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Film director Feng Xiaogang (right) and comedian Zhao Benshan chat at a ceremony in Beijing on Friday to accept China Central Television's invitation to direct the 2014 Spring Festival Gala. Jiang Dong / China Daily
China Central Television has, for the first time in 30 years, invited a film director to helm its showpiece gala, which has more than 700 million viewers.
The broadcaster announced in Beijing on Friday that director and frequent box office champion Feng Xiaogang will direct its Spring Festival Gala 2014.
The gala, launched in 1983, is an annual variety show aired on the eve of Spring Festival.
Watching the show has become a key part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for many, as important to them as eating dumplings and letting off firecrackers.
Statistics from research agency CSM show that last year's gala attracted 750 million viewers.
The gala has been directed by CCTV staff for 30 years and Feng, director of smash hits such as If You are the One and Back to 1942, was surprised by the invitation.
"It was CCTV who was brave enough, not me, to make this decision," he told a news conference.
The all-star team also includes veteran comedian Zhao Benshan as the vice-director, seasoned actor/director Zhang Guoli as the artistic consultant and TV drama director Zhao Baogang as the planner.
"The move fully demonstrates CCTV's determination and efforts to open its door to talent from different social backgrounds, to continue innovation and to live up to audiences' expectations," CCTV head Hu Zhanfan said at the news conference.
Senior critic Tan Fei said the move, above all, underlines the government's efforts to bring the gala closer to the public.
"Feng has been an icon for the grassroots Chinese with his films portraying the pains and joys of most ordinary people," he said. "If he can make the show a real party for the grassroots, he will bring real change."
Feng and his team have agreed on some principles for the show, which he summarizes as being "real, warm, cheerful and fun".
To create fun, he is encouraging the writers to come up with something that is really sarcastic.
"Please don't censor yourself before you attempt this," he told them. "And for those who examine the programs, I believe the decision to have me here has shown your expectations for change. To bring the audience something it really wants to see, I believe, is our shared goal."
Critic Li Xingwen thinks Feng's biggest challenge will be balancing audience expectations and censorship.
"The show is so widely watched that relevant government departments and CCTV have examined it using strict criteria for years," he said. "I hope Feng will inject more sarcasm about social inequality, more universal values and more warmth."
Li thinks Feng may face more pressure than film director Zhang Yimou, who was assigned to handle the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.
"Zhang was doing something no Chinese director had ever done, while Feng is challenging a mode that has been accepted for 30 years," he said.
Feng is aware of the tough task ahead, saying that when he received the invitation he knew he would be criticized a lot.
He said he doesn't care about money or fame, but accepted the project to give something back to audiences who have supported him since his first film, Dream Factory, in 1997.
"We know that audiences hate falseness, lavishness and hollowness. We will give them up for this show," he said.
Spring Festival Gala 2014 airs on Jan 30.
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(China Daily 07/13/2013 page1)