China Pulls Local Version of 'Saturday Night Live'

Will Heath/NBC

China's licensed localized version of NBC's classic satire show has been temporarily removed from its online streaming home, Alibaba's flagship video site Youku.

China's local version of NBC's classic satire show Saturday Night Live has been temporarily removed from its online streaming home, Alibaba’s flagship video site Youku.

A spokesperson for Youku told THR Wednesday that the show was "removed so adjustments could be made to its content." The spokesperson added that the show "will be back soon," but declined to offer a timeline. 

The censorship action comes amid another cyclical crackdown in the country on online content. Last week, China's media regulators instructed online platforms to produce programming with “positive energy” for teenagers, and to avoid exposing local youth to “low-taste and harmful programs” during the summer vacation period.

NBCUniversal reached the deal with Youku to produce a local version of SNL in April 2017. The Chinese-produced show is hosted by local comedy duo Yue Yunpeng and Chen He. It didn't last long online in China though — the show had only premiered in late June. 

Over the past few years, NBCUniversal has licensed numerous other international versions of the iconic sketch show, in territories ranging from France to the Middle East. 

In the U.S., SNL has enjoyed a ratings comeback over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to the presidency of Donald Trump and Alec Baldwin's lampooning of the commander-in-chief's many media imbroglios. Given China's strong censorship system, it was always seen as unlikely that the Youku version of the show would feature any similar shots at Chinese president Xi Jinping or urgent local political issues.

Youku and NBCUniversal said last year that the Beijing-based remake would "showcase the best of Chinese culture and comedy."

Reuters was the first to report on SNL's sudden removal in China. The news service noted that the Chinese version "had seemed to refrain from touching on political flashpoints," with an exemplary sketch from a recent episode "instead taking a jab at China’s oft-ridiculed national [soccer] team."

In a post to one of its official social media pages Wednesday, SNL China said the show was "working hard to become better" and asked fans "to have a big smile when we see each other next time."