프로듀사 (The Producers)

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12 Episodes
A KBS Production
Timeslot: Friday and Saturday Evening, 09:15 PM
Genre: Workplace Drama
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 75 Minutes
Ran from: 2015/May/15~Jun/20

WITH 차태현 (Cha Tae-Hyun) as Ra Jun-Mo; 공효진 (Gong Hyo-Jin) as Tak Ye-Jin; 김수현 (Kim Soo-Hyun) as Baek Seung-Chan; 아이유 (IU) as Cindy; 박혁권 (Park Hyeok-Kwon) as Kim Tae-Ho; 김종국 (Kim Jong-Guk) as Kim Hong-Soon; 예지원 (Ye Ji-Won) as Go Yang-Mi; 조윤희 (Jo Yoon-Hee) as Shin Hye-Joo; 최권 (Choi Kwon) as Cindy's Road Manager; 김종수 (Kim Jong-Soo) as Seung-Chan's Father; 김혜옥 (Kim Hye-Ok) as Seung-Chan's Mother; 나영희 (Na Young-Hee) as Byeon Mi-Sook; 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung) as Herself;

CREW Production Director 표민수 (Pyo Min-Soo) B-Team Director 서수민 (Seo Soo-Min) Main Writer 박지은 (Park Ji-Eun) 김지선 (Kim Ji-Seon) Executive Producer 문석환 (Moon Seok-Hwan) 오광희 (Oh Gwang-Hee) Planning 박중민 (Park Jong-Min) Director of Photography 지재우 (Ji Jae-Woo) 박기현 (Park Gi-Hyeon) Lighting 정길용 (Jung Gil-Yong) Editor 김영주 (Kim Young-Joo) Art Director KBS Artvision 이항 (Lee Hang) Music 김한조 (Kim Han-Jo) Action Choreography 홍상석 (Hong Sang-Seok) Assistant Producer 서동락 (Seo Dong-Rak) 정승원 (Jung Seung-Won) 곽근수 (Kwak Geun-Soo) 전윤기 (Jeon Yoon-Gi)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 17.7% (06/20 - E12)
LOWEST: 10.1% (05/15 - E01)
AVERAGE: 12.48%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Photo ⓒ KBS

SYNOPSIS

At the centre of Yeouido, there is a building which never goes to sleep 24/7; It's Korean Broadcasting System(KBS). And inside the building, on the sixth floor, people are busy working between the partitions who produce renowned variety shows including "Two Days and One Night," "Music Bank," "Gag Concert," "The Return of Superman," "Vitamin," "Entertainment Weekly," "Korea Sings," and more. Here, which seems to be an ordinary office, the highly-educated are being treated as a fool when their programs record low ratings even after hectic work schedule of filming, editing, and all-night meetings. This drama features various anecdotes about producers and non-producers happening in Entertainment Department. [And Assorted Petting] [KBS World]

FIRST LOOK

The (subjectively, admittedly) cool thing about “growing up” during K-drama's often mind-boggling early 1990s had a lot to do with the sensation that you were part of something that had a pulse, something able to excite viewers beyond the simple concept of acceptance. And the excitement was mutual, reciprocated by the people behind and in front of the camera – as plenty of dramas back in the day were brimming with passion. When you'd find yourself watching shows that were recording 60% ratings and that literally cleared the streets in the evening – 모래시계 (The Sandglass) docet, but that's only the most frequently cited example – you knew that you weren't just watching popular TV, but a veritable buzz-worthy event the likes of which today's fans are regrettably unfamiliar with. Of course there's the issue that I wasn't living in Korea at the time and the most I could get out of the video rental ajumma down the street were fastidiously specific spoilers about the shows I was renting, but that's beside the point. Dramas were ahead of the curve in a certain way, or at least were harmoniously able to tag along whenever that curve (and all the trends that came with it) decided to change course. You could feel a vibe permeating even the most conventional of them. It wasn't always quality, but even the crap was somewhat endearing – because of how passionate it was.

