I ♥ Stories

The link may seem tenuous, but this is exactly why a girl from the United States, with no ties whatsoever to the country or culture, has fallen so hard for S. Korean television dramas:

As Kevin Spacey explains [3.44 minute mark] — I want stories! I’m dying for them! And yes, I’ll go wherever I can to find them. And then I’ll talk about them all over the damn place. Because good stories are awesome! And the kind of stories I enjoy — filled with romance and intrigue and comedy and danger and complex characters that change over the course of the tale —  photo photo230112_zpsf6c0c8b2.jpgare readily supplied by S. Korean television.

This was not the point of Kevin Spacey’s speech, of course. He’s talking about television as a medium in general, and American television in specifics. He’s talking about how the system is kind of broken but there’s potential there because there’s an audience there (people want stories!). And that resonates with me because it’s the broken aspect that pushed me away. I still dip a toe in — I watched and enjoyed House of Cards and am looking forward to the second season — but…

I want stories! And the S. Korean television system — as broken as it is, with its live-shoots and reliance on hoary old cliches of yesteryear (issues I’m just beginning to cotton on to, being such a newbie and all) — delivers stories by the bucketful. I can watch it how I want: binge on one story, from beginning to end — assured by other viewers it’s worth my time — or throw caution to the wind and watch it as it’s told over the course of a couple of months.

American television, on the other hand, not only fails to provide me such an abundance, it can and will take away. pleasestandby photo bebacksoon_zpsd6b02a73.jpgKevin Spacey broke down how many pilots are made, how many get aired, how many get renewed [1.29 minute mark] and it’s a depressingly steep slide down to a really low number. Which makes for a hellish viewing experience. God forbid you get interested in something that doesn’t hit its expected viewer numbers. The story will just disappear — mid-tale.

K-drama, Two Weeks, is on a major network and it’s had bad ratings. If it were a US show, those of us who were watching would be getting antsy right about now. The time and day it aired would have been changed. Probably a couple of different times. The chances of it getting axed immediately would be bandied about. It’d be terrifyingly possible that we’d never see Tae-san reach journey’s end, never learn if Su-jin lived, never learn if Congresswoman Jo got her just desserts. After you experience that kind of thing several different times, you get tired.

I was tired. New shows were premiering and I… just didn’t have the strength to care. And then I stumbled across my first K-drama on Hulu. And a whole new world of story opened up to me. Easily accessible, legal, sometimes free (if you’re willing to put up with ads — which I am), and shared on a handful of different platforms (DramaFever, Viki, Netflix, and Hulu are my go-to legal sites) — there’s a wealth of stories to choose from with more being added every day. It’s a story-lovers heaven.

I would love it if the US system took a few pages out of the S. Korean playbook. But the cool thing is? I don’t need it to happen. Because S. Korea is already doing it their way and making their product readily available to me. I love stories and so, now I love k-dramas. And, of course, I adore the internet.

[Kevin Spacey’s entire speech can be seen here. It’s fascinating if you’re interested in this sort of thing. It’s also a little over 45 minutes long.]

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14 thoughts on “I ♥ Stories

  1. It must be so terrible when you are among the few people who love a show but it got cancelled mid-way.
    Being a non US citizen, I have seen only a selected few shows and obviously which got completed….I didn’t know that you all had to suffer in this way…

    Kudos to Kdramas and the actors who keep on giving a quality work even if the ratings are low and complete the show till the end of the story.

    • It can be so, so awful. It takes away the easy enjoyment that a tv-show should be. I can remember practically living on ratings sites to see how shows were doing, biting my nails to see if it dropped from yellow (teetering on cancellation) to red (will be cancelled). And then you resent the hell out of shows that are doing well — which isn’t fair to them. It gets exhausting.

      My husband and I have practically sworn off networks — which are notorious for mistreating interesting shows — and I pretty much ignore the new tv season. If it sounds interesting to me… it’ll probably be cancelled and it’s best to just avoid the pain.

      Oh! And it can suck for the actors and creators (writers, directors, etc.), too! I’ve heard stories about show staff not finding out their show is cancelled until they arrive on set, ready to work. And then they’re told to go home because the show is done and they’re, effectively, fired. Pretty brutal.

  2. It doesn’t happen as much in kdramas, but off the top of my head, I can name 2 shows that got canceled due to poor ratings and viewers were left hanging: Ultimate Kpop Survival, which got canceled after E14, and viewers were left scratching their heads over where E15 was, and Vampire Idol, which got sliced in half and apparently has a dangling last episode, but that I’m STILL watching, for Woobie 😉

    I guess the bottom line is, though, THANKFULLY this is a rare occurrence in Korea!!

    • I remember Dramabeans covering “Ultimate Kpop Survival” getting cancelled. I recall it being treated as a really rare thing, though. (Part of it was the cable channel itself deciding to get out of the drama-business, right? Or something like that?)

      What I’ve heard of more often is long shows (30+ episodes), like Vampire Idol, getting hacked down. Though I’d thought there was usually enough leeway given to at least give the show a chance to wind their story up.

      But yeah — chances of a story getting axed are a lot lower. Plus — because the dramas are made to have an ending, you can hang back and let something finish before watching if it’s a worry.

  3. I totally understand how you feel. Most major U.S. networks live for ratings, so when shows tank in the large scale, they’ll be gone before you count to three. In Korea, it doesn’t quite happen that way, in part because shows are rarely set up in seasons–a single run of 16 or so episodes and it’s done. Besides that, I’m guessing PPL handles most of the costs, allowing for ratings to tank and not totally kill shows. if KBS were like NBC, Sword and Flower would be dead right now, despite being a fantastic show with a captivating story.

