|Yoo Jun-sang, center, and other cast members of KBS new family drama "Live or Die" pose during a press conference at Amoris Hall in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Hankook Sports Economy|
By Park Jin-hai
In a bid to draw in fans and recover from prolonged viewership slumps, major broadcasters are calling in drama writers who are infamous for their controversial plotlines. Unlike cable channels such as tvN and JTBC that are becoming increasingly influential due to their high-quality dramas, major TV channels rely on the shock elements provided by soap operas.
With Kim Soon-ok's offering, "The Last Empress," on SBS currently topping ratings in the Wed-Thus drama time slot with 16-18 percent viewership, KBS called in notorious writer Moon Young-nam to rescue falling viewership.
KBS' new Wed-Thus drama "Live or Die," penned by Moon Young-nam, premiered Wednesday, is a story about Lee Poong-sang, played by Yoo Jun-sang, and his four troublemaking siblings.
Middle-aged Poong-sang, running a small car repair shop, has lived his whole life as a father figure, dedicated to his brothers and sisters, but his siblings always cause troubles.
"Traditional family values have crumbled and we face horrible news articles where families kill their own kin nearly on a daily basis. Families can be so much meaner to each other than to strangers," director Jin Hyung-wook said during a press conference at Amoris Hall in Seoul, Wednesday. "The writer wondered whether family is a source of power or burden to a person and that question led to this drama. Confronting dead-end situations, the drama will feature how each of the characters as a family go forward without losing hope."
As writer Moon was famed for taking cliched and predictable tearjerker plots and making them into powerful melodramas, as seen in her previous dramas "Famous Princesses" (2006) and "Wang's Family" (2013), drama fans can expect another tearful family story. "Wang's Family" had almost all characters arose uproars from drama fans in the provocative settings of adultery, marriage to kin and unfounded hatred, but its peak viewership reached nearly 50 percent.
"The dramas will not be without teary-eyed scenes. I think the writer's strength is in bringing characters to life, so that drama fans can feel empathy towards those characters," the director added.
In the meantime, SBS is faring well in ratings with "The Last Empress." The drama, written by Kim Soon-ok, shocked from the first episode, with explicit scenes of murder, violence and extramarital affairs to grab instant attention from viewers. A corpse was found in the palace garden; a female character hits the head of a mother-like figure and kills her; and there was a bubble bath scene between the king and his secret lover, to name a few popular points.
Industry insiders say that major TV networks have hired controversial writers as a safe choice for somewhat guaranteed ratings, rather than challenging themselves to make quality dramas. "After repeated failure in the viewership race against cable channels, those major TV stations chose instant and visible viewership over quality improvement. I hear often that our target is lifting viewership, not making influential quality dramas. That is to secure ratings and profits from TV commercials," said an official of a local TV station.