There was still quite a bit of time left after Fang Zhao and company filmed in the kitchen. Kevin Lin saved it for filming folks returning from trips beyond the base.
The soldiers returning in the evening were mostly career soldiers stationed on Baiji, not regular conscripts. Most of the more challenging tasks like hunting, scouting, and so on, were left for career soldiers.
It wasn't just the conscripts who wanted to get on camera, the career soldiers did too. They were often away for years at a time and missed their families.
But only soldiers who weren't assigned to classified missions could be shown on air.
The group that returned in the evening also brought back food supplies, including both plants and dead animals. There were quite a few things that turned Kevin Lin off. He remained at a distance during filming, simply zooming in on Fang Zhao, who had to help the career soldiers unload their cargo. He would also be having a late-night snack with the soldiers.
Unlike the afternoon broadcast from the cafeteria, the late-night meal was aired live in high definition, uncensored.
After setting up the camera, Kevin Lin found an excuse to bolt. He didn't bother appearing on camera.
The first-day live broadcasts for the other channels were a completely different story.
On the first day of his arrival, famed TV host Li Xiaoxiao, the subject of S1, visited career soldiers and young conscripts already serving on the foreign planet he was assigned to, with gifts in tow. The gifts had been donated by himself, fans, and his sponsors.
Many of the career soldiers and many of the youngsters who had been serving there for half a year had grown up watching Li Xiaoxiao's shows. They were quite familiar with the star, so they were quite emotional when they came into close contact with him and shook his hand.
Li Xiaoxiao's humorous comments and moves livened up the base, which enjoyed a rare respite from its typically dour atmosphere.
The decor in the cafeteria wasn't exactly appealing, and many scenes in the kitchen were likewise off-putting, but these eyesores were alleviated by avoiding the most grotesque items and with subtle camera angles and blurring effects. Coupled with Li Xiaoxiao's sense of humor and ability to lighten the mood, quite a few touching scenes emerged, conveying to viewers that, despite the hardships the soldiers and conscripts endured, there were funny moments too.
You had to admit that talent was talent. As the oldest of the five celebrities and the most experienced, Li Xiaoxiao was great at taking charge of the situation.
Li Xiaoxiao's fans and online viewers were also moved by the jovial mood. Donations of cash and supplies poured in. Financiers also expressed interest in investing in the base.
S1's live broadcast was an indisputable success.
On S2, the handsome, elegant Old-Era aristocrat Fritz charted an artsier course. He used soulful expressions and controlled embellishment to turn every moment into a tearjerker.
Fritz even played host. Apart from having heart-to-hearts with some of the conscripts, he also interviewed career soldiers with interesting backgrounds.
A veteran singer and actor, Fritz knew how to draw out emotion and even put himself in the shoes of his interview subjects, displaying genuine emotion. Every time those haunting eyes faced the camera, countless fans were shaken.
Fans: It's just cash. We're shelling it out.
Judging from the audience response and viewership data, S2 was likewise a great success.
On S3, as an actor in mainstream commercial films, Andre likewise enjoyed a huge fan base, but while he had sparred with some of the young instructors during training camp, on account of his limited martial arts training, he held back.
The career soldiers stationed here were different from the young instructors back in training camp. The former were battle-hardened, even projecting a different aura. Andre had no intention of getting a beatdown on live television.
Instead, he shared life stories with the young conscripts and sang military songs with the career soldiers.
You never would have guessed that this A-list actor had a decent voice. He made for a decent singer, which served as a pleasant surprise to his fans.
Even though S3's viewership data lagged the numbers posted by S1 and S2, it still turned a profit. By that measure, it was also a success.
On S4, Tianhao, who hailed from the Woo family of Tongzhou aristocracy, had been born on a pedestal, and his ability to act pretentious was unscathed. After his arrival, he challenged several of the standout soldiers to kung-fu duels.
