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Biggest Star Absent for China's Greatest Show

Zhao_Benshan_2012_H.jpg
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Zhao Benshan (right), pictured here with director Zhang Yimou, dropped out of the China Central Television Spring Festival Gala, citing illness.

Veteran actor Zhao Benshan cites health reasons for missing CCTV's annual Chinese New Year show.

Hundreds of millions of viewers tuned in Sunday evening for the annual Chinese New Year television gala presented by China Central Television (CCTV), despite the show missing one of its mainstays and top stars. 

Veteran actor Zhao Benshan, 53, whose comedy pieces with actress Song Dandan were an annual and anticipated part of China's biggest TV event, announced earlier this week he would not participate due to health reasons.

Even without Zhao, the show went on, and featured local star power including singers Faye Wong, American-born Wang Lee-hom and Chinese piano virtuoso Yundi Li

Part Super Bowl, part Yule Log and part nationalist rally, the four-hour variety program provides the backdrop and entertainment for the Chinese New Year -- called Spring Festival locally -- traditional dinner, eaten during the final hours of the lunar year. The show is statecaster CCTV's most watched annual program, with advertising preceding the show -- the gala is aired live and commercial-free -- racking up millions of yuan in revenue.