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Keith Gallinelli '94, MA'97, MBA'01

Gallinelli hosts his English language talk show Nanjing. Photo by Qilai Shen

Gallinelli hosts his English language talk show in Nanjing. Photo by Qilai Shen

The story of Keith Gallinelli's rise to TV stardom has an urban myth ring to it, though he swears it's true. After graduating from BC in 1994, and returning for master's degrees in geology and business administration, Gallinelli, a Connecticut native, was teaching business classes in a local private school in Nanjing, China (a job he still holds). He met a young Chinese woman in a bar and, on a whim, told her he was a famous talk show host named Jerry Springer. He soon revealed his true identity, but she turned out to be a TV producer, and a week later she called and offered him a job. Today Gallinelli is the host of Small Talk, the only English language talk show in China's populous eastern province of Jiangsu.

"My first shows were not great," he admits. "When I watched them back, I noticed I kept saying 'excellent' over and over again. But they are getting better. And I am much more confident now." Efforts to land visiting former president Bill Clinton and pop star Mariah Carey as guests fell through. But he recently had an exclusive interview with the magician David Copperfield, on tour in the People's Republic. Other guests have included local celebrities and a mix of foreigners and locals with quirky hobbies or outspoken views on fairly tame subjects. In censorship-heavy China, Small Talk tends to focus on light social themes: keeping a pet, family life, outdoor sports (the host is a budding triathlete). Attempts to introduce more controversial subjects meet resistance—Gallinelli has recorded shows on sex education and tattoos, which never aired.

Chinese programming today is a bit like 1970s American TV—laden with variety shows and melodramas, with an added heavy reliance on kung-fu serials. Talk shows have made a stir only in the last few years. "I think this has the opportunity to keep me going for 10 years," Gallinelli says of the show, though the monthly wage—a few thousand yuan (several hundred U.S. dollars)—means television work is apt to remain a sidelight.

Still, Gallinelli finds himself propelled into celebrity. "You'd think it would be college students and foreigners who would recognize me, since the show is in English," he says. "But it's usually taxi drivers and fruit stall holders, the ordinary people in the street."

Arthur Jones

Arthur Jones is a writer based in Shanghai.


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