Anyone who lived in the New Era knew that founding father General Woo Tong had been an accomplished martial artist. His descendants were all competent fighters, not simply posers. The well-trained core family members in particular were combat-tested. Even though Tianhao was a poser, he backed it up with real skill.
Tianhao challenged three of the top soldiers in a row. The young conscripts rooted for Tianhao, while the career soldiers backed their brethren. The online audience was thoroughly electrified, hooting and applauding without pause and bestowing round after round of cash rewards.
The face-offs spiced up the atmosphere and were embraced by the conscripts and career soldiers alike and drew a big audience. Tianhao had achieved his goal of coolness.
After the duels, senior officers at the base staged a welcome banquet for Tianhao. Soldiers who weren't assigned to missions the next day were granted special exemption to drink a bit. Tianhao had brought the alcohol from home. Quite a few heavy drinkers got their fix.
One officer even slapped Tianhao on the back, saying he would show Tianhao how to drive the base jeeps reserved for career soldiers.
S4's numbers rivaled the performance of S1 and S2. Not to mention that Tianhao had the full backing of the Woo family back in Tongzhou.
By contrast, the S5 production team stood out by adopting an unvarnished documentary style. The footage was more befitting an actual documentary film than entertainment programming. The other four channels all used subtle camera angles or blurred out graphic content. Only S5 was in high definition and completely uncensored.
Viewers who were looking for light entertainment would not stick with S5, but apart from members of the establishment, a group of parents also started tuning in.
Indeed, S5 was far less entertaining than the other four channels, but it was the real thing.
What was of more pressing concern to the parents whose children were serving was what their kids' actual routines were like. Even though they had served as well, those had been different times. Who knew how much these military outposts had changed over the years?
Even parents with kids serving on other planets couldn't help tuning in to S5, because you could see what the bases on planets with tough conditions were really like. There was no fudging or fakery. It was as if you were standing on the planet yourself.
On the first four channels, regardless of the topic at hand, regardless of who was being interviewed, the center of attention was the four celebrities. The celebrities anchored the live webcasts. But on S5, Fang Zhao was less of a presence. Instead, the camera focused on the conscripts and the career soldiers.
The only thing was that the uncensored footage was too much for some viewers.
S5 got plenty of rave reviews, but it also drew many complaints.
Many viewers complained that some of S5's footage was ill-suited for teenagers and was detrimental to their development.
Indeed, footage of raw materials being prepared in the kitchen and of mealtime turned quite a few adults off, let alone teenagers. If similar scenes were in the pipeline and were broadcast uncensored, there would be no end to the complaints.
To get ahead of the issue, the senior management of Project Starlight held a conference call. Shutting down S5 was not an option. They also wouldn't censor it. They wanted Kevin Lin and Fang Zhao to shoot more raw footage in the same vein, even record some violent or bloody incidents. As long they could show the true nature of the work in the Baiji base, as long as some folks could get an actual sense of the base's growth, Project Starlight would have fulfilled its mission.
The conservatives who had slashed funding for exploratory missions and diverted funds to building up existing bases didn't do so to provide entertainment. They wanted to deliver a clear message to the people. Look at how tough it is to develop the existing bases. Why the hell should we keep exploring? So what if we discover more planets with livable conditions. Can we build bases on them and immigrate right away? Folks who keep dreaming about discovering new minerals that can be used as new energy sources should wake up and get back in touch with reality. Are new minerals that easy to find?
The conservatives wanted to shore up popular support—and Project Starlight was the means to their end.
To protect S5, the senior management of Project Starlight decided after their conference call to implement a ratings system on the five channels.
But curious viewers didn't care what the senior executives were thinking. Eager fans who followed Project Starlight's five channels summarized the tone of each channel with these quips after the five channels completed their first day of live programming.
S1: How are you, comrades? Well done! Good job!
S2: Blood, sweat, and tears.
S3: There's nothing a little love and tenderness can't conquer.
S4: Drinking games.
S5: Danger ahead! Noncombat personnel evacuate!