The Problems Behind TVB’s Decline in Quality Programming

For many years, TVB has single-handedly monopolized the television industry in Hong Kong. The existence of ATV and cable stations posed little threat. With the lack of competitors, TVB set harsh working conditions for its artists and only paid a third of what artists can earn in mainland China. As its biggest stars and talented staff left to work in mainland, TVB productions declined in quality and faced harsh criticisms from the public. TVB was once the powerhouse behind premiere Chinese television entertainment, but a close look inside the company reveals rife management conflicts, lack of creativity in its dramas, and inability to reinvent itself over the years.

Internal Management Conflicts

In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, TVB churned out memorable dramas that entertained the entire family. As the station grew bigger, several management executives came to the forefront.  The conflicts between Virginia Lok (樂易玲) and Stephen Chan (陳志雲), as well as between Catherine Tsang (曾励珍) and Tommy Leung (梁家树) are well known. Artists favored by influential executives were heavily promoted and cast in dramas, whether they possess the talent or abilities fit for the roles.

In 2010, former General Manager Stephen Chan’s decline started when he was arrested by the ICAC for corruption in securing “preferential fees” for artist appearances. Although Chan was acquitted and later reinstated in his post, he resigned as General Manager in 2012 and was replaced by Mark Lee (李寶安). Chan’s downfall was suspected to be the result of power play among the management elite at TVB.

As the Director of Production Resources, Virginia Lok, has been loudly criticized for pushing artists with idol qualities to the forefront, while neglecting artists such as Steven Ma (馬浚偉) and Wong Hei (王喜) whom she did not favor. Although Ms. Lok was rumored to be leaving TVB for Shaw Brothers, she has remained and is currently spearheading TVBC, the station’s mainland joint-venture.

On the drama production side, there has been a long-standing tussle of power between Catherine Tsang and Tommy Leung. Tommy had started out at TVB as Catherine’s assistant. Their feud started when Tommy was promoted to the same level as Catherine. Because of Catherine’s good foresight in spotting stars, her power in the station remain strong. In 2006, Catherine managed to remove several artists from Tommy’s camp, using downsizing staff as the reason. Rivalry between both camps continue, as they compete to create dramas with the higher ratings. Certain artists are rumored to film only for a certain camp.

The squabbles between management executves have caused loss of morale among the staff. Former TVB Chairman, Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫), reportedly had to settle past conflicts. When Stephen Chan left the station, competition remained stiff between Catherine Tsang and Virginia Lok.

Lack of Creativity: The “TVB Formula”

One of the biggest complaints from the public is TVB’s lack of creativity and originality in their dramas in the past decade. Not only do they copy other stations’ productions, they also rehash their old ideas, which netizens call the “TVB Formula”. Because TVB has been overusing their past storylines and plot devices, the public can often predict the plot development and drama endings.

Some criticized that no matter the genre of the series, TVB dramas would end up featuring outlandish family feuds fighting for inheritances, secret births, long-lost family members, imprisonment, amnesia, rape, and redundant love triangles.

Losing more experienced scriptwriters to mainland and Taiwanese productions, TVB’s current staff are poorly paid and lack proper experience. Scripts are poorly assembled and netizens often poke fun at the inconsistencies, including anachronistic details and other bloopers.

Former TVB scriptwriter, Alex Po (鮑偉聰) once explained to the Chinese media, “It’s because TVB’s work style is like a production line, very traditional and conservative.” Alex added, “The operation in TVB is too systematic. For example, one director would handle sets 1 to 5 while another director would handle sets 6 to 10. The actors were staggered and shooting was done all at the same time. The scriptwriters have to tackle different parts of the script yet be cohesive, which is not an easy task.”

With the system demanding so much, the scriptwriters and editors ended up following a fixed set of “no-fail” formulas. Senior management, who also have a say in plots, preferred ratings-proven themes such as family feuds and rich families fighting for inheritances, so the dramas usually revolved around these themes.

Reuse of Props and Places

Props and the artists’ costumes are also often recycled. While this may seem like a minor problem, the same tableware used over the last decade had appeared in dramas set in different time periods, making TVB a laughingstock to discerning viewers.

The same filming backdrops are repeatedly used. For example, mid-level villas such as those in Lai Chi Kok Park have been used for many different families in different series. Not only was it featured in modern series, period dramas such as Beyond the Realm of Conscience < 宫心计> and Can’t Buy Me Love< 公主嫁到> were also filmed against the backdrop of the same park.

Another common complaint among the netizens is TVB’s sloppiness in the details. In last year’s, King Maker <造王者> modern lighting equipment and a well-known beverage in Hong Kong were seen in the period drama.

