Chef McDang: Nobody wants to watch quality television in Thailand

Chef McDang: Nobody wants to watch quality television in Thailand

Another racy soap opera has hit headlines for corrupting the nation’s youth. TV host Chef McDang explains why such shows will continue to dominate the airways

As yet another soap opera gets thrown into the Thai morality ring for its less than family-friendly content –- in effect drawing more people to tune in -- one question comes to many people's minds.

Just how challenging is it to produce quality television in Thailand, given the obvious lack of it?

Well it depends on how you look at it. What are the parameters of quality, and what does the audience want to see? 

Or, do we just say to hell with our principles. Let’s make lots of money. 

In Thailand, a nation addicted to “lakorns” and slapstick comedies, the general and unfortunate truth is that most TV viewers have not been taught to think for themselves. And the Thai education system is much to blame for this.  

Therefore, television shows with any meat in them do not attract viewers. The Thai audience has been trained to be completely parochial. They want entertainment, and nothing more.

That’s not to say there aren’t people interested in learning about worldly things. But sadly, they’re in the minority. 

This is why television producers find it difficult to create quality programs. They have to weigh the heavy economics of producing the show against potential ratings and sponsorships. 

Ratings do, quite often, come before a programʼs integrity. The most successful Thai television shows tend to offer pure entertainment as opposed to programs that educate, inform and broaden the horizons of the general audience in a meaningful way. 

Here, the lion's share of society wants to know who sleeps with whom, what is the latest scandal, whoʼs rich or poor. Consequently, these same people spend most of their time aspiring to be wealthy, bitchy and avaricious just like the characters portrayed on your average cheap television soap opera -- known locally as "lakorns."

But there is a second, smaller group of television producers. A group that's more concerned about education and social standards -- which is why that group isn't as successful.  

Therein lies the challenge. When I produce my weekly television show, just like everybody else in the business I have to weigh the commercial aspects of production with the content and our role as educators.

If nobody's watching, I'm not going to have a TV show. So when filming, I find it difficult to be serious because, unfortunately, the general audience has a very short attention span when it comes to intellectual exercises. 

It is very hard to win and maintain a time slot on television in Thailand, let alone produce a high quality TV show. But things get even more difficult when it comes to acquiring sponsors as they are understandably more concerned about your program's ratings than its contents. 

Fortunately there are a few TV stations in Thailand that are attempting to educate the general public, such as Nation Channel and Thai PBS.

Their programs have gained measured success, but they are far from being as financially successful as the mainstream TV programs in Thailand.

But to change this, we have to change our whole system of education in this country.

Currently, educators favor rote memorization. Yet free thought and actual learning can only be encouraged by teaching the basics of any given field in a systematized fashion so as to lay a strong foundation for individuals to expand upon it in their own unique way.

Right now, this doesn't happen in Thai schools. And it will take a concerted effort by those in the government to change the way we teach and are taught.

Even if the government is truly serious and determined to change the education system, which I doubt it is, it will take at least one whole generation (that is 30-40 years) before we see any change in general perception.

For those of us who would like to see the public develop a bigger social conscience and demand Thai programs of value, we will have to wait until our next life. What a shame. 

The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Chef McDang.

A household name in Thailand, Chef McDang is a chef, TV personality and writer. Born into the Thai royal family, McDang completed his early education in the United Kingdom and United States and at the Culinary Institute of America, which led to a career as an executive chef, restaurant owner and manager that saw him travel from Washington D.C. to Florida and California.

Upon returning to Thailand in 1993, McDang began writing about food and appearing on TV cooking shows. Almost two decades on, McDang is Thailand’s most famous food expert and a respected ambassador for Thai cuisine.