Are the people of China ready for the cheeky irreverence of Saturday Night Live?
The venerable sketch comedy series, currently in its 39th season on North American television, is finally going to air in China.
SNL has been made available exclusively on the website of tv.sohu.com, a branch of the online Chinese media group Sohu.com Inc., which currently airs episodes of hit American shows such as The Big Bang Theory.
As of this week, 10 episodes from the current SNL campaign have been made available for online viewing. Future episodes will be made available, without subtitles, each Monday morning after they air in the United States and Canada.
A separate version of SNL, featuring subtitles and explanations of obscure cultural references and Americanisms, will be available on the site the following Saturday evening.
China forbids the majority of its broadcasters to carry foreign channels or broadcasting, but there’s considerably greater freedom online.
Last month, Sohu inked a deal with distributor Viacom International to broadcast other heretofore-unseen U.S. programming, including SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in China.
Over nearly four decades, China has frequently been skewered on SNL (remember the 2010 sketch in which former leader Hu Jintao took U.S. President Barack Obama to task for monies owed?) and Chinese films and TV shows are routinely censored to prevent criticism of leaders or government.
But Sohu chairman and CEO Charles Zhang insists the current season of SNL will air unedited.
“Things that are controversial in America are probably not controversial in China,” Zhang said. “And this talk show [SNL] is in the spirit of fun and humour. I don’t think there will be any problem.”
But the real reason why Sohu.com picked up Saturday Night Live? According to Zhang, purchasing online rights for the show was cheaper per episode than buying a U.S. drama series.