An American stand-up comedian Bill Hicks once said “We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” As an entertainer, he felt that the consumers and suppliers of entertainment are bound to respond to the evolution of the entertainment itself – with more creativity and originality. One of Korea’s cable broadcasting stations Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Corporation (JTBC) seems to be following the steps of evolution, as the entertainment programs exhibit excellent creativity and fresh approach towards fun.
In recent years, entertainment programs have become more diversified than ever. TV broadcasting channels are providing the audience with extended options, as music programs branch out to audition programs and existing programs are seeking better ways to stay popular in the market.
In Korea, the most well-known and long-lived entertainment programs are ones produced by the three major public TV channels, Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Korean Broadcasting System (KBS). Most people are familiar with programs like Happy Together, One-night, Two-days and Infinite Challenge, as most viewers enjoy funny scenes portrayed by the programs’ MCs and casts. However, the popularity of public TV channel programs is, if not rising, on a mediocre scale. These days, TV channels of comprehensive programming are emerging as the new potential in the field of broadcasting, especially in entertainment.
TV channels of comprehensive programming, also called jongpyun in Korean, are channels that broadcast programs of all genres, including news, drama, entertainment, and the liberal arts program. One such channel is JTBC, which was established in 2011. This channel is offering entertainment programs of the new paradigm to the viewing audience. Knowing exactly the demand of viewers and fulfilling that demand with a creative approach is the determining factor behind JTBC’s success.
One distinct characteristic of comprehensive TV channels makes it easier for their producers to be more creative. Jung Hyomin, who is the general producer of JTBC’s famous program Witch Hunt, has pointed out a structural feature of the company that creates an atmosphere conducive to new ideas. “In the case of the three major public TV channels, they are equipped with a very stable organization due to their long tradition. This makes it hard to suggest ideas that are beyond the conventional norms.”
This evaluation comes from his personal experience of working for SBS as a novice producer. “In my case, I wanted to design a program that was targeted to the younger generation, but in SBS, that was not possible because for the company, viewing ratings matter, and considering the ratings, I only ended up designing programs for the elderly.”
However, when he moved to JTBC in 2011, the same year that the company was established, new opportunities opened for him. Jung points out that JTBC consists of producers and writers who used to work for the three major broadcasting channels. The reason why they gave up stable positions and opted for less stable ones is because they wanted to try out new ideas. “JTBC is a congregation of workers that are ready to try something new, and when we get an inspiration, we just talk about it and if it turns out to be a good item, we just give it a try. That is basically how all programs kick off.” Such, flexibility and freedom are two of the biggest advantages of a newly-created broadcasting channel.
Jung’s Witch Hunt is an entertainment program that freely talks about people’s love business, even boldly delving into topics related to sex with a touch of humor. “We say that Korean society is quite conservative towards having x-rated subjets, but if you think about it, young people these days are not conservative at all, and people in the 40s and 50s are also not so conservative after all.” In short, there was a demand for a program like Witch Hunt, and JTBC fulfilled it.
JTBC entertainment programs are in this way different from many others as they do not rely on the typical slapstick comedy. Unlike one celebrity-does-it-all entertainment programs, JTBC creates communication with its viewers. For example, in Witch Hunt, two non-celebrities, Heo Ji Woong and Gwak Jung Eun, are the regular cast, and they discuss relationship problems from the perspective of ordinary people. This gives more common ground for viewers to sympathize with and is a big part of the program’s success. As Jung Hyomin said, “I do not think that Witch Hunt was a breakthrough in changing the atmosphere of the society, but it definitely made it more comfortable to talk about relationships and sex.”
The channel also knows how to kill two birds with one stone. Its entertainment programs are fun but edifying at the same time. For example, Ssuljeon is an issue review talk show that helps educate the audience by discussing controversial social issues from different perspectives. A program that started in July, Abnormal Summit Talk, highlights the characteristics of various cultures and their differences. With eleven members from different countries, they share ideas on familiar issues such as cohabitation, the problems of Korean English education and the necessity of sex education. From watching this, viewers can see that perspectives vary according to culture.
The entertainment business is brutal. The audience is going to switch the channel when programs fail to entertain them. JTBC is a broadcasting channel that understands consumer demand and responds to it with plenty of fun and value. The three major public TV channel –SBS, MBC and KBS – are still the dominant figures in Korean broadcasting, but you never know who is going to be the next up-and-comer in the entertainment business.