The Producers: Episode 1
The veil finally lifts on KBS’s hyped experimental-format variety-drama The Producers, and I’m happy to report that it’s great. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to its hype (since there was ever so much of it), but the show delivers, and I’m pleased. One of the show’s big selling points was the incorporation of real people and names into the fictional narrative, making for a hybrid “real variety” format (which turns out to just mean mockumentary, because the characters are also being filmed by a docu team within the show)—but really, at the core you have a funny writer and great characters, acted well by a winning cast.
The tongue-in-cheek meta stuff about variety shows and celebrities is fun icing on the cake, but really, The Producers is a funny workplace comedy set in showbiz, sort of like The Office come to KBS.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Seung-chul – “Darling” from the Producers OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1: “The variety department, unintentionally”
At the broadcasting headquarters of KBS, a welcome ceremony is held for the newest class of employees. Just as one car parks and its driver pauses to touch up her makeup, a second car parks right next to her. The driver is new employee BAEK SEUNG-CHAN (Kim Soo-hyun), and he’s running late for the ceremony.
A producer trains a camera on him and asks a few questions, because the KBS documentary team is working on a show featuring the inner workings of their own company. Which explains the faux-reality setup of this entire show.
The producer in the first car, TAK YE-JIN (Gong Hyo-jin), opens her door and smack! She dings Seung-chan’s car and is simultaneously annoyed and worried about the ugly scratch she left on his door. You can see her considering slinking away, but she’s been caught on camera by another member of the documentary staff. Dammit.
The documentary team interviews the new employees, and Seung-chan hems and haws at the question of why he chose to pursue variety. He bashfully admits that the noona he likes works there. “I just… wanted to be near her,” he says.
A flashback to her graduation day shows just that: As the noona (cameo by Jo Yoon-hee) poses for a picture with a crowd of friends, Seung-chan sidles closer to just barely make it into frame.
The variety rookies begin their on-the-job training (OJT), led by CP (chief producer) Kim Tae-ho. That name becomes a running joke, because the real-life PD (producer-director) Kim Tae-ho is over at MBC heading the “national variety program” Infinity Challenge, while this Kim Tae-ho says defensively that he was first: “I’m the original Kim Tae-ho! Okay sure, he’s talented and all…”
It becomes clear, hilariously and by degrees, that CP Kim is a bit of a blowhard, of the most hapless sort. He talks big, but everything around him points to the contrary. For instance, he proudly presents the newbies with a book titled “What is a Variety PD?”—it’s an instruction manual, written by himself. Seung-chan tells us, however, that most people assume it’s the Infinity Challenge producer’s book, and that there are a lot of returns. But Seung-chan had already written his name on the front and couldn’t return his copy. Wah wahhhh.
As the team is shown around the various departments, we get a slew of in-jokes about various KBS variety programs. Happy Together, for instance, pulled in a low 7.0% rating for the week, and CP Kim says unconvincingly how 7% is really pretty good these days, you know, with all those cable stations and all the competition…
Seung-chan is adorably awkward, with “naive” practically stamped on his forehead over those wide, gullible eyes. Gullible eyes that are growing more disillusioned by the minute, as his expectations are crushed by the reality of the job.
More jokes: Gag Concert tickets are notoriously difficult to get, so don’t ask, says CP Kim in a tone of bewildered hurt. (Clearly he’s tried, many times.) Then he treats the Superman Returns PD’s illness as a sign of overwork and dedication, while a sardonic employee tells us that the guy actually drank up a storm last night.
Lunchtime rolls around, and CP Kim leads the rookies to the cafeteria, giving them menu tips with an air of great importance. Three SNSD idols walk into the cafeteria (Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun) and CP Kim brags that he’s sooooo tight with them, only to have Taeyeon wonder if he’s the Infinity Challenge guy.
Next, they head to the control room for Music Bank, which has a live broadcast today. This is where door-scratcher Ye-jin works, and she is grudgingly roped into taking over the OJT for the day. She does it as ungraciously as possible, griping to CP Kim about it being a rough day, what with her car door accident and all.
Like CP Kim, Ye-jin talks a big talk, but we’re shown glimpses of the chinks in her armor. For instance, it’s clear that she’s super worried about what the owner of the expensive foreign car will say, and how much she’ll have to pay for the repair, but outwardly acts like it was his fault for driving such a large car in a small nation, harrumph.
Her tirade is overheard and quickly texted to all the idol managers waiting at the coffee shop (their “home base”). They’re given a threat level for Ye-jin’s temper (moderate, don’t mess with her and you’ll be okay), and advised against introducing a rookie pop star to her today. One sighs that he wishes she hit his car, so he could use that as leverage with his idol.
