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(News Focus) U.S. remake remains challenge for Korean dramas

All Headlines 16:07 October 17, 2016

By Lee Haye-ah and Youn Go-eun

SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- Watching Korean dramas in the United States is nothing new. From melodramas to historical sagas, K-dramas have gained such a wide audience in the U.S. that the video streaming site Viki even created a spoof capturing all the cliches of Korean series.

The next step now is to create a market for Korean drama remakes, a move industry watchers say would catapult the local drama industry to new heights and solidify its foothold in the global broadcasting business.

There's been some success in the variety show category, with reports that U.S. broadcaster NBC is set to produce season 2 of "Better Late Than Never," a remake of the Korean cable channel show "Grandpas Over Flowers."

Season 1 drew an audience of 7.35 million after premiering on Aug. 23, and ranked No. 1 in terms of viewership among programs in the same time slot.

A poster for the SBS series "My Love from the Star" (Yonhap)

It's clear dramas have tried to make similar forays into the U.S. TV market. Among the most talked about was the 2013 tvN series "Nine: Nine Time Travels," which nearly reached a deal with Fake Empire Productions to produce a remake for ABC. That project fell through.

The KBS series "Good Doctor" and the hugely popular SBS series "My Love from the Star" were also reportedly on their way to remakes in the U.S., but those never materialized either.

Last October, KBS announced it had joined with U.S. producers to remake five dramas -- "Full House," "Resurrection," "Iris," "Brain," and "Orange Marmalade." Not much has been publicized since.

"As long as we maintain contact and keep working with the U.S. side, I think we'll eventually see a successful remake," said an official from KBS's drama department. "The fact that the U.S. is paying attention to Korean dramas in itself shows the marketability of Korean dramas."

A poster for the KBS legal drama "My Lawyer, Mr. Jo" (Yonhap)

In the U.S., some 300-500 series are conceived each year, but only about 50 of them are made into pilot programs. Depending on their success in the pilot stage, three or four are chosen to go on air.

"A remake contract usually comes with a two-year deadline, and if the pilot program isn't made within two years, it's safe to say the project is over," said an official at Zyon Entertainment, which was involved in the remake project for "Nine: Nine Time Travels."

"It's that difficult to enter the American broadcasting market," he said.

The most recent addition to the list of possible remakes is the KBS legal drama "My Lawyer, Mr. Jo," which just last week was reported to be in the pipeline. The series, which aired from March to May this year, stars Park Shin-yang in the lead role of a promising prosecutor who rises above a career crisis to become a lawyer for the people. Helped by Park's stellar performance, the drama received favorable reviews and posted a viewership high of 17.3 percent.

Whether this one makes it on air could largely be determined by whether it passes the pilot stage.

A poster for the KBS series "Good Doctor" (Yonhap)

One successful remake could be all it takes to break the barrier to a much larger English-speaking audience around the world, according to industry watchers. If that happens, Korean dramas could diversify their "portfolio" away from China, which has so far been a major consumer of Korean cultural products.

"It's very encouraging that Korea, which was once an importer of U.S. dramas, is exporting our drama formats to the U.S.," said the Zyon Entertainment official. "There may be various hurdles before the final remake due to cultural differences, but if we keep trying, we'll soon see results."


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