In the Chinese cultural industry, it’s difficult to pin down the identity of Gao Xiaosong, except to say that everything he touches seems to turn to gold.
To date, he has been a successful composer, songwriter, music producer, and film director. He first became famous with his debut music album in 1993, “Campus Folk Songs,” which won almost all the prizes of pop music that year. He has sold 15 million records and is regarded as one of the most influential representatives of “campus folk,” a genre of folk-influenced pop music beloved by students in the 1980s and 90s. He also produced a film, My Old Classmate, in 2014, which topped the Chinese national box office for nine consecutive days and accumulated a box office of 456 million RMB. Then, in 2011, he made headlines for drunk driving and was sentenced to jail for six months.
But Gao bounced back most gloriously in 2012 wearing yet another new hat—talk show host. Doing so, he took a risk eschewing the standard format of comfortable couches and celebrity guests, but the payoff proved that his life is still charmed.
The story started in 2012 when online video platform Youku invited Gao to host a show, but hadn’t worked out the details. Gao suggested that they produce the simplest show possible, which is a “talk show”—literally, one where he talks, on the show, by himself. It sounded so amazingly cost-saving that Youku agreed. They named the show 晓说, with 晓 (“morning”) taken from Gao’s name and 说 meaning talk. Its English name was Morning Call. The crew flew to Gao’s house in the United States and shot their first episode there.
The first episode’s topic was “The Rules of the Oscars.” Gao sits in front of camera by himself and shared his knowledge for 40 minutes about the Oscars, reviewing the history of this award and his personal commentary on all that goes on. That was all. But it was successful beyond the producer’s wildest dreams.
Though Gao is not even especially articulate, people love listening to him; maybe he really did sell his soul to the Devil, or people are magnetically drawn to the man with the Midas Touch (admittedly, many audience members just state it’s because what he talks about is fresh and interesting). Film, art, history, politics, entertainment—nothing seems off-limits to Gao. Since he is well-educated and has good general knowledge, all the scripts are prepared by Gao himself. However, he often improvised when filming.
An episode is released each Friday morning on Youku. The first two seasons, running from March 2012 to May 2014, were aired on Youku for a total of 120 episodes, some of which were significantly cut down in length. In these two years, the show accumulated viewership of over 500 million and swept all the talk show awards in China.
In 2014, iQiyi, another online video platform, beat out the show’s old partner Youku and several other platforms for the right to air the show for the next three seasons. The price for this bidding war reportedly reached as high as 16 million dollars, highest ever in China for a talk show.
In June, 2014, the show was rebranded on iQiyi with a new name, 晓松奇谈, or Xiaosong Pedia in English. During the next two-and-a-half years, the show received more than 900 million views. However, its success was a double-edged sword. According to Gao’s Weibo account, 17 “sensitive” episodes, with views reaching more than 100 million total, have been pulled off the internet by censors. In December, 2016, the show came to end. Millions of Chinese netizens mourned the demise and blamed it on censorship of said “sensitive” content.
But even censorship couldn’t take him down for good. In April, Gao returned to Youku, with Morning Call 2017. Coincidentally, the first episode was also about the Academy Awards, a callback to five years ago. And unsurprisingly, its popularity continued. Just the first episode achieved for a ludicrous 46 million views by itself, which broke the previous records set by both Morning Call and Xiaosong Pedia.
The latest episode is about the era when movies were shot on actual film. If you want to look upon a person who’s freakishly good at everything, and maybe glean some tips for success from his talks or just want some of that miraculous good fortune to rub off, reruns can be found on Youku.
Cover image from wcweekly.com