What we're witnessing now, especially for those who were there back in the day (over two decades ago! Scary), is a bit of an eerie wake-up call: dramas are not only no longer a relevant pop culture item in Korea, the industry doesn't even begin to comprehend or even ponder upon what the problem is. Suddenly you're reading of variety shows doing better export numbers in China than dramas and selling formats, of timeslot reshuffles involving dramas passing the torch to variety because it's a lot cheaper and more profitable to throw a bunch of celebrities pretending to have fun inside a studio than having to come up with compelling stories acted out in a compelling way. You see an environment when scoring two digits for a weekday drama is already quite the feat, and the list of top rating drawers feature tales of vindictive daughters-in-law and downtrodden ajumma serving their vengeful dish with makjang on the side in a depressing home drama sweep.

KBS might not be as desperate as its other big 3 brethren (after all their staples, the KBS1 evening daily and the KBS2 weekend makjang, are still doing pretty well), but programming a show like 프로듀사 (The Producers) reeks of desperately complacent laziness and lack of foresight, for a variety of reasons (if you pardon the pun).

First, because jumping on the Friday-Saturday drama bandwagon that has proved very profitable for jTBC and tvN – think of the record-breaking rating exploits of 하녀들 (Maids) and 미생 (Misaeng) – ignores that those shows (especially the latter) have managed to cut a niche market for themselves because of perception and not their content, something that took CJ E&M nearly a decade to build. The conglomerate (which essentially controls two thirds of the cable TV landscape) has painstakingly worked to create the notion that watching cable dramas on Fridays (and possibly Saturdays) is cool, by carefully going in a slightly different direction genre-wise, attempting to appeal to long-abandoned target demographics – like the white collar professional who now sees the Big 3s' output as a cesspool of soapy makjang and flimsy nonsense for teenagers. Until KBS and all network stations shed their image of being the old, plodding 800-pound gorilla in a room full of young and sprightly newcomers, good luck with establishing anything more than a temporary foothold in this new hot timeslot.

What also reeks of desperation is what the station has concocted, especially on paper: melodrama shlockmeister Pyo Min-Soo has belatedly joined the fray as director, snazzy catchphrase machine Park Ji-Eun took writing credits, and young sensation Kim Soo-Hyun headlines a cast which features starlet-turned-occasional-actress IU, super talented Gong Hyo-Jin and multitainer-cum-variety-legend Cha Tae-Hyun. In the variety equivalent of 그들이 사는 세상 (Worlds Within). Nothing screams “please watch us, we're still relevant” like a drama trying to mingle with and in the variety world.

But all right, let's be open minded and see where it takes us, right? Meta-dramas are inherently fascinating, although it's perennially been a genre rife with difficulties in Korea, for reasons we will expound soon enough. The start seems promising enough, perfunctorily delving into the process behind the making of a variety program – going all the way to the anachronistically depressing influence the Broadcasting Commission has on the tone of the show (and if you believe that's a parody trying to exaggerate things… reality is much worse than you think). It even hints at a modicum of research on the writer's part, highlighting the history of the medium in a somewhat organic way (like when Seung-Chan studies the peculiarities that made Shim Hyung-Rae's famous Young-Gu work). You then notice a narrative expedient that still has plenty of untapped potential in a Korean context – the mockumentary.

Park is trying to ooze (or ape, depending on your point of view) the breezy, brilliant zaniness of Ricky Gervais' The Office, but she (and Pyo) fails miserably when she mistakes what should be an invisible interlocutor that slowly gains a certain dramatic rhythm of its own (like in Gervais' show) for a simple gimmick you can revert to to punctuate dramatic transitions in a quirky way. That's something the young star writer needs to learn if she wants her shows to be considered more than poseur fluff: you can't just use whatever makes a mark in pop culture without first understanding the context within which it emerged, and what made it work. This is just churning out headline-friendly catchphrases and lazily “breaking the fourth wall” without first worrying about constructing a solid, three-dimensional world you can eventually break from.

