"Saturday Night Live" is going to China, debuting online on the popular video hosting website Sohu Video.
The NBC show has been a breeding ground for successful comedians, boasting alumni like Chris Farley, Will Ferell, Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey, and a slew of iconic skits.
A large part of the SNL’s brand of comedy is based on poking fun at political figures and referencing current events, something that, due to political reasons, may not translate well in China. Generally speaking, China isn’t used to making fun of high-ranking politicians so openly. Any serious criticism of China’s top leaders would be quickly censored, unlike in the U.S., where some of the show's biggest targets have been Vice President Joe Biden or former President George W. Bush. Chinese figures have been featured in some skits, like one in 2010 that featured Bill Hader as then-Chinese President Hu Jintao and Fred Armisen as Barack Obama concerning U.S. debt owed to China.
But the more serious issue is China’s media censors, headed by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, have notoriously arbitrary standards for what they deem inappropriate for audiences. Anything from suggestive language to violence are grounds for censorship.
But the chairman of the popular video sharing site, Charles Zhang, says he’s not worried about "Saturday Night Live" upsetting government officials or setting off censors. “Things that are controversial in America are probably not controversial in China,” he said, according to a report by the Independent. “And this talk show is in the spirit of fun and humor. I don’t think there will be any problem.” Unfortunately, certain skits that wouldn't be considered controversial in America might be considered controversial in China -- and by Chinese-Americans. For instance, the now-famous Jimmy Kimmel skit that featured a child jokingly saying that the U.S. should kill Chinese people to get out of debt received a firestorm of criticism from Chinese-Americans groups.
So far, 10 episodes from the current 39th season are available online, while future episodes will be made available online the Monday following its U.S. broadcast date without Chinese subtitles, with another version with subtitles published the following Saturday.
Online syndication has become increasingly popular for foreign television shows hoping to tap into their Chinese fan base. China’s government restricts local cable operators from broadcasting foreign channels and television shows, pushing many to look for their content online. Sohu Video has already licensed popular Japanese animation series as well as U.S. programs "Lost" and "The Big Bang Theory."