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Sports dramas struggle to stay in the game


Heading to the Ground; Dream

2009 was supposed to be the year of the sports drama revival, and it has had its share of sports-themed series, with at least another still to come. Unfortunately, they’ve all tanked.

The two currently struggling on the air are SBS’s fighting drama Dream, which has settled around the 4% mark for the bulk of its run, and MBC’s soccer series Heading to the Ground, which kicked off with a 7.2%, which dropped to an inauspicious 5.6% for its second episode and heads into its second week today.

Sure, one can point to Dream‘s stiff competition (Queen Seon-deok), but the response is disappointing given that both these shows were buzz shows, promoted heavily for its pretty faces (Kim Bum, Sohn Dam-bi, U-Know Yunho, Go Ara). Heading was hoping to do better with its soccer theme (Koreans love them some soccer) and the attention being paid to Yunho’s acting debut.

Earlier in the year, Triple hovered in the 6%-7% range throughout its run despite a national skating fervor roused by Kim Yuna‘s phenomenal performances and wins in the past year. On top of that, it had a much-regarded director and name cast (but meandering writing). And Strike Love performed the best of these, yet was still yanked by MBC and cut early despite a ratings high of 10.6%.


Strike Love

So why are sports dramas faltering so?

This article by Sports Chosun says:

This situation is the diametric opposite of sports films like [ski jumping themed] Take off and [weightlifting movie] Lifting King Kong, which brought in incredible numbers at cinemas and drew much popularity.

One industry source says, “These sports-themed films that emphasize the human spirit appeal to the fans’ emotional sensibilities and gain strong popularity, but dramas focus not on the emotion of the sport, but on the love lives of its lead characters, and they haven’t drawn the interest that the films have. Also, in sports films, the actors have plenty of time to research and prepare their characters, as well as time to film. However, sports dramas are always racing to film on time and it’s unavoidable that the actors playing athletes are unable to fully act the part.”

Meanwhile, another article by Newsen points to the case of 1994’s basketball kdrama The Last Match [마지막 승부], which starred a young Jang Dong-gun and Shim Eun-ha. It was extremely popular and pretty much established the sports kdrama genre, though no drama since has been able to capture what made that one such a success.

At the time, The Last Match coincided with the popularity of university basketball, of which Yonsei and Koryo Universities were at the top, as well discovering fresh faces in Shim Eun-ha, whom we cannot see acting these days, and Jang Dong-gun, who became a top star. However, none of the sports dramas to follow have had high ratings to match it. Both MBC’s hockey-related Icing and SBS’s boxing series Punch were unsuccessful, and for a while, the sports drama trend cooled. Of course, MBC’s Bottom of the 9th with 2 Outs included sports, but it wasn’t so much about sports as it merely used baseball as a theme and featured a character who was an athlete. PD Lee Yoon-jung’s eight-episode MBC drama Taereung National Village was a well-acted and praised drama that told the stories of national-level athletes, but on the ratings front it wasn’t able to earn high marks.

Not to mention that sports by nature are riveting in their excitement and suspense, qualities that are difficult to maintain over the course of 16 (or more) episodes: “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that from the starting point, sports dramas inevitably face much more difficulties in succeeding compared to general dramas.”


Triple

Via Sports Chosun, Newsen

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An interesting article because I'm one of those who can't get into sports drama. I lost interest in Dream despite Kibum... with sports dramas, I simply dont' find myself getting pulled in by the story. Maybe a sport drama in the future will change my opinion of that genre, but for now I'm still unconvinced and staying away.

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I think sports theme dramas are less interesting than a sports theme movie. Unless in the beginning of the drama, it does not revolve around sports but centering that theme within the romance genre. I can't recall exact names of examples but i know i've watched some with a sports theme drama but does not focus simply on those but the dream and goal of getting there whilst adding the arts and romantic developments. It just makes more sense that way. not everybody likes sports with lacking script, directing and editing.... i swear HTTG could be good if more attention is put into it.

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"Unfortunately, they’ve all tanked."