I suppose I'd be a lot more in tune with what both Park and Pyo were doing if I wasn't assaulted by the sneaking sensation that this was all an excuse, like taking yesteryear's dish and trying to sprice it up with some fancy new dressing – and I'm ignoring the gigantic warning signs coming from the media, promising heated-up melodrama from Episode 3 onwards. You realize it the moment you compare what “verve” Pyo exhibits in dealing with the intricacies of the life of a producer – think of how insipidly he elicits to edit the scene of Ye-Ji directing her show – with how the interplay between characters that are bound to be romantically entagled is dealt with; it becomes obvious when you delve deeper into what little characterization is there, like the idea that a Seoul National University graduate would just voluntarily opt for a life as a Variety PD just to follow someone he loves – if that doesn't scream late 1990s trendy drama shenanigans to you, I don't know what will. And then when the pace plummets and halts to a crawl and only the main trio exhibits any real upward movement in terms of narrative, you realize what's going on.

The variety world, all the meta-drama elements, the mockumentary style? It's all a gimmick. Fluff.

This is an old school “trendy workplace” drama, the kind of flimsy excuse for a white collar show that littered the airwaves from the birth of the genre in the early 1990s all the way to the explosion of the New Wave about a decade later. That means anything surrounding the main romance will gradually give way to superficial, often nonsensical hijinks, and the already superficial environment those hijinks take place in will become nothing more than an excuse for the old “trendy personae” (your ordinary stock character populating trendy dramas) to don different clothes on their way to blissful, assorted petting.

All the more glaring is what a mismatch this writer-producer combo turned out to be: Pyo Min-Soo has 1990s-style narrative sensibilities but so is his directing style – so say goodbye to subtlety and depth in visual storytelling, in sensible musical choices and tonal transitions; Park Ji-Eun has a very modern, eye-catching prose but her writing is devoid of the fundamentals that made clichés worth sitting through in the works of old 1990s hitmakers like Jo So-Hye. The result is even more confusing than when Pyo (perhaps unintentionally) damaged Noh Hee-Kyung's output in the past, because there's no trait d'union anchoring writing and directing, and as a result everything feels non-descript, vague, somewhat incomplete. It's pretty obvious that the intent is to spice up the good old “workplace dating” gimmick, but neither Park nor Pyo really understand how to get there in a compelling way.

That they assembled a pretty decent cast is probably their only saving grace. The fact that they would cast Cha Tae-Hyun as a variety icon and producer of the show that rejuvenated (Cha's own) somewhat dormant, post-엽기적인 그녀 (My Sassy Girl) career is both a smart piece of meta-casting but also a bit of an irony, highlighting how short the audience's memory is – because at this point Cha feels more like variety “lending” one of its stars to the drama world than what at the beginning of his variety shtick felt like the opposite. And he is his usual self: unless you ask for depth and subtlety in his performance, he delivers a somewhat endearing, laid back vibe that often makes the fluff he's forced to spew out a little more bearable. Kim Soo-Hyun, whose career at this point seems like an exercise in going for maximum effect with minimum effort (think Bae Yong-Joon sans the scarf), does an equally passable job, although his character is so one-dimensional that anyone above depressing mediocrity would do fine.

But once you go past the notion that someone of Gong Hyo-Jin's talent is going to embarrass everyone else even just by sleepwalking through this role, it's IU's performance that intrigues you the most. This young lady has shown flurries of potential throughout her short acting career, and has the best upside of any singer-turned-actor since Jeon Hye-Bin. She doesn't do wonders here but you always get the idea that, if inclined to one day perhaps attempt something a little meatier, she could do much better.

Then again, acting here at this point seems rather inconsequential: KBS' big challenge is only that of establishing a foothold in the Friday-Saturday arena. That their first serious attempt is something so opportunistic on paper and yet so lackadaisical in terms of execution – despite the star-studded cast's best efforts, the meta-variety elements begging for attention, the array of star cameos and the promise of the dreaded “feels” to come – only speaks volumes about the current state of the industry.

The real point is that there is no passion left. So fluff can only appear like what it truly is: something devoid of weight, of substance. Something that will vanish before you can even think of enjoying it.

