Drama Casting & News
The IRIS franchise keeps chugging along
by | February 14, 2011 | 52 Comments

A hit drama series. A not-quite-hit spinoff drama series. An upcoming sequel drama series. A movie version for the original. A movie version to the spinoff. A sequel drama series for the spinoff series. Overseas broadcasts and OST concerts. Where’s the end for the spy-action IRIS franchise?

I find it pretty amazing (astounding, really) that all this has been set in motion based on the success of ONE drama series. And sure, while its ratings were strong (39.9% at its peak), there have been many a higher-rated drama that didn’t attempt one-tenth the amount of milking-for-all-it’s-worth that Taewon Entertainment is doing with IRIS. Especially considering that the second series was a noticeable disappointment, despite loads of hype and a bevy of A-list stars (ratings have settled in the lower teens).

Yet IRIS 2 is still going forward, with plans to broadcast in the fall. As there’s some question of which of its stars it’ll be able to bring back (i.e., Kim Tae-hee, Kim Seung-woo, and Kim So-yeon; leading man Lee Byung-heon has already declined to return — [SPOILER?] plus, you know, HE DIED.), producers are preparing one version with the returning cast, and another one without them, and plan to work out the schedule with the stars as plans become concrete.

Currently, Athena is scheduled for a Japanese broadcast on satellite television beginning in April. An Athena OST concert is also on the books, featuring its Hallyu-star singers, to take place in the summer. On top of that, Athena: The Movie is also in production, with plans in the works for an Athena 2.

Taewon Entertainment CEO Jung Tae-won admitted, “Because the first drama IRIS performed so well, it’s true that Athena’s [low] viewership ratings were confounding. It was painful for the cast and producers when the ratings kept dropping, but in any case we had to keep going through the end. Although it was difficult, we held on to hope and hung in there without altering our original plans, and I think viewers got that.”

He added, “I learned a lot through Athena. It’ll be a great help to me through IRIS 2 and Athena 2.”

IRIS 2 is an understandable move, since the sequel was planned back while the original was still going strong. But…an Athena 2? I can’t see justifying another series when you weigh its enormous pricetag against its middling ratings performance.

Personally, I don’t even think an IRIS 2 will do nearly as well as the original, since it was the novelty and effects that drew audiences more than the convoluted storyline. By the time a third — and fourth — series airs, one wonders if the shiny will have worn off. Then again, hot guys + guns + explosions…are not without a certain appeal.

Via My Daily, Newsis


52 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. JM

    i smell a FAIL, Athena and IRIS are two dramas that start off good and get very VERY boring in the end!!!

    • 1.1 poheijo

      agree with JM…it becomes boring especially Athena…the love story storyline doesn’t sound true at all…

    • 1.2 vic

      you could not have said it better ! both start VERY GOOD and then after 7 episodes or so they become boring and bad

      • 1.2.1 jose

        i liked iris,i don’t understand why some people don’t like it,i liked the first episode,the second no but then i liked most of the others,i want kim tae hee again :D,also about j dramas and k dramas,i think j dramas don’t think big,they are very small in episodes and between so many,you forget easily each show,is difficult a hit with that

        • Porcelain

          There are many types of j doramas, what most are used to are the trendy dramas which is mostly 11-12 episodes long only, coz they only aired once a week, but they are thus on air at least 3 months… And they are hits… memorable hits… a bunch of Kimura Takuya’s dramas… in recent time… Nodame is a hit, Last Friends was acclaimed…

          There are also long running doramas mostly on NHK…

          So I don’t think its viable to compare… j doramas format compare to k dramas 🙂

          • Dafné

            Yeah, beside generally the main theme is different..the formula is not quite the same ^^, as japanese drama tend to be more on human story than the romantic one, if you understand what I mean…
            I’m frustrated by my poor english *_*
            The way japanese stories are developpped are not the same as korean’s, culture also is different.
            I love kimura takuya, but also Matsumoto Jun :D..

            but best drama EVER are kdrama xD …

  2. Ani

    I feel bad for the actors. They’re practically signing on for a drama that’ll tarnish their resume the way The Tourist is putting Johnny Depp’s acting career on shaky grounds… Not that we’re going to see the end of Depp anytime soon. The man is too good to just disappear. But than again, are we being too pessimistic? X/