    In any case, I like knowing that in Korean television (and other countries’ television broadcasts) the ratings play a lesser role in the survival of a show. Then I can watch things like Sword and Flower without worries of the show randomly stopping in the middle, dangling an unfinished end for eternity.

    • Yeah — I think that lack of seasons makes a huge difference. That and the limited run. There’s not the same pressure to hit it big right out of the starting gate. And if the current show’s not doing as well — well, the next one might do better!

      And that relief of not having to worry about ratings… I totally feel the same way! I’ve been enjoying Two Weeks and it’s not hitting great ratings numbers but I’m not at all worried. (I’d love for it to do well for the show staff’s sake — but that’s a different feeling.) And I’m looking forward to “Sword and Flower” finishing so I can marathon it — but I don’t have to feel guilty about not watching it live and giving it the support it needs to survive.

  4. Interesting to hear your thoughts about how the Koreans can outshine the Americans when it comes to dramas, since the West always seems to set the gold standard of everything. Being Asian, Korean dramas are always airing on tv in my country, so it’s amazing how the internet has allowed Asian dramas to expand their reach to non-Asians. I used to watch American dramas like Charmed, Xena and X-Files last time, but I don’t watch any more because their shows seem to drag on FOREVER. They have multiple seasons that become less interesting, unlike Asian dramas where you at least know when the last episode is going to be aired. Another reason why I dislike watching American dramas is because you can’t seem to run away from sex. I like how kdramas manage to stay interesting and have epic romances without all the intimate scenes 🙂

    • It is awesome how the internet has allowed those of us in non-Asian countries to get Asian dramas! I had no idea what I was missing! It seriously makes me love the internet that much more. 🙂 It’s so, so cool how the world is shrinking and we can share each other’s stories. (Actually — Kevin Spacey pointed that out: the audience loves stories and if the television industry doesn’t provide, they’ll find their fix elsewhere.)

      …but I don’t watch any more because their shows seem to drag on FOREVER.

      Yeah, that’s the flip side of the coin. If a show doesn’t get cancelled and manages to get renewed… it can still end in grief as what was once a good show slides into a bad one. Which often happens when the story probably should have ended but you’ve got to keep churning out seasons for as long as people will watch. I’ve had so many shows do that. My husband and I have become quite jaded and we drop shows very easily if the season seems wobbly.

      But I adore — full on love, admire and adore — that k-dramas are written with an ending in mind. Characters are allowed to grow and change and conflicts get resolved and villains get defeated and romances actually happen instead of playing endless games of “will they, won’t they” — it’s so unbelievably refreshing, you don’t even know.

      (And yeah, shows in the States can have people tumble into bed so easily… I actually do like that there’s a bit more effort involved with k-dramas. Though sometimes I find myself yelling, “oh my gosh, just kiss already!” ;))

      • I think this exactly what I like Kdramas so much—their limited runs allow for novelistic storytelling with real beginnings, middles, and ends, instead of encouraging shows to remain in stasis for as long as the ratings are good. And the fact that there’s a never ending cycle of currently airing shows means that there’s always something new to watch—not like in America, where every subsequent season actually serves to reduce the number of shows available. If I discard a show on season 1 and it airs for 6 more seasons, that’s a block of air time I’ve opted out of for years.

        • And then actors are trapped, too! I mean, if this were the States, Lee Jung-suk would be playing his “School 2013” character for years. Celebrated for it, yes — but no “I Hear Your Voice” for him or us. Or even uglier, Lee Yoo-bi would be stuck in her thankless role in “Gu Family Book” (which sucked, but got high ratings) for years. (Unless her character got killed off. There’s always that route, of course.)

          I know there’s issues with the Korean drama system, but in so many ways, I think they’re doing it better than the US system. Which is why I’m watching. 🙂

  5. Wow you took the words right out of my mouth! Since finding K-dramas 10 months ago, I hardly watch TV shows in US. I keep watching K-Dramas and worry that someday they will quit filming them or they will get blocked! Heaven forbid!!

    • Eek! That would be a nightmare!! Fortunately, it seems like the demand is only growing so… may the k-drama well never run dry! 😀

      Because yeah — with k-dramas providing my story fix I can be very, very picky about US shows. And I like it that way. 🙂

  6. Oy, please don’t die for stories! 😀

    So true about giving the audience the freedom to choose, and how it’s all about the content.

    Recapping DGCH has got me thinking how live-watching/recapping shines a light at and tears tears apart every piece of a show. With marathoning you sort of see the whole forest instead of hacking at or stumbling on a tree.

    Both experiences chew at the narrative, but in different ways. It’s so interesting! Also, I’m thinking with more shows under one’s belt one tends to get more intolerant. And yet with older shows you forgive a lot because, well, nostalgia’s crafty. 😛

    Rambling again, but interesting post, Betsy.

    • Hah! What if I just dramatically fall to the floor and demand stories, now! 😉

      I totally agree that there’s a huge difference between watching a show live and marathoning it — the pace is so different and yeah, you get a sense of the whole story in a way live-watching doesn’t allow. Though — sometimes you miss the cool details because you’re busy diving into the next episode. And I can only imagine the details you pick up while recapping.

      Nostalgia is crafty. Plus, there’s the whole thing where the first time you see a cliche it’s interesting. Then you see enough to realize it’s a cliche. But the first show is let off the hook because you didn’t realize it at the time.

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