I have found my people.
I suppose I can stop feeling bad for having absolutely no interest in some dramas despite them being popular, well-received, and successful. Dramas that come highly recommended but for which I just cannot seem to make it past the first episode. Dramas like War of Money, Jumong, Lobbyist…
Mixed-up Investigative Agency, for example, is underperforming in the ratings, being caught smack in the middle of two well-performing sageuk dramas — SBS’s King and I and MBC’s Yi San (which is produced by the PD who made Dae Jang Geum into a monster hit). However, its “quiet popularity” has amassed the drama enough of a devoted fan base to earn itself “mania drama” status, or what is in the Western world probably better described as a cult hit. As I am generally a cult-hit fan, I’m not too disappointed. (Low ratings + no fans = sad. Low ratings + devoted fan base = I don’t care that nobody is watching, it’s cool anyway.)
Star News reports on the topic:
“What are ratings anyway?” grumble fans of “mania dramas”
“Why do all the dramas I like always have low ratings?” office employee Mr. Lee complains. It’s because the dramas he enjoys watching tend to flop in ratings. He’d watched KBS2’s eight-episode fusion sageuk Conspiracy in the Court [Hansungbyulgok], MBC’s Merry vs. Daegu Battle, and others with bated breath, but they haven’t been able to break the 10% ratings threshold.
Lately, he’s grown tired of the glut of sageuk dramas and has been enthusiastically watching KBS2’s Mixed-up Investigative Agency, but the ratings are a mere 3%.
Looking back, this isn’t just something of the past one or two years. There was also KBS’s Lie, MBC’s Ruler of Your Own World and Ireland, KBS’s Foolish Love and Goodbye Solo, among others. Fans don’t like these series just because they happen to like one particular star, or are faithful to one broadcasting station. Mr. Lee, a soccer fan who feels like the Korean national team always loses when he sits down to watch a game, feels similar aggravation with dramas: “I might have to step away from my TV screen, if only to enable my favorite dramas to succeed.”
Merry vs. Daegu Battle
As overall viewership age shifts to 40- and 50-somethings, younger viewers who think like Mr. Lee are on the rise. Netizens who gather at the online site DC Inside, which is organized by drama, raise similar complaints. Popular series like Legend and Lobbyist have their own message boards, as well as lesser-watched ones like Merry vs. Daegu Battle, Capital Scandal, Conspiracy in the Court, Mixed-up Investigative Agency, etc. Each board has many of its own frequenters and commenters. It’s proof that the netizen response and the viewership ratings don’t necessarily correspond.
The dramas that enjoy a comfortably safe ratings level tend to be those preferred by middle-aged audiences, such as sageuks, daily dramas, weekend dramas, and the like. Although there are exceptions, such as MBC’s Coffee Prince Store #1, the so-called “mania dramas” in between tend to be the few trendy dramas or new offbeat shows that light up the message boards and whose ratings are typically low. These dramas’ “mania fans” greatly dislike the tendency of ratings to determine a drama’s success or failure.
Conspiracy in the Court
One PD described the current situation for mania dramas such as Lie and Goodbye Solo by writer Noh Hee Kyung, and Ruler of Your Own World and Island by writer In Jung Wook: “You can’t ignore the rating patterns of certain writers. There are dramas that are loved by only a few, and are expected from the outset to not draw very high ratings.”
Another drama PD said, “There are some dramas that are sought out by younger viewers who want something fresh and different from currently existing dramas, but there aren’t that many of them. Many of those viewers are lured over to cable television, which hurts ratings for mania dramas even further.” He added, “If dramas are made solely on the basis of drawing ratings, we wouldn’t be able to produce anything fresh and new. With internet downloads and streaming views, we need a different, more diverse standard of measurement.”
Cable channel MBC Dramanet recently aired the drama Chosun Police, which had begun its broadcast at MBC with its pilot in October 2005. After meeting with favorable response, the drama was set as a regular program, but with low ratings, it ended after six episodes. However, it began its run on cable last month, and after five episodes, it was a hit for the channel with a rating of 3%. Called “Chosun-style CSI,” its fresh approach won it solid mania status and universal acclaim.
Indeed, are viewership ratings an absolute basis for a drama’s success or failure? Depending on the medium, the value of a 1% rating differs. With DVD sales or other enterprises, and the influence of the internet, a drama’s ripple effect isn’t proportional to its rating number. As fresh new offerings that free themselves from tedium and staleness of adultery dramas, family dramas, or sageuks, they hold a value that can’t be expressed in a viewership rating. The disgruntled rumblings of mania drama fans may start to die down once new standards are established to change how the value of these works is recognized. But despite low ratings, these dramas did shine brightly somewhere, sometime.