Housewife viewing audience + sports - tight shots of men's butts (or men crying copiously after Epik Win) = RATINGS FAIL

Now, having said that, some of the best dramas this year were sports dramas. And I'm really enjoying Dream as a bromance, and the sports agent intrigue stuff is interesting to me too. I love sports yarns, and this is a pretty good one.

Sports dramas do solid ratings in Japan, because most idol dramas are coming-of-age stories, and sports is the perfect medium to tell that kind of story.

Obviously, Pride wasn't a coming-of-age story, but Pride is one of the ultimate "Kimura Takuya is God" dramas.

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some of the best dramas this year were sports dramas

Wait, WHAT??

Really?? Which ones? I'm not being sarcastic at all, it's just I'm so surprised to hear that -- I enjoyed bits of all of them, but found them nowhere near "Best of the year" material. They were quite flawed -- which doesn't mean unentertaining... just not high-quality.

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"Wait, WHAT??"

Yeaaahhhh . . . I knew I'd regret posting that. :D

Dream is a really, really good bromantic drama. It kinda follows the typical underdog sports formula (and the fan service-y bits are, well . . . ), but the story really hits all the right notes between the two male characters. The villain's sheer viciousness feels more genuinely evil (because it's so damn petty) than, say, what Mishil does every week in Shillaville. And above all, Kim Bum doesn't win every week. In fact, he seems to get the crap beaten out of them (half the time by Son Dambi) almost every week. Yet he wins in his own way. :)

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so were there any famous sports dramas besides last match?

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Sport drama should have been my cup of tea. But I got to say triple is such a disappointed in that genre. Strike love would have been better but it got a bad review so I never tried watching...but maybe soon. Its nothing new to me now that the rest of sport drama in Korea got low rating. I've tried a few but in the long run it focuses much on the love story not the survival, challenges and sometimes the lead actor gave up on the game they love.

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The best Sport's Drama (if u can call it a sport drama) was Fight or Road Fighter. It hit all the right notes. It had the right combination of action, romance, and drama. The best things is that they knew to keep it Short and Simple. I love sport dramas, but I know it must be hard to film those action sequences and keep it going for 16-20 episodes.
Belleza, I am also loving the bromance in Dream. Everytime they have a moment I get happy. I don't think you see that that often in dramas.

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"Everytime they have a moment I get happy"

I cried big when Jang Suk spoke to the camera asking for information about his mother. It was just achingly sad, because it was achingly hopeful, and it wasn't overdone at all. The tropes aren't new, but the show beautifully underplays those moments.

Or when Jae Il wants to hug Jang Suk and JS is like "ahhh hell no." Stuff like that. :D

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havent watched any sports drama except for Pride..... and that was because of Kimura T.... ^-^

Triple...nahh...there was hardly any real ice skating and PongHo hardly skated either (he was supposedly a speed skater, right?).... dont think it was a sports drama..was it?

live sports are better for me....

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@3 Sports dramas do solid ratings in Japan, because most idol dramas are coming-of-age stories, and sports is the perfect medium to tell that kind of story.

Obviously, Pride wasn’t a coming-of-age story, but Pride is one of the ultimate “Kimura Takuya is God” dramas.

Now that I think about it, I don't think I've yet to watch a Korean sports drama although I've watched a few Japanese ones. Pride being my very first one and it totally made me a fan of Kimura. :-)

I have been watching Buzzer Beat and I am really enjoying it. Of course I can't tell half of the time if I am smiling like an idiot b/c of the story or the eye candy.

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I have sen episode 1 of "Heading to the Ground" and it sucks. The plot is okay, but the overall acting ability of Yun-Ho really pulls the entire drama down.
Go Ara is a okay, but that is still not enough to make the drama worth watching.
I had hope for this drama early on, but now that I have watch episode 1- I will not be coming back to watch episode 2 and so on.

