I recently finished Producer (2015), a Korean drama about the variety department at the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS). It follows the hilarious life of Seung-chan, a clumsy intern for the show, 1 Day 2 Nights (a real Korean TV show), as he learns what it means to be a producer (PD) for a variety show. Other main characters include Joon-mo, the head PD for 1D2N, Ye-jin, the head PD for Music Bank (also a real Korean TV show where singers and idols perform live), and Cindy, a top idol.
Producer is unique because it is filmed in a mockumentary style, making it a Korean version of The Office. It is so different from the other Korean dramas I have seen and I love how it incorporates cameos from real celebrities and current event references to shine light into a culture that I find absolutely fascinating – the Korean entertainment industry.
The three most interesting things from Producer were the unique characters, the concept of staying on top, and public masks.
Welcome to the 6th Floor
Honestly, I didn’t love any particular character after the first episode, but as the drama continued, I began to love the entire quirky cast of Producer. We have the clumsy intern, the scary senior, the unlucky manager, the hot intern who doesn’t give a damn about her seniors, the boss who is all talk but no walk, the admin lady who controls who can take more office supplies, etc. Every character has a distinct persona and adds onto the witty and random variety department of KBS.
It’s funny because although it is exaggerated, there are actually people like that in the office! The “unspoken office rules” are different for every office, but they definitely still exist. Producer shows us how these characters help and hinder office relationships and progress.
Staying on Top
Staying “on top” and relevant is a dominant theme in Producer and this is depicted in both the production of 1D2N and through the life of Cindy.
1D2N is a show that’s been running for over five years. In Producer, 1D2N is struggling with ratings and getting viewership, so Joon-Mo, Seung-chan, and the rest of the 1D2N team tries to rebrand the show with new cast and games, only to see no big changes. I especially liked the scene where Joon-Mo is explaining to Seung-chan the differences in producing a drama and a variety show (in my own paraphrasing).
“A drama is set with a certain number of episodes. When a drama ends, everybody goes out to celebrate. A variety show is different. You make something funny and the audience laughs and claps and asks for more. You don’t stop. You keep going, hoping that the audience will continue clapping for you. One day they will stop, and that is when a variety show ends. Nobody goes out to celebrate, it’s not something to celebrate about. It’s a sad ending for variety shows.”
Joon-Mo is actually a very likable character because he is kind to those around him. As the head PD, he handles the burden of a dying long-running program and his team members. He is upset that such a great show with a long history might end with him. But when a show has been running for so many years, it’s hard to keep audiences captivated.
Cindy is another example of how staying on top is so important. Cindy is a top idol who outshines the other members of her girl group and excels in her solo promotions. Because of this (and other reasons), the CEO of her management company favours her.
Near the end of the series, it is revealed that the CEO has a cruel turnover ritual. The CEO will use the existing idol and her popularity to kick-start a new idol (push them to do the same shows, endorsements, etc.) and then not renew the contract of the old idol. In addition, the CEO spreads malicious rumors and sabotages the old idol in order to stop them from getting new jobs or contracts, until they are finally shunned by the public and disappear from the entertainment scene.
It is interesting because this ritual is how Cindy reaches her stardom, and now it is her turn to become cruelly discarded and replaced. The notion that the audiences always want something or someone newer and fresher implies a never-ending battle for existing celebrities to feel desired or popular.
It’s somewhat sad, but this is how entertainment works, I guess. We, as an audience and as consumers, get bored of things fast.
“I have a good image.”
I thought the scene with the cameo appearance of Lee Seung-Gi is hilarious. Seung-Gi is one of the many celebrities in South Korea that have a very positive image. He is popular with a wide age range of fans through his acting and music, but the thing that stands out most is his golden reputation. He is just so kind! So nice and polite! No scandals about him (except dating ones, of course).
In one episode, Seung-Gi talks to Cindy and reveals how tired he is of “being nice” all the time, and talks about how there is a secret association of “nice celebrities” who get together and vent out their frustrations (includes national MC Yoo Jae-Suk). Cindy just rolls her eyes because she never branded herself as a “nice celebrity” since she did not want to pretend all the time. However, she earns a reputation for being rude, which is greatly frowned upon in South Korean culture.
The concept of wearing a public mask and “being nice” are essential in the Korean entertainment industry, as the celebrities who are categorized as “nice celebrities” are the ones who prosper in the long-term. It makes me wonder how many of them are genuine and how many do it to maintain their public image. I hear horror stories of netizens and anti-fans on how they harass celebrities they hate.
It’s funny because sometimes in American culture, we like celebrities even if they are rude or do stupid things because we find them honest and genuine. Fans defend these celebrities, saying, “People make mistakes”. Yet in South Korean culture, such celebrities would lose fan bases fast.
Although Producer focuses on the Korean entertainment industry, it is obvious that many themes and concepts can be applied to normal situations. Just like how Cindy craves for love from her fans and a “nice-celebrity” image, we also wish for affection and a positive image from people we don’t even know. And just like Seung-Chan learns, there are many important things we don’t learn from school.