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ATV - Asia Television Limited

Telefishion and the ATV broadcasts that made history for all the wrong reasons

The good, the bad, and the so-bad-it’s-hilarious of Hong Kong’s oldest television station, which goes off air today

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 9:32am

Asia Television has been a critical part of Hong Kong’s broadcasting history, starting as a pioneer of entertainment when it was launched as Rediffusion Television in 1957. The station enjoyed many successes over the years, but was totally eclipsed by dominant free-to-air broadcaster TVB. Programming deteriorated over the years as shrinking advertising and frequent ownership changes took the broadcaster from impressive highs to cringeworthy lows.

Credit went to ATV for a new phrase to express boredom (see Telefishion below).

Hong Kong now bids farewell to the station that brought the city My Date with a Vampire and the Miss Asia beauty pageant. As liquidators pull the plug on ATV, the South China Morning Post looks back at the ups and downs of “Asia’s CNN” – a phrase coined by mainland investor Wong Ching, under whose watch ATV sounded its death knell.

IN PICTURES: ATV’s 33-year history, from trendsetter to troubled broadcaster

Song and dance of shame

A protest against free-to-air TV licences that could have put ATV out of business took a bizarre turn outside the Legislative Council in November 2012. This time it wasn’t violence that made spectators and legislators cringe.

READ MORE: ATV makes a song and dance about licences

ATV major investor Wong Ching, the man controlling the station behind the scenes, became a laughing stock with this much-ridiculed performance. Shaking his hips to Korean rapper Psy’s “Gangnam-style” beat, and flanked by a dozen Mr Asia contestants, Wang was mocked across the city for his efforts.

Close encounters of the farce kind

ATV’s investigative programme Hong Kong Today (今日睇真) aired a week-long feature on aliens in August of 1995. The hype boosted ratings and created a buzz among Hong Kong viewers intrigued by a documentary on a purported alien autopsy from the US.

London-based record producer Ray Santilli presented the film as an authentic examination of an extraterrestrial being who crashed a UFO near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The show sent its hosts to Roswell, interviewed Santilli and presented seminars.

The slightly graphic video was challenged a month later by Next Magazine, which reported that parts of it had been fabricated. The Post also reported on the obvious farce.

Happy birthday to me!

ATV celebrated its 22nd birthday with special guests from the AC Milan soccer team at a gala programme in 2004.

After an awkward “how are you?” in Italian to her co-host, Zhu Huishan announced, while standing in front of a perplexed Massimo Ambrosini, that it was also his birthday.

They proceeded to sing him happy birthday and prompted him to join in, so he sang “happy birthday to me.”

Millionaire success

One of ATV’s biggest successes was the quiz show, Who wants to be a millionaire. Debuting in 2001, the franchise was one of the rare ATV shows to upstage rival TVB. Based on the original British programme, the Cantonese version of the show was hosted by Kenneth Chan, a permanent fixture among the station’s artistes.

In its first year, celebrity guests included filmmaker Stephen Chow and writer/singer Lee Man, who won HK$1 million for Queen Mary Hospital.

Fishy late night show

ATV’s TeleFishion was a simple programme that started in 1993. Nothing more than a camera pointed at a fish tank. It was a surprise hit for ATV, rivalling the station’s prime-time shows. Aquariums at the television station were originally used, but later the programme was filmed at various Mong Kok goldfish shops every week.

TeleFishion dried up when ATV moved to 24-hour news broadcasts, returning briefly in 2011 when it replaced Financial Information. It was ultimately taken off air in May that year.

Cementing itself in Hong Kong culture, TeleFishion’s Cantonese title (魚樂無窮) became a metaphor to express profound boredom.

Jiang Zemin’s premature eulogy

ATV has the dubious distinction as Hong Kong’s only broadcaster to report that former Chinese president Jiang Zemin died in 2011. The source of the false report (Jiang has outlived ATV) was never revealed.