For some time now food has been a topic of interest for Koreans as evidenced by the deluge of bloggers writing about notable restaurants and dishes, discussing cuisine, sharing recipes, and posting food journals. As one of the most common Korean greetings “Have you eaten?” hints at us, eating is more than a daily activity, especially in the context of when many Koreans couldn’t afford to eat.
Today, food is available in greater quantities and varieties, especially on television. Programs like Gourmet Road and Tasty Road take viewers to various restaurants and televise celebrities devouring delicious meals. Chef’s Midnight Snack (ended in April) and Best Cooking Know-How invite distinguished chefs and culinary experts to share their special recipes in front of the camera. You can opt for culinary reality shows (Master Chef Korea, Korean Food War) and documentaries about food (Korean Food Table). With “mokbang” (eating broadcast), you get to watch others eat. Lastly, there’s plenty of little children gobbling food on shows like The Return of the Superman.
Three Meals a Day, What Shall We Eat Today, and Take Good Care of the Refrigerator are latest additions to food TV. They extend existing food shows by incorporating elements that have been successful elsewhere. Three Meals a Day’s producer Na Young-seok is a household name in the variety genre that many people are naturally curious about his latest work, which attests to a growing interest in moving to countrysides and/or starting a farm to harvest organic crops. Shin Dong-yeop and Sung Si-kyung who have more than displayed their wit as co-hosts of a different show bring their magic and appetite to What Shall We Eat Today. Take Good Care of the Refrigerator literally brings celebrities’ refrigerators to the studio for chefs, some of whom are quite popular, to create something edible out of the items found inside the appliances. That’s plenty of food for television in 2015.
Jang Geu-rae and Workers
The name Jang Geu-rae meant something to everyone. Even the Korean government wants to do something about Jang Geu-rae by reforming the labor market. Labor groups want to make sure all the Geu-raes out there have a chance to become permanent workers. Jang Geu-rae is a temp employee at a major conglomerate. He is conscientious, productive, and a team player but is not eligible for continued employment with the company because the system dictating those decisions doesn’t work that way.
While several stories of people on the fringes struggling against those who abuse their power gained traction last year, it was Jang Geu-rae and the many workers that he represents who made a lasting impression on the TV watching public.
First Day of Work, which ran its final episode in December, involved celebrities working at an actual company for a week as rank-and-file employees. Invisible Human starring Kang Ho-dong is a new show that purports to brighten up workers by inviting them to compete against a group of celebrities in various games. Because Misaeng was so widely popular and Jang Geu-rae still very much a living character, I believe we will see more shows that endorse the hard, honorable lives of workers.
Games and Players
Many new variety shows cropped up last year. Non Summit probably the most noteworthy one even though it’s had some trials of its own. While I watched less and less of Radio Star, War of Words, and Witch Hunt, I followed every episode of The Genius – Black Garnet, a reality show in which players compete in games that not only test their comprehension and logic but also their ability to gel with others and work them to your benefit. With a cast consisting of celebrities and brilliant citizens culled by the show creators who offer players tangible incentives to win, the show contained many elements one would find in a good story, but it presented them using a different format.
Lost Couples, which aired its first episode in December, is another show with a game element. Five couples gather for a three-day outing, but their identities are undisclosed. Participants must find out who is seeing whom and vote them out each night until only two couples remain. Winning couples win money. Making guesses about who is with whom and watching participants examine and deceive to gather clues and gain an edge make this show entertaining.
More than individual talent or charm counts. Players are challenged to interact with one another and viewers are encouraged to engage by making correct guesses. Lost Couples isn’t big yet and may not end up amassing recognition primarily because of its cast of ordinary citizens, but the success of The Genius conveyed the relevance of programs that integrate well thought-out games and players testing their analytical and social savvy.
Web and Mobile Dramas
One of my favorite shows from last year is Some Man Some Woman (썸남썸녀) or “Wedding Fever” in English. 11 people go to a “date camp” for a week. Those who couple up and get married win a handsome amount of money. The date camp mimics the match-making reality show that used to air on SBS, but this one is completely fictional with a cute story line and hilarious characters. The content of the show, directed by Yoon Sung-ho who himself must have some serious aptitude for humor, is great, but the way it was distributed is noteworthy.
It premiered as a free web drama on Storyball, which is a content sharing platform developed by DaumKakao, a tech company that runs the web portal Daum and the mobile messenger Kakao Talk. Each episode usually lasted about 10 minutes, with some longer episodes here and there. Once the 12-episode show ended on Storyball, it was moved to other online outlets for paid viewing. TV Cast serviced by Naver, another tech company, features numerous web dramas. It’s not just small, independent productions making web dramas. KBS released its first web drama last fall via TV Cast. Samsung also has its own web drama featuring Minah from Girls’ Day. Companies like JYP, Loen, and Fantasio that already maintain access to a variety of actors and actresses have jumped on the bandwagon.
Dramas on television cost much to make, but the advertising revenue that helps to finance those shows is on the decline. People increasingly consume media when they want to and on devices other televisions. Web dramas that cost less and take less time to produce provide an alternative to creators, some of whom are eager to take advantage of this new format to diversify K-drama. At the moment, it appears that platforms like TV Cast (Naver), Storyball and TV Pot (Daum) are monetizing by selling ads that come before/after an episode and by providing the first few episodes of a show for free and then charging a fee for subsequent episodes. This is similar to how serial webtoons are serviced. Although it may take a while for creators and platforms to nail down a sustainable business model, for top celebrities join a web drama, and for consumers to habitually check in at streaming sites to view web/mobile dramas, I believe we will see more web dramas in 2015.