Alibaba's Youku to Produce Chinese Version of 'Saturday Night Live'

Will Heath/NBC
'Saturday Night Live'

But don't expect the Middle Kingdom's answer to Alec Baldwin to be lampooning Chinese president Xi Jinping anytime soon.

"Live from Beijing, it's Saturday night!"

NBCUniversal on Wednesday unveiled a partnership with Chinese streaming video platform Youku, a unit of Alibaba Digital Media & Entertainment Group, which will produce a local version in China of NBC's iconic sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live.

Youku, one of China's leading streaming video services along with Tencent Video and Baidu's iQiyi service, is planning to make SNL its flagship entertainment show for the 2017 fall/winter schedule.

Over the past few years, NBCUniversal has licensed nine other international versions of SNL, in territories ranging from France to the Middle East. 

"We're excited to partner with Youku in China, where we are confident SNL will be a big hit with audiences," said Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUniversal International Studios.

Now in its 43rd season, Lorne Michaels' original New York version of Saturday Night Live is enjoying a banner year, with each episode attracting an average of 11 million viewers and U.S. viewership up 29 percent over last year — so far, it's been the show’s best season since 1993-1994.

Much of the ratings comeback probably can be attributed to the presidency of Donald Trump and Alec Baldwin's lampooning of the commander-in-chief, as well as Melissa McCarthy's recurring impersonations of White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

But given China's strong censorship system, it is unlikely that the Youku version of the show will feature a Chinese comedian taking similar shots at Chinese president Xi Jinping anytime soon. Youku and NBCUniversal say the Beijing-based remake will "showcase the best of Chinese culture and comedy."

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