    • 2.1 Leona

      Depp? he did way more craptastic movies than just one…and everytime …he starred an amazing movie…again crapmovies not just one ..he did 2 or 3 in a row and …after a while Johnny Depp was in another blockbuster
      when an actor works a LOT like Depp or so many of Korean stars is unavoidable a fiasco or 2… not every drama or movie is bound to be an success
      what for some ppl look like a fiasco… for a rookie actor would seem he caught God’s foot just because s/he was in a movie/drama it only depends on the point of view

      For Dr Champ’s cast could look as a fiasco…while for Playful Kiss’s cast the same ratings would look huge(again those 2 millions views on yt I guess aren’t for nothing…even I didn’t watch it)

      When we are in the range of 10%-13% ratings the success is just in the eye of the beholder…nowadays it looks harder and harder to have huge ratings… after me Baker King had a ton of luck with SBS and World Cup beside the talented cast and the makjang setup

      • 2.1.1 Ani

        Oh I know Jonny Depp did crappy movies in his day believe me, but supposedly after his streak recently, people felt that the Tourist was a bad movie to go into. I haven’t seen The Tourist so I can’t say much about the movie itself. What I do know is that Depp is pretty good when he does eccentric roles. The reason I think people really feel The Tourist ruined Depp is because he’s so popular now that they didn’t expect him to fall victim to such a “lousy movie” – of course not my words.

        I do feel that actors/actresses from all over are bound to get some good and some bad movies under their belt during their career. You can’t truly grow until you’ve made a misstep or two or a million. It’s called life.

        • Ani

          But like I said, I wonder if we’re being too pessimistic about this. For all we know Athena II might be a hit. You know, sort of like if you can’t get it the first time you might as well try to catch the wave the second time around.

  3. Dreamer

    IRIS is good and I love it, from the cast to the storyline.
    Athena is a huge disappointment. I’m not surprised that its ratings dropped drastically. As for IRIS2 they better find some actor who is compatible to Lee Byung Hun and better script writer or it will fail miserable like Athena.

    • 3.1 dee

      How about pairing her again with Song Seung Hun? hehe.. Don’t mind me.. I know it’s not going to work with his EoE resume.

      I just preparing myself for My Princess withdrawal.

  4. kaedejun

    i agree that it will fail – but more on the vein of javabeans’ last comment – the spy drama is no longer new and exciting, and no one is going to care to tune in. after all, how many scenarios of nuclear weapons can you create? it’s all gonna sound and be the same after a while…

  5. anony

    The writers can always opt for different scenarios, other than nuclear weapons .. (Which Athena should have done) look at 24 and its successful 8 season release.

  6. Birdie

    Please ,after a crappy production like Athena, they want us to watch Athena 2. Viewers are not that easily manipulated. Give us a good show and we will watch.

  7. snow

    i was so bored by IRIS, so a sequel is really blah to me. and it’s about time they stopped capitalizing on this spy genre and move onto something else.

  8. JJvegas

    Oh man Athena 2, I really hate Athena’s storyline. I was hoping for a tragic ending where they couldn’t make a sequel.

    • 8.1 omo

      Me tooo!! An act of God will raze the entire Athena and NTS to the ground along with all the characters.

      Taewon’s CEO, you’ve got to be joking!!

  9. maez

    The ONLY reason I will ever consider watching Iris 2 would be KIM SO-YEON.

    • 9.1 danna

      i know!…to think KSY would be in it and that it still isnt appealing to me makes me a little sad

    • 9.2 mary

      And Kim Seung Woo (? hope I got the name right).

      And they should add in that Ki Soo guy from Athena. 🙂

  10. 10 Tania

    Wouldn’t it be cool for Kim Tae Hee and Jung Woo Sung to do the next one together!!!??? I loved their chemistry in The Restless!

    • 10.1 Leona

      I watched THe restless in the same time as on TV was airing Yi San..and at that time I knew nothing about klala land… and I was so amazed how the lil girl from Yi San wasn’t the same person as the princess from the Restless … specially when dubbed some of KTH weaknesses were avoided and gained a another few…. They dubbed her with a 16 years old girl voice… accordin with her skin ;;)

  11. 11 Yoori

    Honestly, even with a stellar cast for the upcoming IRIS 2 and ATHENA 2, I don’t think it’ll do well. People get bored to see the same type of plot over and over again (except the JAMES BOND franchise!)… IRIS was a hit and perhaps a movie for it would have been a better choice.

