A reality-TV fate worse than being spurned by that final rose on The Bachelor actually exists; in fact, the participants on one Chinese television program were all put to death, with no Running Man-esque opportunity to survive — but the controversial program couldn’t get a stay to prevent its own demise.
“Interviews Before Execution,” first broadcast on Henan Legal Channel Nov. 18, 2006, according to the BBC, interviewed a prisoner on death row every week in cruel and voyeuristic detail. The Daily Mail notes that sometimes interviews were recorded just minutes before a prisoner’s execution, and that many confessed crimes and begged for forgiveness as their time on Earth ran out.
“We want the audience to be warned,” Lu Peijin, director of the channel that produces the show, told Current.org. “If they are warned, tragedies might be averted. That is good for society.”
Journalist Ding Yu interviewed more than 200 convicts on “Interviews Before Execution,” ABC News writes, in many cases meting out details about the grisly crimes they committed.
But what began as a planned public deterrent to crime turned into a popular phenomenon rivaling American Idol in the United States, capturing 40 million viewers per broadcast and rocketing Ms. Ding to fame, according to The New York Times.
Ms. Ding doesn’t believe her show was exploiting convicts. She was quoted by The Daily Mail:
“I feel sorry and regretful for them. But I don’t sympathise with them, for they should pay a heavy price for their wrongdoing. They deserve it.”
Ding acquired the nickname “Beauty with the Beasts,” the BBC reports.
Though not broadcast throughout China, the controversial “Interviews Before Execution” drew its best ratings on an episode featuring Bao Rongtin, an openly gay man who murdered his mother and violated her dead body, according to The Daily Mail. The show prompted additional episodes featuring the prisoner, and in his final conversation before execution, he implored Ms. Ding to shake his hand, which she did, but to which she later confessed to second-guessing. The BBC notes that homosexuality is still considered a taboo in China.
“I had never come close to a gay man, so I really couldn’t accept some of his practices, words and deeds,” Ding told the BBC.
The BBC and PBS International have picked up rights to the documentary, “Dead Men Talking,” according to the New York Times, which details the show’s explosive popularity. PBS International‘s website describes the film and its additions by the BBC as taking “viewers into the nightmare worlds of violent criminals sentenced to death—and of the TV journalist who is their last connection to this world.”
The international spotlight on the show comes on the heels of the show’s cancellation, according to ABC News, which the news outlet confirmed with Legal TV Channel, the station in China’s Henan province that produced and broadcast the show. The cancellation was attributed to “internal problems.”
In China, the BBC notes, 55 crimes are punishable by death, including murder, treason and bribery. Crimes such as tax fraud, credit fraud and smuggling relics were only recently removed from the list of capital offenses. The New York Times notes that the exact number of yearly executions in China remains a state secret, though Amnesty International and other groups estimate the country as the leading executioner in the world.