Drama Casting & News
Mania dramas and the people who love ’em
by | November 8, 2007 | 29 Comments

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.”


Capital Scandal


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.

Sources: Star News, TV Report


29 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. quicksilver18

    Hi Javabeans,

    I just wanted to say thanks for all the hard work you put into your passion for dramas and k & j pop. I’ve always loved your reviews and think that you have a gift for writing, which I have a penchant for myself. I also prefer the so-called “mania dramas” over the “they put so much money on this so why can’t it be better” ones. Some of my favorite dramas are Goodbye Solo, Soulmates, Alone in Love, and now Mixed Up Investigative Agency. I watched the first 4 episodes of Lobbyist and couldn’t bring myself to continue.

    I hope you keep up the great work. This site honestly makes my day at the office a little less dreary. Ha.

  2. Lisa

    huh, i wasn’t aware that capital scandal had low ratings. that is my FAVORITE drama, besides coffee prince, though i actually liked capital scandal better. I guess i’m also a cult hit type of person, haha.

    seriously, though, capital scandal is SO good!!!

  3. pandapop

    Hi, Dramabeans:
    I read your blog on a regular basis. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I like them. You mentioned here about Dae Jang Geum’s PD. His name is Lee Byeon Hun. What does PD stand for? Was he mainly a director? Or he was a producer of that drama as well? Is Korean film industry similar to Hollywood’s set-up? I’ve seen this title PD mentioned very often, but am always confused as to what it stands for…..Is a PD and a director actually the same thing?

  4. Jennwpc

    Hi, I agree with comments by quicksilver18; however, I’ve not watch capital scandal. But honestly, I like Mixed-up Investigative Agency a lot — this drama is so funny Min Ki is so qute. Lobbyist is quite boring.

  5. rach

    i feel like dying from the lack of any good drama airing right now!
    i need to feed my addiction!!!

  6. deeta

    3%??? Wow, I didn’t know that Mixed Up’s viewership is that bad. I knew that it’s pretty much drowned in the midst of historical dramas, but still, it’s kinda hard to understand that when you (and several other people) really love the drama in question. Anyways, Mixed Up is still hilarious, and a lot of people are still watching. So eh..

  7. Marzy

    One reason i like sarah’s blog because it isnt always typical. And I appreciate her hardwork for doing this. Lol, im one of those who love those cult-hit drama’s as well. Like others i continue to wonder why they dont do well in the ratings game when they are really well made, semi-good cast, nice story, awesome music and the overall is just solid. I appreciate the people who love these dramas as well. I think the more mainstream ones can be overrated but that depends too. Dont get me wrong, I have my share of fave mainstream dramas, im not one to undermine them. Though sometimes the expensive dramas tend to fall right in the middle I think. Overall though, i love those little rare gem pieces that even if the cast isnt like A list or the stellar kind but they make an impression and leave a lingering feelings and thoughts which is great. Capital Scandal was just the best for me, im sad because of the ratings it got, SOulmates was awesome for me, I love How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor. I loved 9innings and 2outs too, i know many say it was slow and stuff but i loved the story and the way things evolved, plus Soo Ae and Lee Jung Jin. Im also enjoying MixedUp… i usually like Minki’s stuff.

  8. javabeans

    thanks, marzy. i’m just glad to know i’m in good company, even if the REST of the drama-watching world is somehow missing some great gems.

    pandapop, PD (a director of overall production) and director (the one in charge of camera work as we typically understand the term) aren’t the same thing, and they aren’t exactly interchangeable — but many times one person is both, or the roles overlap. Lee Yoon Jung PD of Coffee Prince, for instance, was a director who was also a PD. same with Noh Do Chul of Soulmate. but on some shows, you’ll have a director/PD, plus an additional PD who isn’t in charge of actual filming but still handles production work and planning. the closest equivalent for a PD is kind of like “executive producer” credit in hollywood terms.

    this is how I understand it. please correct me if i’m wrong!

  9. thunderbolt

    Ah, mania dramas. I like, I like! The first kdrama I fell in love with long ago was a Noh Kee-kyung drama (Have We Really Loved) and I’ve loved everything by her since, especially More Beautiful Than a Flower & Goodbye Solo. Ruler of Your Own World raised the bar for all kdramas; the downside is that I can’t rewatch Winter Sonata and I can’t stomach Stairway to Heaven. I read how some people fell asleep watching the first episode of Alone in Love and I went, “Huh?” Because I laughed so hard watching that first episode. The lines were so witty, so acerbic… I couldn’t get enough. Soulmate was pure joy. The list goes on.

