SBS's "Running Man" will air its last episode in February amid lackluster rumors involving "merciless sacking" of its members and revoked plan for the second season. / Courtesy of Hankook Ilbo
By Ko Dong-hwan
"Running Man," an unusual Korean TV variety show that gained popularity in Asia and South America, will stop production in February.
The SBS announcement came on Dec. 16 after SBS earlier this month leaked a plan to scout high-profile show host Kang Ho-dong as a member replacing Gary who left the show two months ago.
But expectations soon turned to public outcry when media outlets said the broadcaster sacked the show's two members, Kim Jong-kook and Song Ji-hyo, without any discussion with them.
Online news outlet OSEN, citing an interview with a show official, said the two stars were not supposed to find out about their termination at such short notice and that it was due to "inside miscommunication."
After the report, Kang announced that he will not join the show's second season, saying he would feel burdened "to be part of the show when it was the subject of fierce public scrutiny."
The show's worsening image led to another report that it would end soon, which the show's producers and stars saw as a "crisis" and held an emergency meeting, according to OSEN.
Kim and Song, despite the rumor about their termination, agreed to stay at their posts until the show ended in February.
"News reports about the ‘merciless sacking' of Kim and Song came even before our team took proper communication steps," a show official said, according to media outlets.
"We apologize to Kim and Song for having suffered such heartbreak."
First airing in 2010, "Running Man" has met with better recognition outside Korea than in the domestic market with a format even easy for non-Korean viewers to understand ― grown-up celebrities engaged in a game of running and chasing enemies to take stickers off their backs.
Action and slapstick comedy were key elements that differentiated the show from other Korean TV variety shows like MBC's "Infinity Challenge" or KBS's "2 Nights 1 Day," which focused on jokes and skits only making sense to Korean speakers.
Locations were first limited to Korean rural areas, but they expanded to urban regions and later China and Thailand.
And their reception by local fans was phenomenal, paralyzing airports and malls where the stars appeared.
In 2013, the members launched fan-meeting events called "Running Man Race Start" in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, where the show was particularly popular.
Multiple YouTube videos of performances by Kim, Haha and Yoo Jae-seok show thousands of fans singing along with the stars.
The show's global influence created its Chinese version, "Hurry Up, Brother," which aired on ZJS TV in October 2014.
The Chinese stars met their Korean counterparts the next month and filmed an episode together, which rated 4 percent in China, with a population of 1.3 billion.
Starting late in 2015, the show's TV ratings in Korean households went downhill to 4.8 percent in December.