EPISODES 3~4 [57/100]

There is a strange disconnect happening around the start of Episode 3, one that probably defines this show more than anything else that has transpired over these four episodes: it's a dream sequence where Seung-Chan finds himself in a strange parallel reality, surrounded by variety personalities who start questioning this newbie producer before the proverbial wake-up call. But whereas all the (real life) variety mainstays feel completely real, immersed in their dramatic personae as if they were simply shooting an hour of the usual fluff on TV, Kim Soo-Hyun actually acts. Now you can think of this as a brilliant and deliberate juxtaposition, a sense of disconnect that gradually prepares us for the inevitable denouement with a crescendo. Or perhaps it's a sign that Pyo Min-Soo can't quite grasp what the “reality” dynamics he's trying to represent entail in terms of acting. I'm a little too familiar with Pyo's past shenanigans to give him the benefit of the doubt, honestly.

But what's starting to become irritating about this show is the sneaking sensation that Park Ji-Eun could do a lot better if she wasn't stifled by her star PD's limitations – and yes, I do realize how surreal that sounds, especially coming from me. The idea, if your intent is to structure meta-drama dynamics around a more conventional rom-com premise, is that you carefully need to compromise between the two different “worlds” (the meta workplace dynamics, and the conventions and peculiarities of the romcom canon), through the use of smart juxtapositions that keep that balance alive without sacrificing any of the two elements. This, you'll agree, is quite different than the prototypical trendy drama narrative, where the workplace dynamics are often just an excuse, an afterthought that surrounds vapid petting escapades. Well, while Park seems at least interested in this potential symbiosis, anything Pyo does to support her prose tells us otherwise; it suggests that any balance achieved throughout these four episodes is more of a fortuitous coincidence than something carefully planned. And that of course spells trouble, because as the show goes on that balance is only bound to get skewed towards the romcom clichés – as any meta-drama dynamics gradually start playing second fiddle.

That's a shame, because with such a decent cast and with Park's background in the variety world, you could at least get something compelling, a strange hybrid of drama and variety that would somewhat set this show apart. But if Pyo's goal, as it's becoming more and more evident, is merely that of capturing the attention of the masses with expedients like this variety setting to then toss them out of the window and serve us with the usual romcom fare, we're essentially wasting our time on yet another insipid trendy drama, criminally underwritten and wasting the potential of its cast.

Take Cindy's last-minute decision to join the 1박2일 (2 Days & 1 Night): the idea of giving us someone who acts in one way in front of the cameras and then another when the lights go off is hardly innovative, but you can still do something compelling with it. I'm not saying you should go all out and carve a critique of this microcosm to the tune of Matteo Garrone's Reality, but even the act of bringing up that strange conundrum (the false, manufactured reality of these supposedly spontaneous “real variety” shows) in itself is an interesting piece of meta-drama. What do Pyo and Park end up doing? They give us a quirky epilogue where we get the idea it's probably all motivated by the K-pop starlet falling for our clumsy newbie PD's charms.

See? That feels like nails on a chalkboard. There is no compromise whatsoever, as everything is at the service of romance, from the meta-drama dynamics to characterization and any interplay that doesn't involve petting. I refuse to think Park Ji-Eun wouldn't be capable of doing something even slightly more complex than that, but then you look at Pyo's track record and understand that he's only interested in using whatever surrounds his lovey-dovey antics as nothing more than salad dressing. So why even bother dressing up this old pony with shiny new bridles? At least Yoon Seok-Ho doesn't try to make excuses for what he's trying to sell. But Pyo's continued attempt to ooze freshness and youth by lazily masquerading old trendy drama tricks ends up making his shows feel even more dated than they are. This shows feels like a middle-aged man putting on shades and FUBU apparel to look hip, not understanding that it's only exposing how old he is, in every sense of the word.

EPISODES 05~12 [54/100]

Let's digress just a little before we talk again about this show, shall we?

