So long, Mr Con & Ms Csi

Fans of the popular Taiwanese talk show are disappointed that hosts Kevin Tsai and Dee Hsu are calling it quits after an almost 12-year run

When television host Kevin Tsai called it quits on long-running Taiwanese talk show Mr Con & Ms Csi on Oct 16, it felt like the end of an era.

So says avid viewer Benjamin Tan. "Tsai is the pillar of the show and is irreplaceable. It's like America's Next Top Model without Tyra Banks or The Ellen DeGeneres Show without DeGeneres," says Mr Tan, 27, an assistant sales manager.

Tsai's co-host, Dee Hsu, soon followed suit and announced her departure.

Tsai stated only a vague reason in a Facebook post: "I want some change."

Hsu's Facebook post expressed support: "The show is incomplete without Kang-yong brother. So dear, I'll leave together with you."

This spells the imminent end of their almost 12-year journey.

The pair have become synonymous with the show, says the show's producer, Wang Wei-chung, in Taiwanese media reports. He assured viewers that the series will end on a good note.

The finale will be taped on Nov 25 and will air the week of Dec 22, according to a China Times report.

One hundred celebrities may turn up to bid the show farewell, reported Apple Daily.

Still, Mr Tan laments: "Many people grew up watching the show, like my family and I. I felt sad because the show has been my source of entertainment since my school days."

The show - whose Chinese title is inspired by the two hosts' Chinese names - has recorded close to 3,000 episodes.

Guests ranged from heavyweights in politics and entertainment, such as then Taipei mayor- turned-President Ma Ying-jeou to Taiwanese-American singer Wang Leehom. The show also featured the man on the street.

Producers tried to keep it fresh by varying the format and topics for the weeknight show.

Episode themes ran the gamut from the usual talk-show setting to getting celebrities to remove their make-up on TV.

The unconventional pairing proved to be the show's winning formula - the razor-tongued livewire Hsu complemented the calm, scholarly Tsai.

Their backgrounds could not be more different. The vivacious Hsu, 37, debuted as part of now-defunct girl duo, Asos, with elder sister Barbie Hsu, 39. The younger Hsu went on to host, while the elder one concentrated on acting.

Tsai, 53, has a varied portfolio, which includes roles such as host, author, magazine editor and scriptwriter. On a Chinese talk show, it was revealed that Tsai told producers that his only condition for agreeing to host Mr Con & Ms Csi was if Hsu was his co-host.

Sparks flew between the duo. They wowed critics and shared a Best Variety Show award at the Golden Bell Awards in 2005.

The show struck gold in its native Taiwan and abroad. It has amassed an overseas following in places such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Since it started in 2004, the show has reportedly made NT$2 billion (S$86 million) for media group CtiTV - stemming from fees for advertising, as well as overseas and Internet broadcasting rights.

The show has a firm grip on the top spot during its 10pm slot in Taiwan, according to Apple Daily.

The report also revealed that the show attracted 380,000 viewers a minute in its heyday. However, its ratings have dropped by half in recent times.

Since news of the hosts' departure broke, Apple Daily said that ratings have risen to 220,000 viewers a minute.

The massive China market also took to the talk show. The show hit the mark of 5.3 billion viewers across major Chinese online sites last year, according to a CTI TV news report.

China audiences were hungry for more. The show spun off a series of sold-out concerts in China in 2009.

It is no wonder that the show's impending end has upset its devoted followers. Netizens have started online groups to ask their favourite hosts to stay on. One Facebook group has urged its more than 37,000 members to leave messages in the hope that the hosts will reconsider their decision.

According to an unofficial poll conducted in the Facebook group, the show's draw lies in the hosts' chemistry and the interaction between the guests and hosts.

Local viewers concur. Radio presenter Yong Shu Hui, 28, says: "It's not so much who the guest is. I watch it for the hosts. They have such great chemistry and lively banter."

Ms Ong Huey Shan, 32, who works as a sales manager in the travel industry, is in awe of the hosts' abilities to draw out a different side of celebrities.

Freelance writer Natalie Pang, 27, says the show offers "one of the most intimate interviews" .

She says: "Celebrities are put at ease because of Tsai's reputation as an intellectual and Hsu's ability to make an awkward moment funny. It helps that they are usually friends with the celebrities."

The personal connections or A-list status of a guest do not protect him from the hosts' no-holds-barred approach.

Ms Pang recalls an episode where Taiwanese actor Vic Chou appeared on the show after his break-up with actress Barbie Hsu.

She says: "He came to promote a drama series and told Dee not to ask about his relationship, but she did anyway."

The sarcastic and nosy Hsu is a softie at heart.

The show's looming closure prompted her to upload a post on her Weibo account last week.

"I'll be filming Mr Con & Ms Csi tomorrow, but I can't bear to sleep. Because once I wake up to film this episode, it means that I'm closer to the end."

