Should TV Actors Be Paid Exorbitant Fees?

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Lee Seon-min

    December 12, 2008 12:40

    Actress Kang Soo-yeon, who appeared in the 2001 SBS TV drama "Ladies in the Palace," was paid W4 million (US$1=W1,364) to W5 million per episode. Kim Hye-soo who appeared in the 2002 drama "Jang Hee-bin" and Lee Young-ae from the 2003 drama "Jewel in the Palace" received W6 million per episode. That jumped in 2005 to W15 million per episode received by actress Jeon Do-yeon in the SBS drama "Lovers in Prague." By 2006, Ko Hyun-jung was being paid W25 million for the MBC drama "Foxy Lady," while in 2007, Kwon Sang-woo got W50 million per episode of the KBS drama "Bad Love." In the MBC drama "East of Eden" currently being shown on MBC, Song Seung-hun receives W70 million per episode.

    The dramatic jump in fees for soap opera protagonists was caused by the huge overseas successes enjoyed by dramas "Winter Sonata" and "Jewel in the Palace" in 2004. Increasing numbers of Independent drama production companies began to compete, raising appearance fees in order to draw the top stars. We even saw a seesaw effect, whereby a rise in one star's appearance fee led to rising fees paid to rival actors.

    Excessively high appearance fees paid to the lead characters damage other parts of the program. Supporting actors fade into the background, while lighting, stage set-ups, make up and filming lower in quality. We end up seeing rich people living in huge houses without maids or chauffeurs, while supposedly grand battle scenes in historical dramas show just a handful of warriors. In scenes involving bad weather, even the raindrops fall only in front of the camera lens and not elsewhere.

    TV drama producers at the major network stations are striving to find solutions to this dilemma. They are looking into capping appearance fees at W15 million per episode, while lowering the budget for actors to 40 to 50 percent of total production costs, compared to the present 60 percent. Producers say they cannot wait any longer for solutions, since ratings are declining, while advertising revenues are shrinking too.

    Meanwhile, independent drama production companies have decided to ban Park Shin-yang, saying the actor demanded exorbitant appearance fees. Recently, Park filed a suit demanding W170 million per additional episode of the 2007 SBS drama "War of Money," which he claims he was promised. In contrast, actor Kwon Sang-woo said he would accept less than W15 million per episode and donate 10 percent of that money to financially troubled actors. Actress Kim Hae-sook is also said to have voluntarily cut her appearance fee by 30 percent.

    Of the 1,670 TV drama actors in Korea, only 200 live off their appearance fees. It is everyone's hope that actors will take voluntary steps to deal with the problem of exorbitant appearance fees.

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