A Quick Tour of Quality Television ProgrammesBack

Robert Ting-Yiu Chung
(Director of Public Opinion Programme, the University of Hong Kong)
Translation assisted by Calvin Chun-Kit Chan
(Research Executive, Public Opinion Programme, the University of Hong Kong)

Note: This article represents the view of the author and not the University of Hong Kong.


Television appreciation index (AI) surveys were introduced to Hong Kong a decade ago, and grand-scale annual television programme awards based on AI results are about to be presented for the fifth time. From the perspective of social studies, the evolvement of AI surveys from their pilot forms to become full-fledged studies widely endorsed by the industry, is a precious experience as well as an important task in the pursuit of quality social indicators for the entire society.


Thanks to the trust of RTHK and members of my own profession, I had the honour of participating in the planning of the new generation of AI studies in 1997, and then took up the responsibility of conducting such surveys since 1998. I have learned a lot, and what gratifies me most is RTHK's acceptance of my suggestion to entrust the power of designing AI surveys to an independent "Television Programme Appreciation Index Survey Advisory Panel", and to open the findings for public consumption, in order to promote related academic and professional studies.


Now that 5 years have passed, I was given the task to present and discuss the survey results obtained during this period. Since an average of 200 television programmes are covered each year, it would not be easy for me to describe all the trends depicted. I have, therefore, chosen to focus on the top 20 quality programmes in each year's survey, and describe the more noticeable observations in order to provide some reference points for judging other programmes.


First of all, I divided all 100 programme-times appearing in the past 5 years into two categories: one group comprising year-round quality programmes which appeared in every single round of the 19 AI surveys conducted in the past 5 years, and another group comprising non-year-round quality programmes which appeared on the list only occasionally. Programmes of the latter type might have been produced only once a year, or were produced frequently but only appeared on the top-20 list occasionally, or were only qualified for the survey occasionally. As the criteria for inclusion in AI surveys have been described in many places, I will not go into the details here.


Survey figures indicate that there were only 3 year-round quality programmes registered in the past 5 years, adding up to 15 programme-times. Listed in order of their average rankings, they were RTHK's "Hong Kong Connection", TVB's "Certain Weekday Report", and TVB's "News Magazine". The average ranking of "Hong Kong Connection" is 4.8, meaning that it normally appeared among the top 5. The average rankings of "Certain Weekday Report" and "News Magazine" are 8.4 and 8.8 respectively, meaning that they normally appeared among the top 10. These 3 programmes can well be regarded as "the best of the best" programmes of their type.


Other than these 3 tip-top programmes, it is noteworthy that there are 5 other programmes of very similar nature, namely, TVB's "News/Financial/Weather Report" which showed up 4 times out of 5 rounds, with an average ranking of 15.8; RTHK's "Headliner", 3 times, with an average ranking of 15.0; Cable TV's "Cable News", twice, with an average ranking of 13.5; RTHK's "One Minute Chinese", also twice, with an average ranking of 15.0; as well as RTHK's "Police Magazine", which was ranked 18th in 1998. When these programmes appeared on the list, they were produced almost around-the-year.


Of the 8 quality programmes mentioned above, 6 are current and public affairs programmes, including all 3 year-round quality programmes. This somewhat indicates the preference of the audience in general. In fact, the current and public affairs programme "Year-end Review Series" produced by TVB, which showed up 3 times in the past 5 years and with an average ranking of 6.0, is also commendable.


Should AI be a way to praise quality programmes, then "Stories from Afar" produced by ATV must have been thoroughly praised by the audience. This programme was five times champion down the line. It represents a skillful blending of human character portrayal, settlers' homesick blues, ramblers' travel experiences, and Chinese patriotism. Through telling histories by Chinese compatriots afar, this programme seems to resonate well with Hong Kong people's feeling of helplessness. ATV's "Hong Kongers in the Mainland", produced in 2001, was probably another attempt to tell similar stories. Although it was also well received, its success was small compared to that of "Stories from Afar", which deserves much more in-depth analyses.


To a certain extent, "Stories from Afar" was a series of biographic documentaries. To produce a documentary like this, huge resources and intensive planning have to be made in order to follow the central characters at length. RTHK's "Success Stories" is a classic example which was highly praised by the audience for its vivid and incisive portrayal of the focal characters. Although this series appeared only 3 times in 5 years, namely, in 1998, 2000 and 2001, and hence is not a year-round quality programme, it has a high average ranking of 7.0, making it an unparalleled biographic documentary.


Using AI to analyze the ups and downs of television productions, we simply cannot omit "Who wants to be a Millionaire" produced by ATV in 2001. An overnight success of the time, it generated a rave for game shows. Although its success was brief, the 2nd rank it achieved in 2001 is still the highest ranking ever achieved by any game show. Talking about game shows, TVB's "The Super Trio Show" and "Happy Family Flagship" are two other special cases worth mentioning. The former showed up on the top-20 list in 1998, and then moved to the top 10 in the following year, while the latter was ranked 9th in 2000, following the success of its predecessor. Both game shows were local productions with great creativity, and worthy of many credits.


