Over the years, Chinese dramas have gotten longer and longer that having an episode count over 50 has become normal. It’s fine if there is that much story to tell, but there’s also the pervasive problem of dragging out a TV series.
When Ashes Of Love aired last year, it was highly rated by viewers. Twenty episodes later, the same viewers started complaining that Yang Zi and Deng Lun were getting little screen time. Luo Yunxi got flak for the increased focus on his character. Many thought that the love story between Yukee Chen and Zou Tingwei who played the second couple was needlessly long.
In China, this practice of prolonging a story is known as water injection. The term water injected dramas (注水剧) is a metaphor for a sponge filled with useless content to make it bigger. While it helps maximize profit margin (longer air time equals more ads, more ads equals more profit), it often sacrifices quality.
This becomes obvious when the plot starts going around in circles or screen time is given to certain characters to fill the time. In other instances, remakes are plenty times longer than the original. She Was Pretty is a 2015 Korean romantic comedy with 16 episodes. When the Chinese adapted it for TV in 2017, they renamed it Pretty Li Hui Zhen and brought up the episode count to 46.
Operation Love is a 2007 Japanese drama with 11 episodes. The Korean remake titled Operation Proposal which came out in 2012 had 16 episodes. The Chinese remake titled Operation Love aired in 2017 and had a whopping 32 episodes.
Moonshine And Valentine started out impressive, but like many, it began to falter mid-series. As the story progressed, more emphasis was given to the supporting characters, the writer had to apologize and explain that it was due to problems with scheduling that prevented them from writing more scenes for the leads.
Aside from the production, TV stations are also culpable of increasing episode count due to their ability to cut and edit scenes. In Princess Agents, the incessant flashbacks started getting on everyone’s nerves. At times, they took a good 10 minutes out of one episode. Some have attributed it to Hunan TV’s style of extending a series that is doing well.
Liu Xiaoqing’s version of Wu Zetian which came out in 1995 is considered to be a classic. It told the story of the first empress in China in 30 episodes. Empress Of China which came out in 2015 starring Fan Bingbing had 96 episodes.
Until the salary caps were implemented recently, production budgets have been rising to all-time highs. To boost popularity, productions would pay big money to hire famous celebrities. In turn, dramas are sold to broadcast networks by number of episodes so it’s in their interest to have more episodes by any means. Regardless of the reasons, water injection has ruined a lot of dramas. It kills the pacing of the story and ruins the viewing experience. Hopefully, one day, this practice will be no more.