TV shows turn to conversation, introspection

By Rumy Doo

Korean entertainment takes a more contemplative approach in the new year

  • Published : Jan 2, 2017 - 15:47
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2017 - 15:50

Korean variety programs seem set to steer away from rowdy physical games and loud laughs this year.

Featuring celebrities conversing with strangers on the street, preparing food for one, or even imagining an imminent death and reflecting on life, TV shows that are calmer and more introspective will occupy a greater presence on the small screen in 2017.

Talk on the street

The JTBC program “Talking Street” has been spotlighting both famous and lesser-known figures from various areas, including celebrities, politicians, artists and businesspeople, who engage in frank conversation with a small group of people on the streets of Seoul.

Rubbing shoulders with passers-by outdoors, the featured speakers share memorable experiences or speak about the principles they live by. Some seek to offer criticism on Korean society.

Wednesday’s upcoming episode will star a varied bunch -- Kim Yoon-ah, rock band Jaurim’s vocalist, who released her eighth album “The Pain of Others” last month; Ghanaian television personality Sam Okyere, who will talk about the discrimination and stereotypes he has faced in the world of Korean entertainment; and Mayor Lee Jae-myung of Seongnam, who is gaining attention as a strong potential contender in the presidential race this year.

Lee -- often referred to as Korea’s Bernie Sanders -- will continue his outspoken denouncement of Korea’s elitism and crony capitalism on the show, according to JTBC. Lee will primarily be talking to passers-by about “how to escape the hardship of living in modern Korea,” the cable network said.

The show’s producer Jung Hyo-min said he tries to pay close attention to what stories his audience -- both the live audience in the street and TV viewers -- are interested in hearing. “It’s open to anybody with a story to tell,” he said. Viewers can recommend speakers on the show’s website.

“In most lectures, people can’t leave even if the content gets boring,” said Jung. “But in busking performances, you can get up to leave or even request songs you want. This is what (the show) is like.”

TV personality Tyler Rasch talks to audience on the street in JTBC’s “Talking Street.” (JTBC)
TV personality Kwak Jung-eun talks to audience on the street in JTBC’s “Talking Street.” (JTBC)

Dying well

In cable network tvN’s “My Last 48 Hours,” celebrities imagine they only have two days left on earth, reflect on the hours they have lived and simulate wrapping up their lives. Some choose to spend time with loved ones, while others repair broken relationships.

“In my 20s, I lived as many different characters. I was surrounded by people but always felt empty,” said actress Park Ha-sun, 29, who starred in Wednesday’s episode. She visited her old middle school, meeting with old teachers and reminiscing about her school years.

According to producer Jeon Sang-ho, people are contemplating on how to “die well” as Korea transitions into an aging society.

“I believe we’re living in an age where we’re thinking about death more actively,” Jeon told reporters at a November press conference for his show. “Death can be a natural way to look back on the joys of life. It shouldn’t be a taboo.”

Fancier convenience store food

“Raid the Convenience Store” is a new show arriving amid the rise in the number of those living alone in Korea and the proliferation of convenience stores’ private brand products that target these consumers. It is set to begin airing on Jan. 13 on cable channel tvN.

On the show, the featured celebrities will pair different food items found at convenience stores to create unique, tasty new dishes that require minimum effort.

The show is a twist on the cooking shows that have been dominating the Korean variety show genre for several years. The cast -- featuring K-pop singers Yoon Doo-joon and Wendy, rapper DinDin, comedian Lee Soo-geun and others -- will have to whip up dishes using only ingredients found in convenient stores.

“Modern city people are always running short on time, but at the same time, they’re looking for enjoyment through snacks and meals,” said producer Lee Yoon-ho. “The show will be offering both tasty and convenient new food.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)