The hottest television show in China might be Call Me by Fire, which pits 33 male celebrities long past the peak of their careers in a battle to become members of a new boy band group.
The Mango TV show, which premiered on Aug 12, is reminiscent of last year’s hit show called Sisters Who Make Waves, which follows the same concept but with women celebrities.
Call Me by Fire features musicians, dancers, actors and rappers who train and perform for a studio audience, and the general public votes on who advances to the next round.
The show has become a go-to topic on Chinese social media since its launch, with various discussions about it being viewed over 5.7 billion times on Weibo.
It is, however, not immune from controversy. One of its contestants, Huo Zun, announced his withdrawal from the show on August 14 after his ex-girlfriend accused him of cheating on her. Also, leaked messages showed he detested the show.
Fans of both shows also say the men are judged less harshly than the women on Sisters Who Make Waves , which wrapped up its first season in September 2020.
That show was also a remarkably successful television product, with 44.5 billion views and tens of millions of discussions on Weibo.
However, the band itself was a bit of a disaster once the season was over. The group, called X-Sister, featured seven members but only lasted for three months, disbanding on January 1, 2021.
Sisters Who Make Waves was successful because it featured experienced women using their confidence and expertise – rather than youth and beauty – to win the competition.
Call Me by Fire follows the same strategy, highlighting celebrities who may have passed the peak of their careers as entertainers.
Among the big names are Jerry Yan, the former member of the Taiwanese boy band F4; Hong Kong singer-actor Julian Cheung; and guitarist Paul Wong from the Hong Kong rock band Beyond.
The nostalgia play for Call Me by Fire appears to have worked.
Nicole Yu, a 33-year-old viewer, told the South China Morning Post that she watches the show to relive some of her favourite childhood memories, and she felt like she was watching a free concert featuring people she grew up idolising.
“Who has not seen Wei Xiaobao or Laughing Gor as a kid?” she said.
Wei is a character from the TV series and films The Deer and the Cauldron and featured the contestant Jordan Chan. Laughing Gor is a character from the Young and Dangerous triad films played by Michael Tse, who is also on Call Me by Fire.
After all these years, Yu said that she was still impressed by the contestants, and it was as if the years had never passed because the stars are still entirely professional and can still put on a good show.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.