  12. 12 chasen8888

    Iris and Athena has given the intelligence/spy industry an F grade. I know its a spy drama but the utter ridiculousness and stupidity of the key “intelligence agents” never cease to amaze me. As such after watching 5 episodes of both shows, I could never get on board with them.

    In a case like this, this may seem harsh but the kdrama writers could learn something from the jdrama shows when it comes to bringing something related to the smart/intelligence component. They are usually good in that aspect and thereby make the key characters have some brain power, believability and common sense with actions to back it up of course. With a little kdrama flavor, hopefully they do so soon, I am getting frustrated and angry whenever I see such potential wasted. I also feel sorry for the actors when they have to or try to make us believe some of the crap.

    • 12.1 Nana

      Well, in my opinion, J-drama does just as well as K-drama in these kinda of stuffs. J-drama doesn’t do well in actions/detective genre, but it’s excellent in quirky comedy genre as it can ditch the soap cheesy romance to the minimum.

      Anyhow, IRIS was overrated anyways.

      • 12.1.1 nell123

        Hmmm …interesting. For me jdramas have always been good with detective stories and bad with action/spy stuff. Like Iris/Athena level bad. Just like in Iris/Athena case I really wanted to like Bloody Monday series but couldn’t.

      • 12.1.2 belleza

        “J-drama doesn’t do well in actions/detective genre,”

        I would disagree with that. Detective and police procedurals are bread+butter genres for J-doramas for at least 20 years.

    • 12.2 Two Cents

      I could not have put it better, Chasen8888. I never watched Iris because I’m a huge Lee Byung Hyun and Kim Tae Hee ANTI-FAN, but I have tried watching a few episodes of Athena despite my dislike of the main guy. What baffles me over and over again is how utterly and breathtakingly stupid and incompetent the Korean secret service agents are. They are constantly 100 steps behind the bad guys. Come on, the writers have to give the story line some credibility even in a suspension of disbelief drama land. There’s got to at least be some kind of competition. How come they are always so baffled and surprised at the antics of the opposing forces? And the main guy is portrayed as a love sick fool with no objectivity whatsoever. No James Bond, for sure. Another thing that has me cracking up all the time is that all the bad guys have these big, bad guns while the good guys only have these tiny little toy guns. I think K-drama writers/producers think the K-drama audience is dumb and they’ll just eat anything up if they put enough pretty faces and add enough explosions or shiny things without any consideration for the intelligence of its audience. That’s rather insulting to us the audience, in my opinion.

      Which brings me to your second point about J-dramas. I have gravitated towards j-dramas lately. Despite their quirkiness, I find that there is more plot and are better written and more interesting. At least they don’t assume the audience have no brain cells.

  13. 13 danna

    this makes NO sense based on just IRIS’s success…i think that they should learn a thing or two from ATHENA’s bad ratings…. the least of them being that just being slick and having style wont make a show work, especially if the story isnt very substantial…..@chasen888…agreed about kdrama writers learning from jdrama shows!…and i thought they would have after IRIS failed to make an impact in the Japanese market

  14. 14 hanaoguri

    IRIS was pretty good because in my opinion, there was a mystery element to it….till the end, I was really curious about Seung-hee and who she really was. Athena seems to be all about guns, explosions,nuclear arms and technology. Can’t imagine producers would want to spend millions again on a drama thats not pulling in the viewers.

    IRIS 2 – if you get the original cast back, I think it just might work

  15. 15 Aya

    I don’t get the distribution of kdramas.
    Networks are surely getting the most revenue by ads, promo and franchise. As for ratings: they seem to make or brake a show (adding or reducing of eps / cancellation). And most of them go to DVD afterwards, which leads to more cash. Worldwide TV-rules, I guess.