My opinon on the general idea of sports drama is that the topic is a bit hard to do.
There is not enough material to base the entire drama on sports, so romantic side stories will needed to be add on.
Now making a sports theme movie is different, I have seen "Forever The Moment" with Kim Jung Eun and Uhm Tae Woong, and it's GREAT.
I have never follow through to the end of any sports drama before, so it will be hard for me to give any criticism or opinion.

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Sports dramas aren't hard to do per se, but sports *soaps* are very hard to do.

"Now making a sports theme movie is different, I have seen “Forever The Moment” with Kim Jung Eun and Uhm Tae Woong, and it’s GREAT."

Love that film. Crying Fist is another good one.

"Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve yet to watch a Korean sports drama although I’ve watched a few Japanese ones"

One of my favorite teen romances is the baseball J-drama H2 (which incidentally didn't do well.) That show kinda distills the coming-of-age sports story, and how it gives young love so much of its beautiful meaning.

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I'm watching Dream every week. Last episode was the saddest so far for me. Sniff sniff...... I must admit though some episodes seemed to be quite boring but I stuck with it. I love the "bromance" too. I enjoy seeing the 2 leads together in a scene a lot. Love KB (adorable) & JJM (handsome as ever)!

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PRIDE is a great sports drama although its japanese so......

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I'm currently watching Dream and QSD and is enjoying both. It's a shame that Dream is up against QSD. I think many stopped watching Dream because they were hoping for a major romantic story line involving Kim Bum. I'm actually enjoying it because it's not all about romance, especially since Son Dambi is so weak in it. I love the interactions between JJM and KB also.

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@9, belleza

You're so right about Jae-il and Jang-suk's bromance. In most dramas I'm usually screaming "Just KISS already!", and in this one I'm all "For the love of God Jang-suk, could you please HUG Jae-il already? Please? Just once? For me?" If ever two dudes needed to hug more than these two, I've never seen it. So frustrating! :-D

Possible (mild) spoiler for some:

Speaking of such things, Dream has to have the lamest kiss (Jang-suk & So-yeon) and hug (Jae-il and So-yeon) I've ever seen in my life. It's like they're all in elementary school and don't want to get cooties or something!

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I have to say, I'm enjoying Dream and it's a shame it's getting such low ratings. Also, the first episode of Heading to the Ground was pretty bad with yunho's overracting but episode 3 was a big step up and its pretty entertaining.

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I tend to stay away from sports dramas, especially about male athletes, because it's just too much testosterone for me to handle.

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omg somebody PLEASE TELL ME where i can watch taereung national village!!! ><

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and i agree with post 10. although Triple had the elements of skating, i hardly considered it a "sports drama." but i still loved it!! (:

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HTTG was pretty mediocre the first two eps, but ep 3 is a lot better. :)

IDK, maybe the ratings are low cause only ajummas are available to watch TV/ cassiopeia protest.

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I'm only watching HTTG because of Lee Yoon ji and her infectious smile. But it's really painful to look at the crazed expression on Jung Yun Ho's face; he reminds me of that Shaolin Soccer/Kungfu Hustle guy from Hongkong. And there's something about Go Ah Ra's face that makes even Kim Sun Ah's "plastic fantastic" far more interesting to watch. So if I stopped watching, it's not because it's a sports drama; it's because I can't stand those two anymore.

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"Not to mention that sports by nature are riveting in their excitement and suspense, qualities that are difficult to maintain over the course of 16 (or more) episodes"

TOTALLY AGREE! That's why sports films are less risky than sports dramas: it's easier to keep the adrenalin and suspense humming along for 60-120 minutes than 45-minute-episode-multiplied-by-16-equals-720-minutes dramas. And I have to add that because of the orgasmic nature of sports, having to be patient for 16+ episodes, week after week, is a torturous race to the finish line.

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#12 gracefulmoonie

"I have seen 'Forever The Moment' with Kim Jung Eun and Uhm Tae Woong, and it’s GREAT."

Hmm, I thought that movie was overrated. *ducks* Nothing really memorable except that final match.

