The cable TV drama "Reply 1997" was a sleeper hit last year. / Korea Times file
"Rude Miss Young-Ae" actress Kim Hyun-sook
By Do Je-hae
The popularity of cable television dramas is changing the landscape of the industry with quality content and varied characters.
Major broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS were traditionally the main suppliers of TV dramas for local and international audiences. But viewers have become increasingly frustrated with them for either borrowing storylines from Japan or repeating the tedious formulas of family secrets and love affairs.
Serialized TV dramas were a foreign concept in Korea until a few years ago, but that has changed rapidly with the sweeping success of some serialized dramas carried by cable channels.
Two of the most popular cable TV dramas will return starting next month for additional seasons. CJ E&M recently announced the return of "Rude Miss Young-Ae" on tvN for its 12th season. There is much anticipation among fans for the upcoming season, as Young-ae may finally get married after years of failed relationships.
Young-ae, an overweight woman in her mid-thirties, was engaged in the 11th season to her boyfriend and colleague Kim San-ho. But it remains to be seen whether a wedding actually happens. A trailer on tvN's website showed Young-ae in front of a wedding dress shop, admiring a dress on display.
"Rude Miss Young-Ae" revolves around the uphill battles of graphic designer Lee Young-ae in her quest for love and office success. It was first series drama to be released in Korea in April 2007.
The character of Young-ae has become so popular that the show has been adapted to a musical.
"We expected major changes in Young-ae's life in the upcoming season. The audacity of Young-ae's character will be more pronounced than ever before," said Hang Sang-jae, the show's director in a press release. "In the next season, the show will also cover everyday issues that hit office workers."
"Reply 1997" is another cable TV series drama that has fans eagerly anticipating an additional season. The hugely popular series follows the life of five high school friends in the port city of Busan, against the backdrop of an extreme fan culture created in the 1990s as first-generation idol groups such as H.O.T. led the K-pop movement.
The timeline alternates between their past as 18-year-old high schoolers in 1997 and their present as 33-year-olds at a reunion dinner in 2012.
It originally aired on tvN for 16 episodes. Due to its popularity, the final two seasons were aired simultaneously on tvN's sister channels including Mnet, OCN, O'live and OnStyle. The last episode recorded the highest ratings at the time for a Korean cable drama.
Despite an inexperienced idol cast, the lead actors delivered convincing performances. Most of them were natives of Gyeongsang Province, so they were able to deliver the lines in a unique dialect from the region which made them more relatable to audiences.
Except for Sung Dong-il and Lee Il-hwa, who played the parents of the main character Sung Shi-won, a whole new cast has been announced for the second season of the show entitled "Reply 1994." The new season will go on air in September.
"Reply 1994" will follow the major themes in pop and sports events of that year, like Seo Taiji and Boys and the Korean Basketball League.
Sung Dong-il and Lee Il-hwa run a boarding house in Seoul, to be occupied by three young men from Gyeongsang Province while attending a university in Seoul.
Cable channels have advantage over major broadcasters in incorporating more versatile themes and graphic images. This has led them to become of major force in K-drama. In addition to tvN and OCN, four more cable channels, jTBC, Channel A, TV Chosun, and MBN, started to produce and air prime-time dramas last year.
TvN, owned by CJ E&M, and jTBC are considered the most successful cables in producing high-quality dramas. Many of these dramas can be viewed on YouTube with English subtitles.