    But korea seems to generally have a no-second-season policy. It’s unclear what the deciding factors are for a production to get the rare green light from a broadcaster. The Hallyu factor? Influence / Expectations of the sell-off to other asian countries?
    And it looks doubly unfair when we had a ton of incredibly underrated or overhyped dramas over the last years not even getting a second glance by producers. And now there’s going to be movie of a spinoff of a sequel of an under-performing drama?

    And something else: How much are production costs of k-programs in average? Variety shows are probably cheaper than dramas, right?
    How come Taewon Entertainment invests big money into A-listers and flies them to top-locations, but their drama scripts and stories are rehashed / nonsensical crap from basic spy fandom. Srsly, I’ve read better, suspenseful and challenging fanfiction.

  16. 16 supah

    Sorry, couldn’t resist posting this.
    This is especially for those are disgruntled with Athena and the IRIS franchise as a whole.

    I know not everyone will be able to read Hangul but if you scroll down slowly the images are all self-explanatory.


    Now wouldn’t it be bliss if Jo Pil-yeon was to do this with ALL shows of 2011 that are kinda… not up to standard.

  17. 17 msim

    Athena has only gotten good at around episode 15 – suddenly somebody somewhere has remembered this is an action series.
    Iris I had to stop after 2 episodes – it was almost painful – except for the 2 Kims.

    Athena’s choice of music, the pseudo-romantic flashbacks every 2 seconds, and way too much time upon a love story that is inexplicable and absolutely without heat.

    Action, action, action. Episode 17 showed me what Athena could have been. Sigh!

  18. 18 more

    What they should have done is wait a year or two before putting all this crap into production.

  19. 19 churasan

    I actually liked Iris, but for some reason I couldn’t get into Athena. I’m not sure why, but I felt it was lacking an actual storyline and there was less chemistry between the characters. It’s a shame because the cast were all stars that I like.

  20. 20 J-star

    i agree with everyone here. the story in Athena is repetitive and the loveline has no grounds at all, im not even sure if the two are in love. the plot is messy and yeah i agree, the acting is not bad, but not all good acting makes good drama. i think the viewers losing interest in this drama is because messy plot.

    for the sequel, im not sure if IRIS 2 is going to be as successful as its predecessor, but if they make a hella good script and plot on this one, i say they could make it better, but i highly doubt it. how many scenario can you make involving nuclear bomb? well, if they ask me to write a script for them i’ll give it a try. yikes, just kidding.

  21. 21 Htagged

    Two words: Cash cow

  22. 22 lovin it

    athena isnt that great because half its OTP cant redeem herself!
    yay for novelty but i prefer my heroines to be moral
    i’m still watching for choi siwon but not on time even for that reason :O

  23. 23 brookeeve

    Is T.O.P in this one? Oh, no? Well then, there went my interest…

    Maybe they should give it to the Hong Sisters? They haven’t done this genre yet, I’m sure that they could have fun with it…

    Better yet… why not just make DB and GF write it?

    • 23.1 Biscuit

      Hong Sisters in this? Nah. It should be Runaway: Plan B. Now THAT’s something they would have done well. Hong Sisters = Comedy.

      Put them in something else? It’s like trying to wear shoes that don’t fit.

      IRIS? Only kick ass when it’s in stills. If it was better fitted for a movie (not referring to the actual movie version – which is only the drama shortened), it would have done better. Or even 16 episodes.

  24. 24 ivy

    athena’s middling ratings shouldn’t be confounding for them. just because you got the budget for A-list cast, and jetset around the world on spy missions doesn’t mean much…

    rather, how such a thin plot can stretch for so long is confounding to viewers. nevertheless, i’m still stuck on the bandwagon because i actually like some of the actors.

  25. 25 rubie

    “Leading man Lee Byung-heon has already declined to return — ”

    Absolutely relieved about this. Once is enough, hope this situation stays. Hopefully KSY doesn’t return either but looks like she’s not going to be freed of endless misery losing out on other (better) projects.

