Korean TV reality shows have long been a male-dominated area. Hit series in recent years such as "2 Days & 1 Night," "Infinite Challenge," and "Running Man" mostly, if not all, featured men as main cast members ― with women mainly in supporting roles.
Beauty and lifestyle-related shows have been the only platforms where women have had the spotlight.
However, with more TV shows challenging the status quo, the industry is undergoing a shift as more women take leading roles.
MBC's hit reality show "I Live Alone" launched a spin-off web series "Girls' Secret Party" in July with its female cast members ― comedian Park Na-rae, model Han Hye-jin, and singer Hwasa. The series has been making a buzz, hitting millions of YouTube views on its channel.
A new all-female show "Camping Hot Club" is also set to go on air next month. In a similar format to "2 Days & 1 Night," the show will follow comedian Park, comedian Ahn Young-mi, actress Park So-dam, singers Solar and Son Na-eun going on overnight camping trips around Korea.
Started on Aug.4, "Sporty Sisters" is putting the spotlight on female sports stars ― legendary golfer Pak Se-ri, Olympic medalist fencer Nam Hyun-hee, volleyball player Han Yoo-mi, figure skater Kwak Min-jeong, basketball player Kim Eun-hye, and swimmer Jung You-in.
The variety show follows the women experiencing the "ordinary" things they have missed out on under the strict discipline of their early professional careers. It offers a glimpse of their personal lives. With its popularity growing, the show made its foray into Netflix earlier this month.
TV shows starring former or active athletes are no surprise, as an increasing number of "sportainers" ― a new term for athlete/entertainer ― have appeared on the screen in recent years. Former basketball star Seo Jang-hoon, soccer player Ahn Jung-hwan and UFC fighter Kim Dong-hyun are a few good examples of those who successfully made the transition into TV showbiz and still entertain an audience outside the sports arena.
But until recently, they were mostly men.
Bang Hyun-young, chief producer of "Sporty Sisters," said this was the question she had before making the show.
"I asked myself, 'What are female sports stars doing these days?' It all started from there," Bang said during a press conference last month. "And as a female producer, I have always wanted to see a strong female portrayal on TV, which will be seen on this show."
A TV show producer told The Korea Times that viewers were making and accelerating the shift in trend.
"Previously, the viewers would look mostly for comedic elements in TV shows," he said. "But these days, they seek real stories, something to which they can relate personally."
Cultural columnist and critic Kim Hern-sik also believes that "relatability" is the key factor of the success of reality shows featuring women as main characters.
"The male-oriented variety shows focused on 'missions' and winning, like taking on a challenge or playing games," Kim said. "So if women were to star in those shows, they would have to imitate men and show slapstick comedy, which may not sit well with viewers."
In contrast, the female-centered variety shows intend to offer personal stories with more details in which viewers can get a glimpse into the stars' lives and relate them to themselves, the critic said.
Park Won-sook's "Live Together" was one such show, Kim said. Four middle-aged actresses share their stories of living alone. It induces a sense of empathy from the growing population of single-person households in the country.
Since its release on July 1, the show has received good feedback and performed well in terms of ratings (3-4 percent).
In the coming months, similar shows are expected to hit the TV screen.
"Previous TV show success formats have reached the limit (after being overused)," Kim said. "I think more shows featuring women will come out and allow the stars to present something new."
But certainly, not all similar shows will succeed. The TV show producer noted the key lies in how a show differentiates itself from previous hit shows.
"Fresh faces ― such as the actresses and sports stars whose personal lives were barely known ― played a vital role in making such shows a success," he said. "But in terms of the format itself, they lack originality and need more creativity."
source: The Korea Times