. Unfortunately, the ratings for <> did not even come close to those for <>, with <> lagging way behind. From this it can be seen that Tommy Leung’s “golden years” have long since passed and his Party is pretty much in the position of ‘running with the pack’ now. However, because Tommy Leung is enemies with Catherine Tsang, if he is not able to make amends with her, there is a possibility of him joining forces with Virginia Lok to go against Catherine.

Part 4: Conversation
Hong Kong veteran media reporter Huang Si Nong accepted an interview with our paper yesterday. He analyzed Stephen Chan’s “fall from grace” situation as well as the impact on TVB. He states that Stephen Chan being arrested by the ICAC is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s like knocking down a beehive so that it can’t do any more harm. In addition, Huang feels that even though this situation is very damaging to TVB at the moment and ATV may jump on the opportunity, it is his belief that the grand TVB Entertainment Empire that Run Run Shaw created will not be destroyed that easily.

Q = Reporter
A = Huang Si Nong

Q: Have you heard of Stephen Chan’s arrest already? Did you get a chance to look into the details yet?

A: I’ve been in Hong Kong the past few weeks, so I did hear the news. In my observation, the ICAC has never been this ‘high profile’ in terms of arrests – in the past, it was always “invite for coffee” type situation (drink coffee, have a conversation) – plus they are usually very protective of the person they are “inviting” for coffee. This time, it’s directly “arresting,” which shows that ICAC must have some type of confirmed information. Also, there were reports that TVB themselves were the ones who “unveiled” the scandal – if that is true, then the situation is like the real-life version of TVB’s palace wars dramas.

Q: This time, TVB did things very publicly and high profile, which has caused people to speculate that this was planned all along by them and was a result of internal power struggles. What do you think is the primary internal struggle/contradiction within TVB?

A: Internal power struggles within an organization is usually due to people not being able to get along with each other. It’s just like animals will always try to compete and fight with each other. For instance, I own a few rabbits as pets and sometimes when they fight, one usually tries to kill the other one that it perceives as its enemy. Not sure if using this animal analogy makes sense.

Q: Currently, TVB is controlled by Mrs Shaw (Mona Fong) and internally they are separated into 4 ‘parties’ or ‘cliques’. What role do you feel each of them play in TVB?

A: I’m not too familiar with the so-called ‘parties,” but I am familiar with Mr. Run Run Shaw. In terms of the battle between the 4 parties, I’m not too clear.

Q: What do you feel will be the impact of this situation on TVB?

A: It will help eliminate the “cancers.” In a huge organization, if there is someone who utilizes their power [within the organization] to earn outside money, it is a very serious matter. Especially since the creation of the ICAC, they are very strict on this type of stuff. Back when I was a social reporter, we had to interact with many people as part of our jobs and of course with that came financial implications; therefore, we set a policy that we absolutely were not allowed to receive any “red envelopes.” As for Stephen Chan, he’s a public figure and already has high pay, so for him to still take money (if true) is really a shame. One good thing though is that the situation being revealed can serve as a “warning” to others. If someone does this and they are captured, then it is good because it can serve the purpose of eliminating the “cancers” in the organization.

Q: TVB’s biggest competitor ATV has been going through management changes again recently. With Stephen Chan’s situation, is this then the perfect opportunity for ATV to rebound?

A: If I were ATV, I would absolutely seize this opportunity tightly! In a competition, those in the same industry are usually like enemy nations in a war – whenever there is a “weak point”, it should be immediately grabbed up. It’s just like with horseracing – when the opponent starts to slow, you need to take advantage of it and crack the whip to go faster in the hopes of overtaking the competition.

Q: So will ATV take this opportunity to recruit TVB’s resources, thereby causing even greater harm to the network?

A: This can be answered with another rabbit analogy – a rabbit will go in the direction where there is fresh green grass. However, currently, TVB is still an Entertainment Empire – a massive mother ship created by Mr. Run Run Shaw – so it won’t be easily destroyed. This “punch” (the current situation) will perhaps be a heavy blow, but after the air clears, the empire will still remain standing. Also, one last point – ATV’s talent pool can’t compare to TVB’s, as TVB is full of resources.

Akazukin: The article itself is interesting and I'm glad that someone actually bothers to write it out. However, I'm not having a good feeling of it. The article is too favourable to Lok than the other three that it is turning a bit of my stomach. Why? The article squeezed out dark sides of each parties except Lok. While I definitely appreciate the revealing of dark sides of each person, which I believe everyone would have, I haven't found any accounts against Lok written in the article yet. For example, the article criticised Stephen for pushing Amigo for the award where there were a lot of backlashes for it. However, it didn't also do the same thing in pointing out Lok pushing Kevin to the Best Actor award where there were also a lot of backlashes for it.

