DID YOU SEE THAT great local sitcom on TVB Pearl last night? Of course you didn't. Locally made English-language programming barely exists in Hong Kong - and none of it is intentionally funny. But tune in to Pearl at 8pm tonight and you will see Hong Kong's very own Carol 'Dodo' Cheng Yue-ling wise-cracking in a new English-language sitcom, Oh Carol! The punchline is that it is made in Singapore. There it is being touted as the Asian answer to Ally McBeal. Cheng plays Carol, a single career woman juggling family entanglements and office politics, and pouring her heart out in an American accent to her friend Sam, played by Singapore's infamous drag queen, Kumar. Made by a leading Singaporean television company, Mediacorp, the 13-episode series has been one of the top-five-rated shows since it aired there in August. It is the second Singaporean sitcom to star a Hong Kong celebrity: the first was Living With Lydia, shown here this summer in which Lydia Shum 'Fei Fei' Tin-har played a top Hong Kong chef who moved to Singapore after a mass poisoning. That show topped Singapore's prime-time ratings when it was broadcast in January. 'We have had Hong Kong artists doing Chinese-language programmes, but for English sitcoms, it was the first time,' says Ng Say Yong, vice-president of Mediacorp's Channel 5, which broadcast the series. 'Lydia and Cheng have a strong following here. We think that will give our shows a fresh look.' Shum, 55, and Cheng, 45, are popular in Singapore and Malaysia, because many people grew up watching them in Hong Kong-made series. The pair's decision to work in Singapore says something about both the city state's aggressive approach to television programming - and the stagnant state of Hong Kong's industry. TVB spokesman Andrew Lai says the company has no plans to make English-language sitcoms. 'We strive to offer diversity to our viewers,' he says. 'We have documentaries, blockbuster movies, sitcoms and many other choices at prime time. It's not that we don't have the money.' Oh yes it is, says Singapore-born, Hong Kong-based executive Robert Chua Wah-peng, chairman of China Entertainment Television. 'Hong Kong's English TV channels don't have the money to produce their own programmes,' he says. 'They don't have enough advertising revenue because of poor viewership.' Singapore's influence is set to grow, he believes, with the merging next month of the state's Broadcasting Authority, Films and Publications Department and a film commission. The low viewership and mediocre broadcasting standards of local English-language TV is not news. Tourism Board chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee is concerned that government plans to lift a ban on non-English programming during prime time (7pm-11.30pm) will aggravate the problem. 'I am very concerned about bilingualism and English culture in Hong Kong. If we want Hong Kong to be Asia's world city, we can't let market forces dictate television programmes,' she has said. Chow's concerns aside, from December next year the stations will be allowed to broadcast non-English and non-Cantonese programmes for two hours, once a week, during prime time. An ATV World spokesman says the impact on English-language TV viewers will be minimal because the two hours equates to only six per cent of English-language programming. It is a matter of conjecture how much influence Singapore's English shows will have here. Audience response to Living With Lydia was lukewarm and its local media coverage was scant. But TVB says the series' 12 episodes attracted an average of 190,000 viewers, compared with an average 66,000 for rival programming on ATV World. A popular programme on TVB's Chinese-language channel, Jade, could expect to attract about two million viewers. Ng believes the different response in the two cities is because of the language barrier and difficulty of exporting humour. 'I was told the English-speaking audience was very small in Hong Kong,' he says. 'And the [humour issue] is a challenge.' Cheng, meanwhile, speaks glowingly of the working conditions in Singapore. 'Everything was very systematic,' she says. 'We had rehearsals for about three episodes for a whole day before filming the next day. In Hong Kong, there's no such thing as rehearsals. Everything in TV is about speed; it works like a factory. Artists are packed into changing rooms like sardines.' But Hong Kong has the bigger pool of experienced talent, says Ng. So will he be fishing here for more actors? 'I can't say. It's a matter of business sense and artist availability,' he says. Meanwhile, Cheng will be heading back to Singapore for a second series of Oh Carol! in April, regardless of whether or not it tickles Hong Kong's funny bone.