Watching the TV special on Chinese New Year's Eve is an annual rite. The 4.5-hour programme draws over 100 million viewers. In recent years, the show has come under attack for being out of touch with ordinary people. Despite CCTV's efforts to solicit public feedback, the programme struggled to justify its existence, let alone regain its popularity. About 20 years ago, at the beginning of the reform era, the show was exciting. Television was just becoming common in urban households and more affluent parts of the countryside. Sitting around with the family for dinner on New Year's Eve and laughing with the show was a happy experience for the holiday. Compared with the stiff, highly ideologically charged spectacles of the 1970s, the programme created a warm, fuzzy atmosphere, though one not devoid of propaganda. The People's Liberation Army was always lavishly praised. Precious air time was spent on reading reams of telegrams sent from Chinese embassies overseas, expressing their pride in representing a great nation in the world and wishing everyone happiness. No matter, the show was popular. But as Chinese society became more open and affluent, the viewers became more difficult to please. Meanwhile, local television stations also offered enticing programmes to compete for viewers. Channel surfing became common. Nonetheless, inertia kept the show the most watched programme in China. It was billed as the cultural feast of the year and the menu was kept top secret. This year, CCTV broke with tradition by giving the public a sneak preview in order to whet its flagging appetite, but many people simply could not work up the enthusiasm to watch the overhyped and outdated programme. The most common complaint was that the show lacked creativity. The humour was tired. The stand-up comedians were not funny. The young audience was particularly disaffected. 'Fake sentimentalism of family values, friendship, patriotism gives me [the creeps],' says a posting on the Internet. 'When I heard the word 'soul-stirring', I reached for my remote control,' says another. Another reason that the mood of the viewers was particularly sour this year might have to do with the corruption scandal involving the show's long-time producer Zhao An, who was arrested last summer. Seeking national exposure, fledging actors and actresses bribed their way into the show. Even established artists had to ensure their place in the show by greasing some palms. Raiding Zhao's opulent residence, police found six luxury cars and huge stacks of 100-yuan banknotes. Money, power and fame were tightly intertwined, and the public found that not in the least entertaining.