    LBH made IRIS a hit with the sterling performance with KSY (everything else taeWON did goes haywire with endless loopholes to create “sequel suspense” puhleeze and completely destroy the storyline the movie ending). Everything about Kim Sunhwa was thrown out the window. In the drama she’s the best honorable loyal sidekick for Hyunjun who’d die for him.. someone he would do the same for but in the instant-cash-oriented-psycho-edited movie they made her the infamous sniper. Despite the lame production claims that movie and drama are different, the selling tagline at the movie market had been “the killer of HJ will be revealed in the movie.” Talk about CONTRADICTING.. and in the spinning spin-off.. again change Sunhwa to a docile housewife and then push her to ground zero to raise the dwindling numbers. Sunhwa is now perhaps the most unstable character in IRIS… but throw her left and right, we will love you because you’re not the enemy.. Taewon is.

    Only watch KSY in Athena despite the extreme change they gave her all over. Hope she will kick KSW really good in her revenge (Sunhwa is now being betrayed by PCY like Hyunjun was by Baeksan-Sawoo in IRIS).. comrade or not.. his supposedly know-all character failed her twice.. in IRIS and spin-off. The only good thing prevailing is KSY.. all other Athena just bleh. Spinning dumdum.

    Thanks JB for writing about IRIS and LBH.. appreciate the mention.

  26. 26 rubie

    IRIS 2 should be halted and really learn from Athena’s hard fall-from-huge-hype fiasco. Please stop while you still have a good rating and better reputation to remember.

  27. 27 Biscuit

    The only fault I find with IRIS/Athena is it’s writing. Seriously.

    If only we could add writers Kim Young Hyun or Chun Sung Il for IRIS 2 just for their epicness.

    And while we’re at it, let’s have Song Ji-Na to make a villain as compelling as Chae Do Woo.

    Then we can have Jang Dong Gun be the villain (which, surprisingly, he was the hero in Iljimae 1993 version. Dude needs to be bad once in a while). And Go Hyun Jung as the fierce female lead. Lee Jung Jae can be the suavy lead, and Lee Min Ho as his nerdy assistant.

    I know, I know. It will never happen. But since I’m dreaming anyways, might as well have Hyun Bin being Joo Won acting as the unexpected top spy who goes on every mission in his sparkly, purple tracksuit.

    • 27.1 jfc


  28. 28 Toya

    What really would be astounding would be if they sold the story to the US for a crappy US remake. That would be the cherry on the “milk this for all it’s got” pie.

  29. 29 moley

    I loved IRIS, tried watching Athena and got really bored with it. o___o

  30. 30 Daniela

    …And I was complaining of a, for now, non existent Secret Garden sequel… they really want to squeez all to juice to Iris.

  31. 31 Asa

    They could have thrown all the money in the world at these shows and they’d still be crap thanks to the writing..

    Wait, scratch that. They could have hired good scriptwriters and gotten someone to write a sensible story with consistent characters.

  32. 32 belleza

    Yeah, this is part of Shiri’s legacy on Chungmuro, that never-ending drive to become a Hollywood blockbuster factory. The irony is that the results have always been mixed, in particular when they’ve done big budget thrillers (for example, Shiri’s follow up Yesterday.)

    It makes sense to continue the Iris fandom. It’s not producing action/spy shows, it’s about luring A-listers into doing TV, getting foreign investors, and making money in Hallyu market. Cha Seung Won kinda admitted as such in an interview. Given the elevated profile from City Hall, he decided this would be a great opportunity for him to promote his Hallyu brand. Even though the Hallyu market is still geared toward romantic trendies (Secret Garden is going to make BANK) and “vacay spot” sageuks, it also works as general PR for what the industry can produce for TV.

    Anyway, I like Athena. The show was never going to really transcend that it’s a Korean-style “workplace romance” show. The internal logic of the story, however they may hide it, is still standard romantic triangle stuff, with a lot of escalation. Even a show like “Time of Dog and Wolf” never really broke from that. In that regard, I think the show’s okay, and I liked Cha Seung Won’s Depp-style turn as the villain. There’s a wonderful texture to the scenes between Hye In and Son Hyuk — his intensity for her is by turns moving and scary.

    And I like the Kill Bill-style setup for Iris 2. If you have Kim So Yeon in the lead role, well hey maybe they can pull out the $$$$ for Jang Dong Gun and give us an All About Eve reunion.

    It would be awesome if they could get a Jang Dong Gun, Cho Seung Woo, or Kang Dong Wan. But Iris 2 has “Jang Hyuk” written all over it.

  33. 33 honey

    i think iris rating is higher because the soundtrack is great.

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