Ye-jin sends a text to the owner of the car, then launches into an introduction to the variety rookies. Seung-chan receives her text a second later, but when he checks his phone, she scolds him for not silencing his ringer. He apologizes, and then she scolds him for apologizing too easily. Ha. He’s so bewildered at her contrariness, and it’s written all over his face.
As Ye-jin explains how the broadcast is run, they spot a couple sitting in the audience on the monitor. Seung-chan alerts to mention of his noona’s name… and the rumored boyfriend she’s sitting with, whose cheek she kisses. His heart sinks.
Still, when his noona notices him in the lobby, dejected Seung-chan brightens to see her. But it’s evident she barely remembers anything of him, introducing him to a colleague with all the wrong information. She walks off talking about what sounds like wedding plans, breaking his heart some more.
Seung-chan holes up in a bathroom stall to have a private cry, and the docu cameraman persistently films on, just outside. That’s when a veteran producer, RA JOON-MO (Cha Tae-hyun), enters, and Seung-chan recognizes him as his noona’s supposed boyfriend. He’s comically petty as he glares with his red-rimmed eyes, purposely flicks Joon-mo with water, then loudly uses the air dryer when Joon-mo takes a phone call. Aw, vengeful puppy.
Joon-mo is the PD of the fourth season of 1 Night, 2 Days (while we’ll all know that Cha Tae-hyun is a cast member of the third season), and he’s been summoned by the Korea Communication Standards Commission. He explains that a summons for variety PDs is usually in response to the airing of undignified behavior, though he shrugs, “It’s not like we have much dignity to begin with…”
Today’s reason is for vulgar use of language on the air, as a panel of humorless executives explains stiffly. In particular, the show used the word “boogers,” in regards to the eating thereof. Joon-mo briefly tries to defend himself before giving up and meekly apologizing. The committee appreciates the ready apology, but wonders at its sincerity.
Outside, he runs into a reporter who marvels at the frequency of his standards committee summonses. (Fifteen and counting.) He also makes an offhand reference to the show being canceled, which is news to Joon-mo, whose first reaction is to dismiss it as impossible, since he’s never heard of this. The reporter notes that the producers are always the last to know, and Joon-mo is left with an unsettling feeling that niggles at him the rest of the day.
Joon-mo interviews with the documentary crew, explaining how 1N2D was quite the hit back in its heyday under Na Young-seok (who went on to create Grandpas Over Flowers) and Lee Myung-han (who produced Answer Me 1994). Season 2 went a bit astray, but Season 3 was great. By the time Joon-mo took over for Season 4, the show was feeling stale so he wanted to shake it up a bit.
So he recast with an all-actress cast, giving us a gem of a cutaway to Season 4’s cast of four opinionated actresses (cameos by Yoon Yeo-jung, Geum Bo-ra, Hwang Shin-hye, Hyun Young), who totally ignore the script and refuse to go on trips or participate in any of the trademark 1N2D activities. One won’t drink fish sauce (a signature punishment on the show), while another barks that she’s too old to sleep outside (another given in the premise).
Joon-mo concedes that he shook things up too much, and ratings bombed. But he tries to convince us (and himself) that it’s not all bad, that “danger is an opportunity,” and that he’s totally not nervous about cancellation. Gulp.
So when his writing team asks if he was unable to free up Miss A’s scheduling conflict with their Music Bank appearance, Joon-mo barks that of course he can get it worked out.
Unfortunately, his call to the show comes just as Ye-jin is telling the rookies that you have to be able to say no to all requests for pulled strings, even if the president were to stroll in. In fact, to make her point clear, she puts Joon-mo on speakerphone while refusing to make concessions. Her advice: You’re responsible for your own plate here, and if you run around taking care of other people’s food, you’ll find yourself with nothing to eat.
Ye-jin’s super-cool speech ends with her accidentally falling back into her chair when her purse gets caught, and she plays it off like she meant to sit back down again. I’m getting the sense that she’s competent and accident-prone in equal measure.
Joon-mo gets called in by the station director, who presents him with his miserable ratings. The director calls his “5% ratings these days are just like 15% in the old days” explanation as a cowardly excuse, and tells him the program is being canceled. Joon-mo is stung and storms out indignantly.
The director sighs that Na PD did a great job with the first season and wonders, “Can’t we bring him back here?” HA. Good luck with that, KBS.
