People in China have been gripped watching a television icon crumble right before their eyes. The real-life soap opera has been played out in the print media, through sleazy tapes on the internet, and among the public in chat rooms. The plot surrounds Zhao Zhongxiang, a celebrity CCTV presenter, who had a seven-year tryst with a younger woman, Rao Ying. She divorced her husband, but her relationship with Zhao turned sour. She sued him, claiming he owed her 3,800 yuan for her services as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. When the civil suit foundered in Beijing's local courts, she brought her case to the court of public opinion, releasing tapes of their intimate conversations, containing sordid language and graphic sexual descriptions. She also offered to submit a semen-stained skirt for DNA testing as evidence of her special relationship with Zhao. Zhao is a household name in China. In 40 years, he has anchored the evening news, hosted a very popular Animal Kingdom series and presented Chinese New Year galas. In short, he is CCTV personified. Ms Rao has played the media to the hilt. Painting herself as a victim of an overbearing and cruel man, she supplied salacious details to packed courtrooms, and held her own news conference. She even went so far as to shave her head and announced that she was ready to enter a nunnery, then behaved like a feminist ready to avenge the wrongs done to all jilted women. The tapes and skirt (following the Monica Lewinsky line of sensationalism) were masterful strokes to keep the public hooked. The voyeuristic tapes also tapped into a deeper vein of public anger, with Zhao talking down to a silent Ms Rao, flaunting his gender superiority and immunity that came with his political connections. Since April, 74,000 comments have been posted in the 'Zhao-Rao affairs' chat room of the popular news portal Sina.com. The Legal Evening News conducted a street poll, which showed that while support for Ms Rao (15 per cent) was slightly ahead of that for Zhao (11 per cent), the majority (68 per cent) supported neither. At first Zhao strenuously denied even knowing Ms Rao, threatening to counter sue her for defamation, and attacking the media for its biased coverage. But with tapes of his captivating voice mouthing unprintable words playing endlessly on the internet, he finally threw in the towel and admitted that his carefully nurtured image was in tatters. 'I was a sign of an era,' he said, wistfully. Sex, celebrity, scandal and betrayal are hot commodities for the media. Ms Rao has clearly learned the game very quickly from the globalised media, while Zhao is left to dwell on his former glory.