Secondly, I find that there are exaggerating Tsang vs Leung battle for the awards. In 2001, Liza Wang's An Awakening Story was a big hit (TN: Actually, AWS was not even on the top 10 rated series list)  where there is just no reason not to give her the Best Actress award (even if her acting isn't the best in there). Everyone knows that she got the award because she is the first godly sister in TVB and her series was a huge success. I don't see it as a sacrifice of anything. Few years following that, sometimes Tsang's party may win and sometimes Leung's party may win but there is no indication that politics was used to gain those awards. If anything, it seems like a pretty healthy competition to me. It was only until 2004 where Gigi Lai took the Best Actress that TVB's awards seem like a joke. And even then, we can't really say anything about TVB's internal politics struggle because it was a matter of TVB managed (Gigi Lai) vs an outsider (Sheren Tang).

Now Tsang has a lot of enemies because she is swift and decisive, and is unafraid to offend people. Fine, that sort of shortcoming sounds acceptable and is not a sin in terms of TV industry development. But then she forced some golden Producers away. Ouch, seems like pretty guilty then. How about Leung? He promoted his talentless daughter to film series after series. That shows something about his lack of respect for the TV industry. Then, they point out that Leung has lost his warriors as most of them have left TVB. And the majority of the articles talked about Tsang vs Leung. But hey, has it come across their mind why Leung's warriors have left TVB? And is it a coincidence that they did not leave when the warfield was only between Tsang vs Leung, but boom in 2004 when Lok joined, one and one with the likes of Jessica Hsuan, Kenix Kwok, Maggie Cheung, Flora Chan, Gallen Lo, etc left TVB?

The only slightly negative thing that I could see written on Lok was this:
In 2003, Virginia Lok “took flight” at TVB, becoming the ‘artists manager’, which undoubtedly put some of the Tsang Party artists in an awkward position; Catherine’s “god-son” Steven Ma was one of those affected and ended up having to ‘reduce his workload’.

But forgive me for being sensitive of how toned down this sin was recorded. The writer makes it sound like this is just a matter of politics, but is the impact just a matter of politics? Compared to the writer's account of Catherine Tsang driving away a "Golden" Producer, Steven was just reduced to Catherine's god-son. It's phrased as if one is driving away the company's valuable asset while the other one is only driving the personal belonging of someone.

As subtle as it may be, intentionally or not, I find the article biased. And I don't have a good feeling about it because I'm afraid the article was not only written to speculate the current turn of power in TVB, but to reflect the current direction of power in TVB. The article was written in this way might not have been biased in favour of Lok because of personal flavour but because it is part of the hidden agenda.

I surely hope I'm wrong because I definitely do not want to see those Virginia Lok's favourites as the "pillars" of TVB. If they can't in the past, resulting in the Artistes' Department making much less than before, I don't see how they can in the future.

Lastly, if the Four "Controllers" are fighting to this extent and affecting not only the profitability of TVB but also the well-being of the TV industry, I definitely think Mona Fong, as their Head can't be excused for it. I seriously hope she can come out to settle the matter correctly.

Posted 20 March 2010 - 02:32 PM
^My knowledge on tvb management back history is truly shallow, thank you so much for your analysis. I've always admired your analytical skill and an eye for details. You should share your post on the headline section. I too felt a sinking in my stomach when I read the article about VL possibly coming up on top the tvb crisis. And I was taken aback by the heavy handedness on Catherine Tsang, didn't occur to me that it was subtly written to reflect bad on Tsang and Leung and to white wash VL. Just go to show how one's thinking can be so influenced by the materials one read.

As to Tsang promoting Steven, many Steven fans questioned just how well Tsang favors him considering her enormous power in production and Steven's situation since 2006. Just like how the press now writes up Steven's as Stephen's latest favorite, all we heard is that he is Tsang's godson, but her actions seem to belie that.

Akazukin: tamaya, I believe that Tsang still favours Steven, just that her power is limited because she has opposition from Ms. Lok. Not only Steven, but after Lok exerts her power, a lot of artistes who were used a lot before 2004 were used much less. However, because Stephen was in higher position than Lok, he was able to overcome her. Of course, this is just my speculation. I guess we will have to wait and see how TVB will treat their artistes in the future. But I definitely notice that now most Lok's favourites are hogging the big movie screen. I hope by that it means she has less power over series castings.

Tamaya:  The year has started off with such high hopes and expectation for Steven, guess all those plans are now on hold if not canceled. Truly 人算不如天算 - capricious fate at play.

No comments:

Post a Comment