There is a glimmer of hope for fans of the wacky duo. Word has it that Tsai wants to focus on preparing for his movie, which he has penned the script for and intends to direct. He has said that he will invite Hsu to appear in it.

For now, some viewers are getting ready to bid farewell. Ms Yong says: "I'm sad to see them go. But I can't be selfish and ask them to keep hosting a show that they've done for 12 years. They probably want to try other things. It's time to say goodbye to an old friend."

•Mr Con & Ms Csi airs on CTI TV (StarHub TV Channel 827) at 10pm on weekdays


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SHOW'S RUN

1. Ex-beaus Dee Hsu and Mickey Huang bury their animosity on TV (2015)

Dubbed the "reconciliation of the century" by the Taiwanese media, hosts Dee Hsu and Mickey Huang made peace with each other after an acrimonious break-up 15 years ago.

The former lovers were involved in a love triangle with Taiwanese host Bowie Tsang. The trio's feud was an open secret in show business and all three have reportedly avoided one another over the years.

They reminisced, wept and even hugged in the show. The tear-jerker episode is the third most-watched episode in the show's 12-year history.

2. Who's your celebrity turn-off? (2011, 2013)

Celebrities' egos were bruised for the sake of entertainment.

A poll was conducted in 2011 to find out which celebrity's appearance on TV would make one reach for the remote control and switch channels.

The celebrities involved in the poll gathered on the show to hear the results, which reduced the poll's top celebrity turn-off - buxom babe Liu Yi-hsin - to tears.

Call it schadenfreude, the 2011 episode created such a buzz among viewers that the poll was conducted again in 2013.

The 2013 winner was straight-talking fortune teller Chan Wei-chung.

3. Off with your make-up

In an industry where looks are heavily prized, the show's influential producers managed to convince female celebrities to remove their make-up on national TV. Natural beauties were revealed and made-up beauties were devastated.

Award-winning actress Ariel Lin looked fresh-faced in her pyjamas. Meanwhile, host Yuri Huang turned from made-up lady to "lad". Fellow guests commented that, stripped of cosmetics, she looked like Hong Kong actor Jaycee Chan - to her face. The sporting Huang took it in her stride.

4. Hsu and her men

All handsome male guests have to go through a rite of passage on the show. They must be prepared for host Dee Hsu, a mother of three young children, to initiate intimate physical contact with them.

Spunky Hsu threw herself at married Cantopop star Andy Lau (pictured). She harassed actor Mark Chao by hugging him and even pinning him to the couch. All these were done in the presence of fellow guest and Chao's father, host Allen Chao.

Even political figures were not spared. In 2005, Hsu shared a seat and placed her hand on the thigh of then Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, who is now Taiwan's President.

5. Culture shock for K-pop group Wonder Girls (2010)

Nobody can stop host Dee Hsu from asking intrusive questions.

Not even when the guests are members of K-pop girl group Wonder Girls, who were then enjoying worldwide popularity with their catchy hit, Nobody.

"When was your first time?" she asked about their first sexual experience. South Korean media and fans were incensed. The youngest members of the group were only 17 years old then.

Hsu said such questions were asked all the time, but she never forced guests to answer them.

6. Actress Cecilia Cheung shows her ugly side (2005)

What happens when you put eccentric Dee Hsu and her celebrity pal, Cecilia Cheung, together? You get non-stop laughter for an entire episode, of course.

The free-spirited women poked fun at each other and made "ugly faces". They turned the set into a KTV session and grooved wildly to the thumping beat of Hong Kong Cantopop diva Sammi Cheng's dance classic, Mei Fei Se Wu (Overjoyed).

Never mind that Cheung sang out of tune. She unabashedly admitted she has a horrible singing voice.

7. Hsu bestowed nicknames

Oddball host Dee Hsu can come up with the most unflattering nicknames for celebrities.

One unfortunate victim, TV producer-turned-artiste Chao Cheng-ping, has been called a toad because of his resemblance to the amphibian.

Taiwanese host Mini Chao is grateful to Hsu for teasing her about her facial hair. Dee gave Chao manly nicknames such as Grape Brother and Moustache Zhang. Chao said she enjoyed a boost in exposure and an increase in job offers after Hsu's ribbing.

Chao used to host a children's show under the stage name Grape Sister. Moustache Zhang is a reference to the bearded man cartoon fronting a braised meat rice chain outlet in Taiwan.

8. Host Kevin Tsai's quirky outfits

Tsai may be the intellectual one of the duo, but he has his peculiar side too. He would wear all kinds of strange objects, keeping audiences guessing his outfit of the day. He has worn diving goggles on his head, as well as a string of milk bottles across his black suit, purportedly a reference to Hsu's pregnancy at the time.

Most famously, he had a stuffed black bird perched on his shoulder.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'So long, Mr Con & Ms Csi'. Print Edition | Subscribe