A creepy show capturing the last moments of criminals on death row – that might sound like the worst kind of reality TV, but “Interviews Before Execution” has been hugely popular in China, where it was first aired on Henan Legal Channel on 18th November, 2006. After over 5 years, the show ended last Friday.
As a part of the reality show, journalist Ding Yu would interview a person on death row every week in almost cruel detail. So yes, every person featured on the show was a hardened criminal, whose fate had already been sealed – in death. Sometimes, the criminals were recorded speaking just minutes before their execution, many describing the details of their crimes, displaying remorse and even begging for forgiveness at times. It sure does sound like an unnecessary exploitation of people who are about to die, but the creators of the show have a different perspective. Lu Pejin, the director of the Legal Channel says that the purpose of the show was to warn audiences. “If they are warned, tragedies might be averted. That is good for society.”
The show may no longer be on air in China, but worldwide networks like PBS and BBC are interested in the phenomenon it has managed to become. After all, in its prime, Interviews Before Execution had a whopping 40 million viewers per broadcast, and skyrocketed Ding Yu to fame. The best ratings in the show’s history were for this one episode that featured a gay prisoner, who after murdering his mother, violated her dead body. BBC is now planning to air a documentary coming Monday on the Chinese program, called The Execution Factor. PBS will soon follow suit with another documentary called Dead Men Talking.
What’s really interesting is the role played by Miss Ding on the shows. It must have been a life-altering experience to talk to so many hardened criminals in the last moments of their lives. Just like the show’s creators, she did not believe that they were exploiting convicts. In fact, she believed that they actually wanted to be heard. Ding is recorded to have said, “I feel sorry and regretful for them. But I don’t sympathize with them, for they should pay a heavy price for their wrongdoing. They deserve it.”
“Some criminals I interviewed told me: ‘I’m really very glad. I said so many things in my heart to you at this time. In prison, there was never a person I was willing to talk to about past events,’” she goes on to add. Ding has certainly become a popular figure in China due to the show, and has come to be known to many as “Beauty with the Beasts.”