In the past, I would often be accused of being biased against the rom-com canon, perhaps because of my frequent and unabashed criticism of the genre. Playing Devil's advocate, you could argue that it was understandable, as in doing that I would implicitly criticize the very existence of the overseas K-drama fanbase – which save for a few “black sheep” has mostly been nurtured by young female fans who lap up supposedly romantic fluff with pretty faces. There would be no use explaining to them that accepting the notion that all K-drama can muster is rom-coms despite its history of diversity was akin to commodifying an entire industry, so that it could continue producing what you specifically were looking for – namely something you might not find at home, fluffy rom-coms. But I always saw that argument as inherently misguided and ultimately silly: I criticize K-drama's rom-com output exactly because I like the genre, and it's because the genre has taken a gruesome beating in the last two decades that I keep seeking even a modicum of quality, so that it can find some kind of last minute redemption. Which never seems to come.

This show could have changed things a little; it could have spiced up the canon in a way that could have finally explored its untapped potential, at least in this neck of the woods. Imagine how much more compelling it would have been if the initial selling point – the idea of rom-com staples mingling with meta-drama dynamics dealing with the variety world – wasn't betrayed for the usual cliché of the “Korean workplace drama” where people do everything (meet fortuitously at work, bicker, fight, make up, make love… well, conservatively at least) but actually work. When all a catchphrase machine like Park Ji-Eun can come up with as far as topical dialogue goes is inserting verbs like “editing” in everyday romantic lingo (“Oh, you better edit that out of your memories!”), you know you're scratching the bottom of the barrel. But of course this show did reasonably well in the ratings, especially considering the current state of weekday miniseries; it's going to do well in the new (last?) hotbed of Hallyu pipe-dreaming, China, thanks to its all star lineup. And while an audience more exposed to what this show could have been (thanks to the slightly more frequent use of the mockumentary and the industry send-off gimmick in American and European shows) like the English K-drama fanbase didn't go exactly crazy about the show, it still does have its share of fans on this side of the TV viewing world. And if I were looking at dramas removed from their cultural context, I probably would have added myself to the list.

The four leads are reasonably charming in their own unique ways – not because of characterization, which is flimsy at best, but because the actors manage to add a little bit of vitality to stock characters by injecting spontaneity in between fits of phony, garden-variety language. And if you're willing to forgive Pyo Min-Soo's quintessentially classic trendy drama directing (big confession… silence… K-pop tune cues in tells us what to feel as the lovebirds do something dramatic. Yeah, never seen that before), I guess you could tell he gets the basics right. So what's wrong with this show, at the end of the day? It's got passable structure even though everything surrounding it is run-of-the-mill, the directing is at least workmanlike, and it has some winning performances from people who should do better (I'm mostly looking at Gong Hyo-Jin and IU, as the other two have already typecast their career beyond redemption).

It's the idea that it's given up, that it's content to conform to the usual status quo; a world where the world “Korean Drama” continues to mean romantic fluff centered on big stars who carry their image into the show, for a dubiously compelling struggle for the sake of blissful petting. I can understand the continued wish for escapism, especially in light of the current social climate in Korea (MERS, political chicanery et al). But this industry and particularly this genre need to grow up; it's too easy to demand that kind of evolution from other genres while hypocritically staying the course. Look at what refusing to change did to sageuk…

And if you're as much of a rom-com fan as you think you are, you should at least ask yourself a question: is this truly all I can expect from this industry? Are throwaway romantic escapades that use intriguing premises only as a gimmick to attract a few more “butts in the seats” all that I want from the Korean rom-com canon? If the answer is yes, you'll probably be pleased by this.

And continue to be part of the problem...

ACTING GRADES

71 공효진 (Gong Hyo-Jin)
69 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung)
68 박혁권 (Park Hyeok-Kwon)
66 아이유 (IU)
66 김혜옥 (Kim Hye-Ok)
65 차태현 (Cha Tae-Hyun)
63 김종수 (Kim Jong-Soo)
63 나영희 (Na Young-Hee)
63 김수현 (Kim Soo-Hyun)
60 조윤희 (Jo Yoon-Hee)
60 최권 (Choi Kwon)
60 예지원 (Ye Ji-Won)
52 김종국 (Kim Jong-Guk)

54

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