Many TV networks in Korea were on high alert when the new coronavirus swept across the nation early this year. Some of their most popular shows were forced to halt production after staff members contracted COVID-19.
For them, the pandemic brought both fears and a big opportunity, as people spent more time in front of their TVs as a result of social distancing.
To keep the shows alive, the networks have come up with creative ways to get around the setbacks ― and thrive.
Shows go from "mingling" to "contactless"
With social distancing guidelines in place, "contactless" has become a new norm for everyone. So many producers of reality shows, which typically involve a lot of interaction, were on their toes in the face of the highly contagious disease.
They had to change the way they work.
For the production team of "You Quiz on the Block," in which celebrities invite random people on the street for "candid conversations," the task was particularly challenging.
Starting with its third season in March, the show ran under a different theme. It featured big stars ― like actor Shin Min-ah and producer-singer Park Jin-young ― and those with unique professions ― like a digital undertaker and a copyist of government appointment letters. The strategy was a great success, with its highest viewership rating at 4 percent.
Shows with a studio audience ― such as the sketch comedy show "Comedy Big League" and the guessing-game music show "Hidden Singer" ― sought to bring in the audience virtually.
Studio audiences are a key component for such shows as they participate by voting for, say, the funniest team of the show.
"Comedy Big League" installed a giant screen featuring the faces of the virtual audience for a live taping. The taping, which otherwise would have been filled with audience noise and reaction, featured a muted virtual crowd waving signs or placards.
Shows limit local travel due to social distancing
KBS variety show "2 Days & 1 Night," which introduces Korea's lesser-known tourist spots, has aired special episodes, in which the guests learn "how to dance like K-pop stars" from performers such as Taemin.
A reality show writer told The Korea Times that many shows involving travel have been canceled.
"Currently, we try not to travel. If we must, we film mostly indoors or in secluded, rural areas," said the writer, adding that she spends more time hunting outdoor spots to shoot. "And even for shows shot in the studio, we put up plastic guards between cast members as a precaution."
Recent episodes of the food show "Tasty Guys" had the cast cooking and eating at a remote place in the hills or were shot in the cast members' homes.
Overseas travel shows to take "detour"
Restrictions on traveling abroad were a major setback for shows like "K-Trot in Town" and "Law of the Jungle." But instead of canceling the shows, the networks came up with new formats.
"K-Trot in Town" began with the lofty ambition of introducing trot genre music to a global audience. Much-adored trot singers were supposed to travel around the world and busk.
But when the plan fell apart due to the restrictions, the network decided to use the show to discover new trot stars in Korea, with veteran singers as judges. Under the format, the show has successfully maintained its 10 percent viewership rating.
"Law of the Jungle" shows celebrities surviving in remote, unexplored parts of the world. With the pandemic, the production team started a new season under the concept "Wild Korea."
For its latest season "Hunter and Chef" ― somewhat a combination of "Chef's Table" and "Man vs. Wild" ―, a famous chef and celebrities were invited to hunt for their own ingredients and cook a meal on a desolate island.
New ideas tested during pandemic
The pandemic has also brought many creative ideas to entertain the TV audience, with minimum physical contact. KBS's new variety show "Virtual Market" (direct translation), which started Oct. 1, features celebrities who introduce good local farms and sell their products through a live commerce system.
Producer Son Ja-yeon said the show reflects this way of shopping that has emerged because of the coronavirus.
"Many of the local festivals have been canceled due to COVID-19, greatly affecting the sales in local products," she said through the network. "So it will be meaningful to show how we can utilize the online platform to help these local farmers and fishers."
SBS's Chuseok pilot show "Singers at Home" (direct translation) intends to highlight the growing stay-at-home culture. Cast members have to guess who is singing in videos shot at a star's home.
source: The Korea Times