Reality Shows – How TV industry negotiates with changes in contemporary masculinity [1]

By Thu Ngo

On 30 January 2013, in an interview with Korean Newsen, Im Hyung-taek, Director of Running Man confirmed the show’s filming schedule in early February in Vietnam. This news when coming out actually made headlines of many Vietnamese online newspapers after shaking the local fan-sites of this show.

Running Man is a Korean reality-variety show produced by SBS (Seoul Broadcast Station) which officially ran in 2010 as a part of the station’s Good Sunday lineup. Like many other media products of the so-called “Hallyu” or “Korean Wave”, the show has moved beyond the Korean border and gained its popularity throughout Asia. Back in 2008, probably no Vietnamese people except fans of Korean pop culture knew Yoo Jae-suk but now, even my mother recognises him. That is an example to see how massive the show has been now.

Picture 1: Running Man and its main cast (Photo courtesy:

Picture 1: Running Man and its main cast (Photo courtesy:

Running Man may be the most successful reality-variety show of Korea in the global market until now but it is definitely not the first one of its kind. After the huge success of MBC (another major broadcast station of Korea)’s Infinite Challenge, reality-variety shows have been a favoured specialty of Korean TV industry.

“Variety show” as defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a theatrical entertainment of successive separate performances (as of songs, dances, skits, and acrobatic feats.” Yet it is obvious that Korean variety shows are not just so. The cast of the shows is not given out a line-for-line script to read; and the scenes are not shot in a professional studio. With the inclusion of celebrities giving non-scripted reactions in staged situations, I think Korean variety shows are more likely “reality shows”. In fact, this character has been considered as “fresh ideas and competitive edges in the world market” (“Korean variety shows repeat success abroad” 2013). Indeed, Korean entertainment industry has gained a huge profit from such shows. Many Asian countries have purchased licenses of Korea’s such shows. China’s Hunan Satellite localised MBC’s reality show We Got Married. The rights of Running Man have been sold to nine countries including China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam (ibid.).

Another thing to note about Korean entertainment shows is the domination of men in the shows. It is easy to name signature entertainment shows that are all-men or men-dominating: MBC’s Infinite Challenge, KBS’s Happy Sunday – One Night Two Days, and SBS’s Running Man. In fact, there is a significant increase in programs and shows that highlight men’s interests such as military and hunting (MBC’s Real Men, SBS’s The Law of the Jungle) or reveal men’s personal lives (MBC’s I Live Alone). Such programs not only touch the right chords with male viewers but are also said to impress female viewers. According to the Dong-a Ilbo, the leading newspaper of Korea, the number of female viewers to MBC’s Real Men, which is about military life, is even 10% higher than that of male ones (45%).

One of the trends that I have interests in the Korean TV shows today is programs on male celebrities and their kids. Two most popular ones are MBC’s Dad, Where Are We Going? and KBS’s Happy Sunday – The Return of Superman. The former made its debut in January 2013 and has already finished its Season 1 after one year on air. The later had its pilot episode on air on the Chuseok 2013 (Korean Mid-Autumn Festival) and is still on-going, and by the time I am writing this, there have been 21 Episodes aired. On these TV shows, celebrity fathers and their kids spend time by traveling and playing together without mothers. With the average rating of over 10% nationwide, the two shows represent a new trend in TV programs that is now sweeping over the country. In fact, the MBC show has its license purchased by China’s Hunan Television and the Chinese version with some adjustment attained a big success in the local market as well.



So, what accounts for this trend’s popularity in first of all, Korea? What is the cultural background that makes this type of program coming out?

[to be continued?]



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