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A Year of Big Changes and Small Setbacks for Korean TV

2005 will be remembered as a year of new trends in Korea's entertainment industry. On the one hand, there were the large-scale dramas starring big names that were clearly produced with an eye on Asian markets that showed themselves receptive to the Korean wave. But equally importantly, some smaller dramas then offered opportunities for new faces, who were cast as an afterthought when the original choice plumbed for the big-budget production.

Another distinct trend was the emergence of half-Korean actors to fill the gap left as one heartthrob after another trooped to barracks for his mandatory military service out of fear of alienating his fans. Last year, some stars were severely criticized for attempting to dodge their military service. With women power increasingly making its presence felt in every sector of society, it was no wonder that a new breed of assertive heroine captured the hearts of the public.

As for the people who brought us the shows, three major national terrestrial broadcasters suffered decreasing viewer ratings and more mishaps big and small than during any year in living memory.

Emergence of New Faces

As most big stars that led the Korean Wave -- Bae Yong-joon, Jang Dong-gun, Won-bin, and Choi Ji-woo -- moved on to the big screen or were cast in big TV productions, they made way for the emergence of new faces like Kim Ah-joong, Hyeon-bin, Jung Ryeo-won and Daniel Henney.

Big-Budget Productions

Large-scale dramas featuring big names popular throughout Asia as leading lights of the Korean Wave were produced for export as much as domestic consumption, if not more so, often with an international setting to boot. Among them were "Sad Love Story", which starred kwon Sang-woo and Kim Hee-sun, "Love Story in Havard" starring Kim Rae-won and Kim Tae-hee, "Super Rookie", in which K-pop star Eric Moo played a leading part, and "Lovers in Prague", which cast Kim Joo-hyuk and Jeon Do-yeon.

Some of these shows failed to achieve the viewer ratings at home that their makers had hoped for, but that did little to affect their exports, so the big-budget dramas are likely to stay with us next year.

The Acting Regiment

Top actors including So Ji-sup, Yeon Jung-hoon, Won-bin and singer and former member of boy band H.O.T. Moon Hee-jun added to a list of high-profile conscripts this year, following Song Seung-heon, Jang Hyuk, and Han Jae-suk who went off to barracks last year. (Song, Jang and Han enlisted only after a scandal following the discovery that they tried to dodge the draft.) In the resulting dearth of stars, entertainment management struggled to find promising new actors -- and some experts say that is why half-Korean stars like Daniel Henney and Dennis Oh'Neil got their shot at the big time.

Heroines With Names Ending in - soon

This year, independent-minded heroines whose names for some reason ended in -soon enjoyed huge popularity, starting with Sam-soon in "My Name is Kim Sam-soon". She was joined by Geum-soon in "Be Strong, Geum-Soon!" and Maeng-soon in "Rosy Life". These heroines (a woman who fears she may have been left on the shelf, a single mom and a housewife) looked like the girl next door and cared little about their appearance, but they were headstrong and determined. Dramas in this vein netted on average 30 percent viewer ratings.

Falling Ratings for Terrestrial TV Dramas

But overall, ratings for terrestrial TV drama were lackluster. On occasion, the combined viewer ratings for dramas aired on three terrestrial broadcasts slipped to less than 50 percent. Partly that was because the advent of cable TV channels, VOD (video-on-demand) services and games means viewers can now entertain themselves without their regular soap fix, signaling that the trend will grow in the future.

Mishaps and Scandals

This year saw a series of scandals both big and small in the entertainment world. First and most tragically, star actress Lee Eun-joo's suicide sent shockwaves through the nation. Then terrestrial broadcaster MBC angered some viewers with a series of indecent exposures at family viewing time. In July, members of the alternative rock group Couch exposed -- well, their members on a live program, and four months later a man's private parts were fully if dimly revealed in the soap opera "Sweet Spy".

Wedding Bells

As usual, this year saw fans grow misty-eyed when top entertainers tied the knot. Among the highlights, actor Yeon Jung-hoon and actress Han Ga-in became husband and wife in April. In October, the emphatically retired actress Shim Eun-ha -- heroine of films like "Christmas in August" and "The Art Museum By The Zoo" -- and Ji Sang-wook got hooked.


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