Shortage of Actors

Though TVB managed to monopolize the television industry, it is unable to keep its artists. With the departure of its top actors such as Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼) and Bowie Lam (林保怡), TVB now suffers a great shortage of experienced actors and has been forced to quickly promote inexperienced newcomers and beauty pageant winners. The turnover rate of the artists is much too high for the newcomers to replace departed ones. As a result, TVB’s current actors and actresses were often over-used.

TVB’s strict policies and long-term contracts have deterred the older artists from renewing with the station. Sheren Tang (邓萃雯) once said that with age catching up with her, it was not possible for her to sign another 10-year contract with TVB.

Insiders also revealed that with TVB’s strict contracts and image guidelines, only artists who follow obey their rules would be considered for awards, such as mild-mannered artists such as Linda Chung (钟嘉欣) and Christine Kuo (苟芸慧).

Artists Shortchanged at TVB

When a list of TVB’s artists’ salaries was revealed in 2011, many were shocked to find out that their salaries were a pittance in TVB dramas, while they were paid ten times more in mainland Chinese dramas. Apparently, not only are the artists shortchanged, the scriptwriters and editors were also paid below what they are paid in China.

Adding to the insult, the working hours in TVB are extremely strenuous and many artists are known to get only 3 hours of rest before they have to be back at work.

Due to increased scrutiny over its poor pay and long working hours, TVB Chairman Norman Leung (梁乃鵬), announced implementing a “family culture” to decrease filming hours and allow artists sufficient rest. All TVB employees will get a pay raise of no less than 4.5 percent next year, with year-end bonuses worth at least 1.75 months. TVB will also accept public submissions in creative programming ideas to boost the quality of their productions. Despite these efforts, did these measures come too late after the TVB brand has been damaged for years?


This article is written by Karen for

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  1. I agree with much of the criticism in this article except the point it makes about wages. You can’t really compare wages in HK to mainland. One market is so much bigger that of course the wage is higher. I think TVB’s biggest problem is their drama ideas. They really need to think outside the box. As long as the story is good, people will watch regardless of which actors are in it.

    1. Agree with the wage issue. Hong Kong’s population is only 0.000001% of the ones in Mainland China. You can’t expect TVB pay the same kind of salary to their artistes. Their market is so much smaller.

      1. That makes zero sense. Other industry wages in HK are far superior to Mainland. Size of the market has nothing to do with, it has to do with the level of competition in an industry.

        OTOH, if you were saying size in terms of production studios, tv stations, etc. that yes you are correct. But it’s because the higher amount of these entities raise the level of competition in the market, unlike HK where TVB has an effective monopoly.

      2. Don’t forget it is FREE TV in Hong Kong. TVB’s revenues depend entirely on advertisements and sponsors to fund their programs while 99% of the companies in Hong Kong are profit-oriented. If the market is small, i.e. low viewership, how can TVB make good money to pay high remunerations to their artistes? I heard that very few TVB drama series are sold to the Mainland Chinese markets nowadays due to the prosperous drama/film industries in Mainland China.

        Also, people make (illegal) money too easily in Mainland China and they need to spend their money easily as well.

      3. And TVB drama series are all filmed in Cantonese, and Cantonese markets are quite small outside of Hong Kong.

    2. The wages are not higher because the market is bigger. The wages are higher because the market is competitive unlike TVB’s monopoly in HK. Which is ironic considering HK used to be capitalistic while Mainland is “communistic”

      1. That is just wrong. A bigger market means more viewers and more viewers mean more money. Mainland China or Taiwan or whatever will always have more viewers than HK alone. Those networks make more money and can afford to pay more. Even with higher competition in HK, wages will never rise to match mainland China.

    3. In 2013, target market is not confined by physical geography, due to the invention of the internet, its products and distributorship.

      Have you guys seen Korean dramas? Japanese dramas? and Chinese dramas?

      They are being distributed LEGALLY over the internet. As a matter of fact, Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Princess Pearl), is being dubbed and will be broadcasted on a major American network.

      Why is only TVB’s latest content restricted to only HK/China?

      So, the reason for low wage because of market share is BS.

      1.’s content is restricted because other countries have their own distribution channels and most likely have a non-compete clause. for example, in america they have both paid channels through their cable provider and you can also subscribe to their dvd program.