(It’s common knowledge that Na PD left KBS after 1 Night, 2 Days to go to cable with a bunch of his PD colleagues, where they enjoy greater creative control and have been churning out hit program after hit program for tvN. It’s extra funny given that the new season of Na PD’s Three Meals a Day premiered on the same day as this drama, and Na PD has been saying all week long in interviews that he’s nervous about going up against Producers and “can’t honestly say I want them to do well.” LOL.)
Feeling like the head of a household who’s just lost his job, Joon-mo trudges back to his writers room but can’t face his team. Mustering his resolve, he returns to the director’s office, asking if he’ll be fired as well (if not, he can save his team’s jobs). The director assures him that he’ll stay onboard; all he needs to do is replace the cast and be ready with the revamp in two weeks. Oh, just that then.
The director and CP treat it like this is the easiest problem to solve, and tell him to combine their upcoming anniversary party with the show wrap party, to save costs. They aren’t willing to spend money to shoot a finale episode, but they do chatter on incessantly about dinner menu options.
The director makes a personal request of CP Kim, because he’s heard that Cindy’s appearing on Music Bank and his daughter’s a huge fan. She just so happens to be here today…
So CP Kim heads to the dressing room to ask top pop star CINDY (IU) to take a few photos with the director’s daughter and her friends. One look at Cindy’s stone face tells us she’s of the diva variety, and Cindy’s manager-oppa tries to tactfully decline the request, but CP Kim blunders forward and forces the issue before she can reject it.
Cindy remains silent and sour-faced through the encounter, then tells her manager she’s not doing rehearsals anymore, where she gets routinely accosted like this. She doesn’t care that the show’s head PD is famously difficult, nor does she intend to heed Ye-jin’s request to wear something less revealing.
Ye-jin worries at the non-response from her car-scratch victim, and sends more texts that are increasingly aegyo-filled. He’s not reading the messages, so she tries calling—and seconds later when Seung-chan’s phone goes off, she barks, “Just because I’m on the phone, do you think it’s okay for you?” She orders him to shut it off, and when she tries calling Mr. Foreign Car again, she’s affronted to find his phone shut off. Haha, I could watch this go around for days.
Ye-jin hears that Cindy won’t change out of her sheer outfit and can’t back down, not with the rookies watching her every move. So she calls in Cindy’s manager and tells him firmly to make the wardrobe change happen, and when that doesn’t work, she heads over to confront little miss diva in person. (Her staff gasps, “Are you going there to fight?” Ye-jin retorts, “I’m going to teach her a lesson.” Everyone hurries to follow, not about to miss this.)
Ye-jin storms into Cindy’s dressing room (just as Cindy’s ordering her manager-oppa out for breathing too loudly) and adopts a forceful pose. But Cindy’s just as strong-willed, and they exchanged politely barbed words for a while until Cindy says that her clothing isn’t scandalous, it’s pretty. She turns to the rookie class to back her up, and singles out Seung-chan for his opinion.
Asked directly if he agrees that it’s pretty, Seung-chan stammers in agreement, which earns him a glower from Ye-jin. Cindy says that men like what she’s wearing, although slightly older women such as Ye-jin may not.
Ye-jin takes the “this is a family show” approach, but Cindy again puts Seung-chan on the spot, asking if he ever watches the show with his mother. He ekes out a vague answer, and Ye-jin glares again.
Then Cindy says she understands—and she won’t do the show at all, if it would be such a blow to the program to have her on it.
Ye-jin orders her staff out of the room. Then she does a total turnaround to say that the clothes are totally pretty, but KBS is the problem here and won’t allow it. She tries all sorts of flattery and pleading, until finally Cindy concedes to wear a jacket. Ye-jin pours on the gratitude, praising her kindness and showering her with smiles…
And walks out of the room with a stone face, of course, and tells her impressed staff not to spread the gossip about Cindy yielding to her, to save her reputation. Then she turns on Seung-chan to say how sad he must be to have Cindy’s pretty clothing covered up. When he apologizes again, she barks again at him not to say sorry.
Seung-chan interviews to the docu crew that he isn’t allowed to apologize, but he can’t remain silent, and he can’t talk back, so… “It’s a vicious cycle.”
In the control room just minutes before Music Bank goes on air, Ye-jin overhears talk of 1N2D being in a crisis, with Joon-mo being called to both the standards commission and the director’s office. She must feel bad about that, and turns to the rookies to backtrack on her earlier words, saying that helping out your broadcast family is a win-win situation, if you wait a little to make the concession.
Then she calls Joon-mo (on speakerphone) to very generously agree to his previous request… only to have him hang up on her with a curt, “Forget it, I don’t need it.”