    Mixed-up Investigative Agency rocks my boat. It’s wild and I love it. I laugh just reading the lines when I’m editing the subs; I don’t even need to watch the video to appreciate its charm and quirkiness. Yummy!

  10. 10 thunderbolt

    Oops, sorry for the typo; it should be Noh Hee-kyung. That’s the trouble with posting on the run.^^

    “Let us Mixed-up fans console ourselves with an annoying air of superiority for finding something cool despite being unrecognized by the masses, shall we?”

    Speaking of “being unrecognized by the masses,” it’s sad that some of my favorite actors fall into that category. *sob* Kim Myung-min, Ryu Seung-beom, Park Hae-il and Lee Beom-soo all have one thing in common: their respective threads in soompi do not exceed five pages. I must have a thing for underrated actors and dramas.

  11. 11 Gramps

    #10 thunderbolt: “their respective threads in soompi do not exceed five pages”

    But what percentage of those many-hundred-paged threads on other performers consists of massive images, big-as-they-can-get-away-with graphic sigs, smiley overloads, repeated “visit my CB” spamming in 64-point scarlet letters, and inarticulate cooing and squealing padded out by line breaks? I suspect that if all the rival threads were fiercely pruned back to exclude stuff not worth reading (or writing) the differences wouldn’t be as dramatic.

  12. 12 Anonymous

    It’s In Jung Ok, actually. And Ireland. 😉

  13. 13 tooizzy

    I TOTALLY agree with gramps in this one. IT IS ANNOYING to see soo many pics instead of serious comments about the dramas. Seriously, I only come to two sites to check out anything about dramas and that is here and asian drama addicts.
    THANK YOU JAVA!!! >>

  14. 14 shirley

    ya Gramps . precisely. the no of pages in soompi dont really means much to how an actor is being recognised.

    thunder . i love Kim Myung-min! just that i dun really think of posting too much of his pictures or so whatever to fill up his thread lol i only post those interesting ones or maybe i am just lazy . but any news of his .i will probably post it in his thread to share . trust me .in the world outside of soompi , he is recognised more then you think ~!^^ and White Tower is definetly also a mania drama with decent good ratings ! !though the pages in soompi thread is still under 20 pages . the group who watch on soompi might be small then but we totally was devoted to it ^!

    and so too for the rest of the actors you mention .
    # 2 Lisa
    huh, i wasn’t aware that capital scandal had low ratings

    =>ya .it hover below the 10% mark .and only manage to reach the two digit rating in a few esp . but there a strong fan base .hence why it is termed a mania .

    i suppose Ruler of your own world was the more significant mania drama that arose neizten interest in this “genre” and it grows to great height when it come to DAMO and REBRITH . The more interesting case as for REBIRTH which sort of clashes with another so called “mania” drama too MNIKSS . ratings was never a factor to determine what drama i pick up …lol actually i sometimes wonder if i were the jinx to make the drama ratings down –;;
    there are tons of dramas i know should have receive better ratings then it should aka .in terms of being recognised by more ppl who great a gem it is .but pity most always fall into the wrong timing .or too strong an oppoent or it is just way too ahead of its time ..audience tastes are hard to capture nowsday . But it always good to have production team willing to experiment . this year alone .the single digit ratings drama .i’ve been watching Flowers for my life . Capital Scandal . Conspiracy in the Court , Mawang . i nearly thought THANK YOU will fall under that category .thank godness . the charm of this gem never go unnoticed .~

  15. 15 creidesca

    looks like author Park Yeon-seon has some things to say about the ratings and/or its ‘mania drama’ status?



    I also wonder if KBS has already begun implementing those half-time commericals in a sort of way? Because, if you had watched EP 10 live like I did, right after the preview end portion, the station aired 1 commercial, then it was followed by the ending credits to the episode. None of the rips I’ve downloaded so far had the ending credits– they all stopped at the end of the preview.

  16. 16 ripgal

    Thanx for writing piece of gem. I liked it cos it reflected so much on the trend of audiences following different types of dramas, be it the mainstream ones or the less popular ones (which were really good).