      2. Just take a look at Hollywood movies. By that logic every movie studio would be able to pay their actors high wages. That’s just not the case. A blockbuster movie can afford to pay an actor $30 million and an smaller studio might not even be able to pay $3 million. The question is demand. People want to see the blockbuster so they can pay more. TVB produces Cantonese dramas and the audience for that is small. How many mandarin speaking people, Koreans, or Japanese are actively looking for dubbed TVB shows? TVB is small compared to mainland studios and they simply don’t have the audience to offer comparable wages. No amount of competition will change it.

  2. If anyone reads Chinese, please read the Chinese source. It is a 4-full page article, very well illustrated.

  3. HK ppl is the one to blame. They complain about everything. TVB are limited on what they can do. There’s more TVB supporters around the world. Hk ppl are ungrateful folks, it’s free to watch, why watch and complain. It’s entertainment, don’t take it seriously.

    All the famous artists that left TVB, just be thankful.

    1. At least hong kong people have to right to complain and protest.

    2. Agree with MRS. TORRES. It is really the hk audience to blame. The hk audiences don’t even know what they want. they expect tvb to give something that hk people doesn’t even know what they want

  4. No wonder Linda expect to win TVB Queen this year. The world knows her acting mediocre all this years

  5. That was a good read and really summarizes all of the problems that is causing the fall of a TVB. TVB seems like a dynasty/kingdom which will fall sooner or later, especially with the rise of 2 new companies that will competent against them. I wonder what the future holds for TVB?

    1. Meant to say “compete”, gosh I need the edit button.

  6. Another advantage that the golden generation of the 80s and 90s had was the access to novel adaptations from great authors like Jin Yong and Huang Yi. Now, without the rights to these works, they not only have to fill the tvb schedule with other things instead of remakes, but they actually have to come up with their own scripts.

    Having said that, the fact that tvb still managed to butcher most of the later adaptations shows just how incompetent the company had become

    1. Were any Huang Yi novels adapted back then? I know that JY has banned them but have not heard that Huang Yi ever did. Also with JY novels, there is not that much more for them to adapt since they already done most of the novels at least twice. They should try doing Gu Long novels or other famous novel writers. But lately TVB is too cheap to do any ancient series so they would have to resort modern stories. However, they would more variety instead of just modern era series.

      1. 4 novels of Huang Yi adapted so far. The latest one is Legal weapon of love and passion which was a flop so after that Txb stopped any adaption. Several Gu Long novels are adapted but it was so long ago. The newest adaption of a wuxia novel was The Four (Sidamingbu) of Wen Rui An.

      2. I know that Huang Yi novels were done in the 2000s and all but were any adapted in the 80s and 90s? I do not remember any Huang Yi novels being adapted way back then.

  7. Since 2010 tbn dramas were a pain to watch such as men with no shadows and let it be love. Even with bobby and charmaine they were awful. Divas in distress and ghetto justice 2 were good but whats with their endings? When i was watching their emdings i was like what the hell. This year is worse. There isnt even one watchable drama. Tits was too long. Beauty at war and bullet brain were awful. I no idea what they were doing. Always and ever was good till song dynasty. A change of heart was ok but plot doenst make sense. I havent watched bounty lady yet cant comment on it. I hope that itll be good and with a reasonable
    As their level of plot declines i want to ask what happe to the staff of a step into the past, eternal happiness, moonlight resonance etc… it cant be that everyone has left 4 mainland.
    As a diehard fan of tvb i need to say that the dramas doesnt attract me anymore. Ive turned to kdramas. So im no fan of tvn anymore.

      1. Currently im wathing the heirs and empress ki. Empress ki is awsome. I really like period dramas ^^.
        If u want to watch one i recommend the princess man or the moon that embraces the sun. Most people like tmtets but i like the princess man better

    1. A step into the past and eternal happiness are adaptations of novels. Moonlight resonance if I remember correctly is a revamped story of another drama done in the 80s or 90s. Someone used to mention it in another forum, but I can’t remember the name of that drama.
      Most K-dramas this year are not that fantastic. Maybe next year.

  8. 4.5% of nothing is still nothing lol.
    I wonder if that equals a few hundred dollars for some, maybe a few thousand for others – which is still a joke.
    I would be interested in seeing that payscale for the artists. I wonder if it is as low as I think it is.

  9. tvb looks like a dynasty which is in the end of their reign,many ppl are dissatisfied about their poor quality,managers are struggling with each other for power,new tv stations has arised,many of their own stars are leaving one by one. the signs are bad.