Music Bank goes live, and Cindy’s wearing her jacket onstage—for all of two seconds, before she peels it off and tosses it aside. Grimly, Ye-jin directs the show since there’s nothing she can do but let the cameras get all those angles of barely covered skin.
Cindy’s entourage leaves the premises immediately afterward, and for the rookies’ benefit Ye-jin plays it off like they ran scared from her. She requests a meeting with Cindy’s CEO tomorrow, who seems to have a reputation for being quite fierce. And as she does every time she’s feeling backed into a corner, Ye-jin turns on Seung-chan and accuses him of enjoying the show. She even foists off the inevitable standards commission rebuke on him, since he was sooo in favor of Cindy’s outfit.
Seung-chan just deflates even more, looking battered from all sides. When the docu PD asks how his first day was, he asks exhaustedly, “What do you think it felt like?”
It’s been an equally crushing day for Joon-mo, who stops at a convenience store and runs into Cindy’s manager oppa, whom he’s known for a while. They exchange pleasantries, and Joon-mo sees the manager buying Cindy’s dinner from the packaged aisle, which provokes a strong reaction in him. Joon-mo tells him to put those down and heads next door, where he buys a takeout dinner and gives him a message to take back to his CEO: that if you’re going to overwork your kids and make them dance and sing, at least feed them properly.
Cindy’s not at all pleased with the dinner, which is full of stuff she can’t eat. She asks for the PD’s name and hears that Joon-mo is longtime enemies with their CEO, though the manager doesn’t know why. And in a quick montage, we see the fearsome CEO Byun yelling and berating her staff, and making scenes to get her way with KBS.
Cindy wonders why their CEO’s enemy would buy her food, and the manager has no idea. “Is he crazy?” she thinks.
Ye-jin hasn’t gotten a return message all day long from her car-scratch victim, and she tries again that night in the parking lot. Finally he picks up, and she puts on her most placating voice and calls him Teacher and plays up the “we’re all family here at KBS!” angle.
She’s surprised when he says he works in the variety department, and looks up just as Seung-chan arrives. All of a sudden, her sweetness fades and she adopts her tough-as-nails stance, saying sarcastically how nice his car is and asking why he doesn’t respond to his messages.
He says she told him not to look at his phone, and only now reads the messages she left. She barks at him not to—they’re all cutesy and supplicating, full of emoticons—and downplays the scratch as minor even as she instructs him not to go easy on her because she’s his sunbae.
He says haltingly that since it’s his father’s car, he’ll have to see what he says. She agrees, then complains at how closely he parked, making an exaggerated show of how impossible it is to get in the door without hitting his car. I think we can distill the majority of their interactions to this: Yell, yell, blink, blink.
Joon-mo takes his team out for expensive barbecue, and their first reaction is to be suspicious—are they being canceled? He denies it, but has to come clean about the mandate to bring in a whole new cast. His team knows their jobs are at risk despite his assurances that they aren’t, and he reminds them that the last time he brought every one of his old staff to the new show (which is why the new show had an absurdly large writing staff of twelve, HA).
But the head writer makes a bitter observation, that PDs still get paid whether they’re on specific shows, while the rest of the staff doesn’t. Plus, there’s all this work to do now, canceling things and editing new things, and the mood quickly deteriorates into anger and tears.
It’s a despondent night for everyone as they go their separate ways, all wearied for different reasons. Ye-jin sees news of Cindy’s scandalous outfit hitting the internet, while Cindy ends up eating her dinner after all.
Joon-mo’s team drinks and disperses, and he trudges home alone and pours himself some soju.
Seung-chan stays up reading that “What is a Variety PD?” book, whose first chapter begins with the message “Beginning is not the half of it—the beginning is just the beginning.”
Ye-jin arrives home and also pours herself some soju… and then we see that she’s sitting across the kitchen table from Joon-mo. Aha. So they’re a couple?
Joon-mo tells her not to push him today, and she asks for the same.
Seung-chan’s family gathers that night to celebrate his first day on the job, and his father leads them all in a prayer of thanks, which informs us of his family’s situation in a hilariously offhand way. His older brother has been studying to pass the bar for twelve years and has a marriage on the rocks, his sassy sister is married to a doctor, and his younger sister (also sassy) routinely gets forgotten from the family prayers.
Dad ends on an optimistic note, saying that with a would-be lawyer in the family (byeon-ho-sa), a doctor (eui-sa), and now a producer, they’ll have a full “sa” household.
(Job titles that end in the syllable “sa” mostly indicate respectable white-collar professions.)
A sister asks how that applies to Seung-chan, and Dad clarifies, “He’s a pro-du-sa!”