    I’m watching Lobbyist and The Legend now.. former one’s boring, totally failed my expectations. Latter’s quite good because I had no expectations..now I’m just watching to kill time and relax. Haven’t got the time to watch Mixed Up yet.. I had vowed to watch it earlier because MinKi’s in it, and usually anything with Min Ki’s good. hehehe.. I will try it out.

    Marzy, you just read my mind.
    Worded everthing I’d wanted to say about the less popular dramas..hehehe..

  17. 17 bwitched

    I j ust wanna say How much I love Capital scandal, flowers for my life and especially Investigative agency now..:)

  18. 18 La Plume

    I really did want to watch Conspiracy in the Court but no team had planned to translate it… Too bad my korean is not that good yet.
    I’m sorry about Mixed Investigative Agency though, I haven’t started the show yet, I looooooooove Sageuk Deuramas so you could say it’s my lucky period ^^

    Personnally, I must be the only one here but oh well, I like how Korea does its dramas. Fresh and new isn’t always Fresh and good.

    Still, if it’s talking only about TV you have to take into account that maybe people want to start something new but since all the shows are airing at the same time, they choose their favorite genre before all. I mean you go to the baker you’ve only got 1€ on you, you take your favorite cake, you don’t want to miss it and be dissapointed with something else. Well at least this is my way of thinking.

    As of me I don’t choose dramas according to ratings.. Well I download so I don’t really give a damn ’bout that. One thing which is pretty lucky with low ratings is that the show is never extended so at least you’re able to watch something which is not gonna be spoilt like Goong had been for instance.

  19. 19 geekgal

    Javabeans, thank you for championing the outcasts and the offbeat characters of the drama world. I love Ruler of Your Own World, Alone in Love and Soulmate. Mixed-Up Investigative Agency ranks right up there (at least for now) for being charmingly quirky. I’m having a ball watching it.

    I agree. A drama’s success should not be measured on ratings alone. I appreciate well-written and well-produced dramas irregardless of their popularity or ratings. I applaud those shows that are innovative, that dare to be different (whether it is for better or worse) and that are attempting to reinvent the genres. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with being a part of the masses; but it still is way cooler to have a discerning eye for the overlooked underrated shows. BTW, how about those underground music…

    Lastly, props must be given to you, drama forums and all the fan subbing groups (WITHS2 in particular, woot) for shining the spotlight on these dramas. Without the exposure, we non-Koreans would miss out on these gems. Actually, you’ve introduced me to quite a bit of the Korean entertainment industry. If you’ve asked me six months ago, I would not have known what or who Epik High is… Imagine that!

  20. 20 Gramps

    #19 geekgal “Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with being a part of the masses”

    Maybe not. But in any case, it’s a big leap of faith to believe that the ratings reflect “the masses” anyway. The ratings companies claim they do, and the TV companies don’t argue because they need advertisers to believe the ratings so they’ll buy slots at premium prices. But ratings only measure actual audiences via a statistical model. They don’t actually count how many people tune in. What they do measure is what a very small (though supposedly representative) sample of households watch. The rest is just sampling theory and statistical projection.

    I don’t know for sure the current number of households monitored by the Korean ratings industry, because my Korean is so lousy that it takes me about 6 hours and five large coffees to read a few pages of journal article, but a piece I did struggle through about how this was done in 2002 revealed that at that time there were 1,000 households monitored in Seoul and 1,000 in the rest of the country, 750 of those being in or around Pusan. Hardly the masses. Maybe there are more now, but I would be surprised if it was very much more. The UK system, with a larger population and more channels to cover, currently monitors just over 5,000 households.

    Interestingly, in view of the question sometimes raised on Soompi (and ISTR in a couple of comments here, too) about whether watching KDramas via the live streams gets counted in the ratings (answer: no), the UK ratings body has announced that it will be including some households who watch (UK) TV via Internet streams in its sampling from 2010.

  21. 21 geekgal

    #20: Gramps

    Valid point. Thanks for the heads up (my god, someone actually read my comments. And replied). Ratings are an archaic way of measuring public response. Sure, they’re just extrapolated analysis from a small number of TV viewership. I agree that TV-land execs need a more interactive and accurate method of sensing viewers’ response. In this internet-influenced society, you figure they should take in consideration foreign viewership from live streaming and DL’able sources (even if they are illegal. Ha), right?