    1. I think their story is more intresying than their stories from their dramas

  10. Just one question to all critics; have any of you managed to watch through a whole series of yesteryears eg before 2000 and honestly think the production is so much better? I cringed everytime I watch them though their stories may be better(more logical). Remember the ‘wall shaking’ when a door is slammed??!! No complaints then…

    1. The equipment isnt as what we have today. And the stories were fresh. Now they use the same recipe over and over again. Its not only their problem but the whole entertaiments problem cause we’re running out of ideas. What theme havent been played? Its just that the dramas from tvb are just nonsense now. They can use the same recipe but make it fun to watch. And the same actors plays 2 much dramas in a year. In korean a actor plays 2 dramas at most. So he has time 2 rest. Tavia has about 4 a 5 dramas a year. See how shes aged. I understand that tvb is running out of actors but in korea young actors lead the dramas. I just cant understand why thay cant refresh the cast. Im sick of seeing tavia, linda etc. Give the young cast a chance. Or arent they talented enough to compare to the young cast of korea.

    2. Um, yes. Having watched majority of TVB’s series from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and after 2000s era, I can fairly say that the most of the productions were much better back then. That’s not saying that the series from the past were without flaws — in fact, there are quite a few great series where I can point out to you exactly where the flaws are. And Of course, from an ‘aesthetic’ perspective, it’s hard to compare the series of yesteryear to today due to the advancements in technology…however, outside of the technology piece, the scripts, acting, casting, production values, work environment, and overall cohesiveness of the production teams back then were were definitely of a higher quality.

      Keep in mind that none of us are saying ALL series from the past eras were better — there were tons of ‘flops’ as well back then (anyone remember the 2 largely forgettable sequels they made to The Bund??), but in comparisons to the number of good series out there, the ratio of bad ones was lower. Just as an example — back then, out of 10 series I’d watch, 6-7 of them would be ‘good’ and worthy of re-watching….nowadays, out of 10 series, I struggle to find even 1-2 series that I’m able to sit through and watch once, let alone twice.

      1. The props and sets are probably still the same (hence the complaint against them today) but the storylines were vastly superior to the regurgitated trash they spit out nowadays.

      2. people have different opinions and may think the olden series are bad. maybe you are just stuck on the olden days.

      3. “people have different opinions and may think the olden series are bad.”

        Well, that’s true. But 10-20 years down the road, the youngsters in the future may also think that whatever we are watching now in 2013 is trash to them. So what can anybody say?

      4. That is true to some extent, but I think if series are good in general then the majority would think they are good versus the minority.

      5. Well, not sure if you guys get my meaning; I mean can you sit and watch thru those series TODAY? My feeling is that people’s expectations are so much more today as we are spoilt with millions of choices of entertainment media, not just TV. The irony to me is that, how can the movie come up with 3 different Yip Mun movies and no one complaints of them not having fresh ideas/themes??

  11. This year is a mess. Tired watching crappy TVB dramas. I am hoping a TOTAL MANAGEMENT SHAKEDOWN at TVB because they are POS!!!

  12. It is rumoured that next year Tommy Leung will leave Txb. It means the whole world will belong to Catherine Tsang and her people will win all.

    Oops, look like in 2014 Txb will lose more people.

    1. It is expected as Shaw Brothers has been in the entertainment industry for a long time. TVB just went downhill since Run Run Shaw stopped managing it. The others don’t have the experience that he has.

      1. @Fox – sorry i posted comment in wrong section. haha. I do need an edit button too.

      2. “The Problems Behind TVB’s Decline in Quality Programming”

        okay reposted – It is expected as Shaw Brothers has been in the entertainment industry for a long time. TVB just went downhill since Run Run Shaw stopped managing it. The others don’t have the experience that he has.

      3. okay nevermind – error again with comments sections. i will leave it as it is then.

  13. It’s about quality, both script and the artists. TVB often produce drama with cheap storyline, predictable, boring plus miscast here and there.

  14. This cancer won’t stop. Used to frequent the TVB facilities in Broadcast Drive every2 weeks. Nothing changed. It’s a mass assembly line. The worst is the politics behind TVB and HK goverment to kill off HKTV for brilliant productions. Pathetic. And Ananda Astro will follow closely……ARF, ARF…..

  15. TVB internal problem can be produced into a drama itself! Such a shame! And they keep on saying that TVB is one BIG family in front of the mass HK audience during those TVB birthday bash!

    Has anyone notice that a same mansion with the pool facing the sea view keep on recycling on every modern drama where the rich is residing? Me and my dad remember the brown umbrella XD

    A lot of rotten programs are being produced and even if it’s a sequel, it really is a big disappointment. But I guess TVB need not worry much because there are still hardcore TVB fans who will support the station no matter how rotten their drama or programs are!

    It’s really time to explore other drama besides wasting time on TVB production! Stimulate your mind by watching something different instead of being fed with crap production!

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