An oft overlooked (rarely discussed) sports movie is Superstar Mr. Gam (aka Mr. Gam's Victory), based on a true story. LOVE this one. Sweet and stirring underdog story about a baseball team that can't win and its lowliest pitcher Gam Sa-yong (Lee Beom-soo) who gets fielded only to wrap up losing games. His opponent? The winningest pitcher in the country (Gong-yoo). Ha Jung-woo's in this, as is Baek Do-bin (Fight aka Road Fighter). Yoon Jin-seo plays Lee Beom-soo's love interest. Great cast and a story that stays with you for a long, long time.

In case anyone's interested, I wrote a simple review here:

http://thundie.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/superstar-mr-gam/

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Yeah I agree with the article in that most of the dramas that promote themselves as 'sports' dramas arent really that.

For example I found Triple really deceiving when I started watching. Figure skating was just like a background theme in a story about relationships. And I felt cheated and bored by it so I quit. Which I guess many others also did too.

But while Dream may not be getting high numbers I think its a good show particularly because it DOES focus a lot on the sports i.e boxing. That is the main storyline of the show and the relationship/romantic stuff is well balanced but not the core of what Dream is about.
I got exactly what I was hoping for in Dream....a story about sports and thats what's kept me sticking around.

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"Yeah I agree with the article in that most of the dramas that promote themselves as ’sports’ dramas arent really that. "

It's tough to do a good sports soap. The more episodes there is, the more story is obligated to selling the romantic relationship, because the highs and lows of sport starts to wear off. But, okay, if you try to depict it as primarily a romance, then the sports stuff becomes tedium preventing you from enjoying the couple.

Dream kinda puts the romance on the backburner. It develops in the 2nd half of the story but it never comes the focal point of the show. Dream has some elements that you might see in sageuk. You got a real villain, a fallen hero, and a no-good neophyte You got intrigue and backstabbing. You got RPG-style team gathering and "character building" missions that lead them closer to ascending to a ultimate goal. Above all, you got men bonding over beating the crap out of other men. :D.

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I love japanese sports dramas, but i'm not so sure about korean sports dramas... No offense as much as I like watching korean dramas... some how I'd rather not watch korean style sports dramas....

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Hold on...so you won't be recapping Heading to the Ground?

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To be perfectly honest I only watched dream to see Kim Bum :P Episodes 1-5 were HORRIBLE! Dambi has a lot of work to do.. But (and I'm not biased, I swear!) The plot got more interesting, the acting improved (execpt for Dambi), and Kim Bum and Joo Jin Mo have AMAZING moments!

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watch HTTG ep 04, it`s actually getting MUCH better now O_O

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The setting (sports) is not so much the problem as is the less than quality storyline, dialogue and acting.

The setting can be pretty much anything (coffee shop, bakery, office, restaurant, grocery store, boutique, farm, etc.) if the storyline, dialogue and acting are superior.

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I watched the opening scene of HTTG Episode 1 and it was so bad I actually considered just turning the damn thing off and not watching the rest. I cringed through the entire episode because of the awkward acting but still found the premise somewhat interesting. So I kept at it.

Just done with Episode 3 and the drama's picking up. I can't believe I'm getting excited about the drama now but I am. Plotwise, it's moving along at a nice pace and the dialogue, for some reason, is improving as well. I think, the best part would be they're starting to get the hang of their characters more so the awkwardness is fading away. The comedy has also progressed from trying too hard to being LOL-worthy (while still being cute).

(This reminds me of the days I was watching On Air and I had to be patient with the first three episodes or so because all the characters were shouting at each other making me feel like I was being duped into something I didn't want to watch. But turns out, the drama was just growing into itself. I have a feeling HTTG will be the same for me albeit it's from a different genre altogether.)

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sports dramas in korea will never make it. because the screen writers don't focus on the sport. they focus on the romance line. its not even clearly a sports drama to begin with anyways.

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Dambi acting is not that bad i think she did ok for her first time in a drama atleast she not some weak girl who always waiting for the guy too help her i love watching dream because it don't have a weak girl as the lead female i hate watching drama that have a weak girl who always cry those kind of drama turn me off

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