(Groaaaan. Ba-dum-ching! This whole epilogue is basically a long setup for that punchline, which at least explains why the show is spelled, in Korean, pro-du-sa instead of the standard spelling of pro-du-seo. It’s a minor difference, but allows for the joke of counting a producer as a “sa” career, which it really isn’t.)
I didn’t want to get my hopes up for this drama, because even with its strong credentials, you can never expect a new show to relive the successes of the past. I was also wary of how well the drama would incorporate the much-touted “real variety” segments, wondering if these producers would get buried in their love of meta commentary—that kind of stuff is fun for insiders, but can often lose the rest of us. So I’m glad that I could appreciate the meta references and jokes without feeling overwhelmed by them; I honestly don’t think you need to know much about the variety world to enjoy The Producers, whose sense of humor is rooted in character relationships and situational comedy. Universal stuff. You don’t need to know oodles of insider industry news, and besides, that’s what we’re here for, to point that stuff out!
The first episode was a bit slow in plot, because boy was there a dense thicket of setup and KBS-related references taking up a lot of time. I didn’t mind having a lot of cameo appearances (for once they enhance the story, since it makes the station feel real and legitimate, rather than purely fictional) but we could have skipped some of the other shows (mentions included Immortal Song, Gag Concert, Superman Returns) to cut to the chase sooner. At least the writing was funny, to keep them moving along with a steady stream of jokes. I’m glad to see writer Park Ji-eun following up You From Another Star with another bubbly comedy; she has a good sense of comedic timing and a rapport with these characters. And I see the wisdom in attaching an experienced variety hitmaker to handle the variety scenes while entrusting the scripted drama to veteran PD Pyo Min-soo, to make the best of both.
I love Cha Tae-hyun in this drama, in particular his way of making every line and joke his own—I’m sure they’re mostly scripted (though I wouldn’t be surprised if he ad-libbed up a storm), but he has a knack with comic delivery. Granted, I sometimes can’t separate Cha Tae-hyun the real person from Ra Joon-mo the character, since I swear it feels like he’s playing himself, if he’d decided to be a PD instead of an actor. But maybe that just speaks to his strength in embodying a role. And while he’s fantastic as a comedian, what really makes him stand out, for me, is how he can also be heartfelt and serious and sometimes pathetic.
Gong Hyo-jin worried me a little with pre-show comments about how mean her character was, but I was surprised at how much I love Ye-jin. I mean, not surprised that Gong Hyo-jin was great, because when is she ever not great? But the prickly character is easy to find endearing because of just how much bluster is involved, and how Ye-jin is so often wrong, but how unwilling to admit it when she is.
I’m particularly impressed with how natural the main three actors are in their roles; IU isn’t bad as the bratty idol, but you can see how she’s trying very hard, whereas the other three inhabit their personas in a way that doesn’t betray their effort. Kim Soo-hyun reminded me again why he’s so wonderful, in a way that I don’t think we saw in You From Another Star; that was a fun character, but in the scope of things, kind of straightforward to play. He’s given much more to work with here, and he cracks me up with his bewildered, overwhelmed deer-in-headlights expressions. He’s smart but totally hapless, and just doesn’t know what to make of Ye-jin. He’s pretty much her complete opposite, and it’s great.
The actual story development was pretty minimal in this episode, but at least there was a central conflict posed (with Joon-mo needing to save his show and his team), so I’m okay waiting for the next episode to get to the meat of things. Surely the episodes don’t really need to be 80 minutes long, even if that’s done to mimic actual variety programs, but on the upside those minutes do tend to fly by, just as long as you’re not the one doing the recapping. The comedy will keep the pace brisk for now, while the hints of more emotional developments (Joon-mo’s fight to stay on the air, Seung-chan’s lack of direction about wanting to be a PD) will give it heart. (It had better.)
- Smiles and scowls at press conference for The Producers
- Producer’s playful partner-go-round posters
- Hidden camera teasers: Producer meta, or Meta Producer?
- Petty jealousy revs up on Producer’s morning commute
- Oh Snap! Cozy Producer, Hidden Ex-Girlfriend
- Cha Tae-hyun goes behind the 1N2D camera for Producer
- Script reads for new KBS spring dramas Producer and School 2015
- Kim Jong-kook joins Producer as Cha Tae-hyun’s sunbae
- Gong Hyo-jin considers Producer opposite Cha Tae-hyun
- IU courted to reunite with Kim Soo-hyun in Producer
- Cha Tae-hyun to play veteran variety PD to Kim Soo-hyun’s rookie