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(News Focus) Arms wide open? Big stars cold-shouldered in recent TV comebacks

All Headlines 09:00 April 23, 2017

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, April 23 (Yonhap) -- With a sea of channels and a torrent of shows to watch, television networks are constantly formulating ways to grab even the slightest attention of viewers in an ever-competitive ratings race.

In the past, an easy-yet-costly way to achieve the goal was to spend a considerable amount of money to cast top-billed stars; conventional wisdom being that with big names you get big visibility -- especially if the star is making a comeback after a long time.

But this tried-and-true formula of "you get what you pay for" and bringing back legendary TV icons from the past no longer appears relevant, at least so far in 2017. On the contrary, recent dismal comebacks of past megastars are prompting TV executives to ask themselves "What went wrong?"

This composite file photo shows Lee Young-ae and Song Seung-heon in the SBS TV series "Saimdang, Memoir of Colors." (Yonhap)

One of the most-anticipated TV shows this year has been SBS TV's "Saimdang, Memoir of Colors," a high-budget time-slip fantasy that premiered in late January. The series brought mega "hallyu" star Lee Young-ae back to television for the first time in 13 years.

But Lee, star of the legendary hit Korean drama "Daejanggeum," and the SBS drama produced at a cost of 10 billion won (US$8.84 million), have been dogged by an underwhelming reception due to a slow and discombobulated time-slip plot. It has hovered around the 8-11 percent viewership range throughout its broadcast, outshone by KBS 2TV's "Good Manager" before and now by "Queen of Mystery."

Weaker-than-expected ratings in the early parts of the show -- based on Shin Saimdang (1504-1551), Korea's maternal icon associated with raising the Korean Confucian scholar Yi Yulgok of the Joseon Dynasty -- prompted showrunners to re-edit the entirety of the 30-episode series. SBS TV said it has cut out two episodes.

In late February, about a month after the premiere of "Saimdang," Ko So-young, another Korean TV icon from the past, graced the late-night drama scene with "Ms. Perfect" on KBS 2TV. The show also marked a comeback for Ko, a former sexy icon and the wife of star actor Jang Dong-gun, after 10 years.

But "Ms. Perfect" premiered to a lackluster 3.9 percent nationwide viewership and has had virtually no chance at overcoming larger rivals "Defendant" and "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" to this day.

This composite photo captured from a highlight reel of "Ms. Perfect" shows lead star Ko So-young playing her character Shim Jae-bok. (Yonhap)

tvN's Friday-Saturday prime time show "Chicago Typewriter" is also languishing in the 2-percent range. The show stars the talismanic star actor Yoo Ah-in and actress Lim Soo-jung, who returns to TV for the first time in 13 years.

"Chicago Typewriter" is another time-slip series that in many ways is reminiscent of tvN's recent hit show "Guardian." Both have a story moving along two parallel timelines and fantasy/supernatural elements. But ratings-wise, "Chicago Typewriter" is nowhere near "Guardian," which rewrote cable TV ratings history. At least not yet.

Experts attribute this trend to the recent viewing trend of leaning more towards a drama's overall story rather than its star power, especially given the increasing viewing options becoming available.

"People nowadays tend to watch a serial TV show focusing on whether the story is well written or not. A legendary star's comeback may create buzz in the beginning but that can only go so far," said Ha Jae-keun, a Seoul-based cultural commentator.

This composite image shows the lead cast of tvN's "Chicago Typewriter" Yoo Ah-in, Lim Soo-jung and Ko Kyung-pyo. (from L to R) (Yonhap)


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