    My comment about the masses was not meant to direct at the ratings, but more in the line of things favored by the general public (aka: mainstream materials in general). By the way, i really want to know who the Nielsen viewers are in the US. I guess the issue in question here is the rating system itself. But then cool people shouldn’t even care about the system. Screw it, we’re doing our own things anyway…:)

    Hey, this preview thingy just pops up… it’s kinda cool but unsettling to see me typing in two places. It’s so surreal. I’m glad that the edit function is back though. How i wish i can have the same edit function for my life.

  22. 22 mawee

    I loved Capital Scandal and Goodbye Solo and planning to watch Meri vs Daegu further since I loved the episode 1… I guess im a mania fan too? ^^
    I dont care about ratings…. well yeah it’s really important I guess
    but for me ratings are only numbers, what’s important is how the story goes and low ratings or high, as long as the drama impresses me/moves me/makes me laugh/cry then what the heck does it have to do with the ratings? ^^

  23. 23 Gramps

    #22 mawee “what the heck does it have to do with the ratings?”

    Well actually in Korea there’s an interaction between the ratings and the plot because of the type of shooting schedule they use, with only a couple more episodes ‘in the can’ when a given one goes out (though they seem to be shifting away from that pattern a little now and storyboarding and shooting further ahead).

    Ratings performance can cause a drama to be shortened or lengthened on the fly, influencing the extensions of side plots or the leaving of loose ends. And there have been cases where the ratio of walking-and-weeping to punching-and-yelling has been shifted one way or the other to try to nudge ratings up. So even if ratings don’t influence what you watch or how much you enjoy it, they can actually change what you get to see in the first place.

    In other countries too, the ratings have a big influence on whether series are extended or given sequels, but its much rarer for them to cause scripts to be rewritten or drastically edited while a drama is actually airing.

  24. 24 creidesca

    they’ll be factoring in viewership from online VOD to the ratings?

    A very recent article analyzing the drama’s ratings with VOD:

  25. 25 Gramps

    AFAIK the plan in the UK is simply to add the PCs in a statistically-representative selection of households who are regular VOD users to the contingent whose home sets are already wired up the the monitoring system. Any other approach would be hard to fit into the methods used to project the data from the measurements of traditional viewing, so I imagine it would be the same in other countries.

    In fact though, the current nature of VOD technology would mean that much more accurate “ratings” of this viewing sector would possible. Each viewer has an individual “session” on the broadcaster’s streaming server. Those sessions could be counted at source (as they clearly are being according to that article) and where the user has to login to connect, user data could be linked to them, which advertisers would love.

    On the question of ratings influencing the length and plotting of dramas after they’ve actually started to air, if I’ve understood other Korean media sources correctly (which I may well not have done), then Insoon is Pretty was actually shot in its entirety by an independent production company, then auctioned in the can to the broadcasters, ending up with KBS. Which would mean that in the case of that drama, there could be no significant last minute changes as a consequence of ratings, though of course there’s always scope for changes in the editing suite.

  26. 26 sugarpunchdeb

    omg i SOOOO love capital scandal!! even though its a teeny weeny sad!! XD glad that its a fairly well-received show!

  27. 27 jadded

    This is really helpful! I’m also studying Korean language, and I find it very interesting.. Thanks a lot! *-*

  28. 28 reglest

    Strangely enough..I search the term and found this post…
    I feel the same, towards TK2H, though it’s rating isn’t that dip, but still..I feel like a mania who doesn’t care about rating.

    Thanks for Posting this JB! 😀

  29. 29 Truee

    I’ve watched these dramas and love them all. Conspiracy in the court has such a great plot line, its one of my favourite korean sageuks. Its quality is amazing, the message that it sends through the characters is longlasting.. although it seems like no one else (besides some mania fans) cares about these things anymore. 😛

    I really wish them to be more recognized (by both koreans and non-koreans,) Public responses have been pathetic to these dramas. I guess people are more fond of typical korean melodramas, where the main character’s lover was in fact, his sister, or they were both adopted, or even wrose, the rich guy with the shittiest personality(usually due to his brother’s death) becomes a nicer person b/c of his girlfriend.

    I agree that dramas shouldnt be solely measured on ratings.. but it is still very important becuase the three broadcasting stations,(I heard that KBS is better) cut off the episodes of the dramas with low ratings. This happened to so many good ones..

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