In terms of categorization used in AI surveys, game shows actually belong to entertainment programmes, long drama series is another important platoon of the group. Looking at the survey results obtained in the past 5 years, drama series appeared much less frequently on the top lists. However, because the audience might have appreciated them from a different angle, they could be treated as a separate group. Findings show that TVB's "Healing Hands" may well be considered as the most outstanding long drama series. It ranked 2nd in 1998, and its sequel also showed up on the top-20 lists in 2000 and 2001. Other long drama series such as TVB's "Burning Flame", "Secret of the Heart", "War of the Genders", and ATV's "Flaming Brothers" also had flying colours. As for short drama series or reality dramas, RTHK's "The Road Back", "Difficult Life", "After the Rain", as well as TVB's "ICAC Investigators 1998" and ATV's "Walk out from Poverty", are all fine examples with stellar performance in the survey.


On a macro level, among the 100 programme-times of quality shows in the last 5 years, information programmes account for 51 times, current and public affairs programmes, 29 times, and entertainment programmes, 20 times, probably reflecting the degree of audience's appreciation towards different types of programmes. Among quality information programmes, RTHK's "Doctor and You" and "Success Stories" both showed up 3 times in 5 years. Those appearing twice include TVB's "What a Wonderful Life", RTHK's "Primary School Quiz", "Parenting", "Youth Weekly", "One Minute Chinese" and "Sex Education", while almost 30 one-timers are also found on the lists. As 5-time winner "Stories from Afar" is also an information programme, there is no doubt that such programmes have been very popular.


It should, however, be noted that the quick tour of programmes presented in this article has not included "other types" of outstanding programmes which appeared in the past 5 years, including some foreign programmes, repackaged programmes, Mainland drama series, and some few-minute shows produced around the year. Such programmes may have been omitted simply due to the limitations of AI surveys. Moreover, in order to echo with the principle adopted by the "Television Programme Appreciation Index Survey Advisory Panel" in announcing AI results, this article has focused mainly on the top 20 programmes each year, instead of the top 10 or top 30. This may not be comprehensive enough.


In any case, in terms of developing quality indicators to promote local productions, the analysis of AI results in the past 5 years may have provided some hints for future development. The author believes that the concepts and methodology embedded in these AI surveys can, in fact, be extended into other entertainment and artistic domains, including movies and film arts, advertisements, radio programmes, and all performing arts. When society moves towards quality living, quality indicators for quality productions will naturally become indispensable.


Let's hope that our society will keep on progressing, and all quality indicators keep surging high.

Table 1: Year-round Quality Programmes
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 Hong Kong Connection (RTHK) 5 4.8  1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
 Certain Weekday Report (TVB) 5 8.4  1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
 News Magazine (TVB) 5 8.8  1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

Table 2:Quasi-year-round Quality Programmes
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 Cable News (Cable TV) 2 13.5  2001, 2002
 Headliner (RTHK) 3 15.0  1998, 2001, 2002
 One Minute Chinese (RTHK) 2 15.0  1998, 1999
 News/Financial/Weather Report (TVB) 4 15.8  1998, 1999, 2000, 2002
 Police Magazine (RTHK) 1 18.0  1998

Table 3: Game Shows
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 Who wants to be a Millionaire (ATV) 1 2.0  2001
 Happy Family Flagship (TVB) 1 9.0  2000
 The Super Trio Show (TVB) 2 12.0  1998, 1999

Table 4: Long Drama Series
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 Healing Hands / Healing Hands II (TVB) 3 6.7  1998, 2000, 2001
 Burning Flame (TVB) 1 7.0  1998
 Flaming Brothers (ATV) 1 10.0  1999
 Secret of the Heart (TVB) 1 12.0  1998
 War of the Genders (TVB) 1 18.0  2000

Table 5: Short Drama Series / Reality Dramas
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 The Road Back (RTHK) 2 2.0  2000, 2002
 ICAC Investigation 1998 (TVB) 1 9.0  1998
 Difficult Life (RTHK) 2 13.5  2001, 2002
 Walk out from Poverty (ATV) 1 18.0  2002
 After the rain (RTHK) 1 20.0  2002

Table 6: Other programmes with presence on the list for more than once
Programme title Number of times on the list Average ranking Winning years
 Stories from Afar (ATV) 5 1.0  1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
 What a wonderful life (TVB) 2 4.0  1999, 2000
 Doctor and You (RTHK) 3 4.7  1998, 1999, 2001
 TVB in Review Series (TVB) 3 6.0  1998, 1999, 2001
 Primary School Quiz (RTHK) 2 6.5  1998, 1999
 Parenting (RTHK) 2 7.0  1999, 2002
 Success Stories (RTHK) 3 7.0  1998, 2000, 2001
 Youth Weekly (RTHK) 2 14.0  2000, 2001
 Sex Education(RTHK) 2 16.0  1998, 2000