July 01, 2011 13:16
Flipping to any channel in Korea, terrestrial or cable, is likely to take viewers to some kind of reality TV show. There are 10 survival audition programs on air at the moment, including "I Am a Singer" on MBC, "Dancing with the Stars" also on MBC, "Kim Yu-na's Kiss and Cry" on SBS and "Korea's Got Talent" on tvN. And several more are in the works.
Most of these programs compete for prime time weekend spots. Broadcasters cite lofty aims for these shows, such as discovering talented singers and actors and even bolstering the spirit of jobseekers. Occasionally, these programs do show moving scenes of contestants giving their best to achieve their goals and succeeding against the odds. But there are simply too many of these shows, and the overall effect is anything but positive.
The main problem is that they are all the same: contest, scathing assessment by a panel of judges, votes from viewers, and elimination of losers. Broadcasters say they cannot help this because the sameness is inherent in the format of reality TV. But it is probably more accurate to say that broadcasters have learned to condone outright copycatting by their rivals if their own program becomes a hit.
There are also signs of overheated competition as broadcasters fight over a limited number of viewers. The prize money given to winners has topped W100 million and even reached W500 million (US$1=W1,069). Judges outdo each other trying to come up with ever more lacerating criticism, leading to outright verbal abuse. One program drew criticism for wasting money by flying all its contestants and production crew to Hawaii to take part in contests like tower climbing or selling cocktails on the streets that could have been done in Seoul. And shows are becoming more ethically dubious, with contests involving cosmetic surgery and strangers moving in together to test their compatibility for married life.
Some criticize Korean broadcasters for plagiarizing American shows made a decade ago when they should be putting their heads together to come up with creative ideas to promote Korean pop culture. State-run broadcasters show programs that focus on cutthroat competition and reward only the winner. Some critics are saying that they foster a distorted view of competition among viewers. Already, many survival programs suffer from poor ratings. Viewers are not idiots. But broadcasters march blithely on and are busy competing with each other like racehorses. But they are all heading toward a cliff.
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