Networks under heat for 'sensationalism'

SEOUL, South Korea Though overseas phenoms like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” have been widely chronicled in the South Korean press, local TV producers must face their own reality. Namely, viewers in this mostly Confucian nation might not react too kindly to the sight of young people conspiring to give their elders the heave-ho.

Most execs dismiss the possibility of making room for such a program on their lineups anytime soon. Last month, Minister of Culture & Tourism Park Ji-won lambasted the nation’s three major webs for approaching “sensationalism,” with his ire particularly drawn toward an entertainment program in which a model’s bikini top popped off — accidentally or not — during an 11-meter dive. (The show, in which celebrities take on real-life challenges, turned the 24-year-old model, Cho Hyang-gi, into an instant star.) The networks have pledged to be more diligent.

Nonetheless, one intrepid young producer at SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) is convinced that a localized version of “Big Brother” could succeed. Yoon Sang-Sup flew to Holland late last month to meet with officials from the program’s creator, Endemol.

Yoon says his boss is somewhat daunted by the high license fees and requirements for the program to be stripped over five to six nights. Still, the game is not over yet. Negotiations are ongoing.

Occasionally reprimanded for his now-canceled talkshow parody taking aim at politicos, Yoon says the privately owned SBS is more progressive than the state-run KBS or MBC, a network with public-private control.

He is well aware that “Survivor” boasted much higher ratings in the U.S. than “Big Brother” but prefers the latter for Korea because it “describes the relationship between people better.” Yoon believes that “Koreans tend not to show their feelings” and that such a program could help participants lower barriers.

However, Kim Young-sun, a chief producer at KBS, remains skeptical.

“Our producers don’t think it can be done in Korea because Korea is conservative,” he says. “Viewers won’t like that kind of program.”

An exec with MBC says his network is likewise not planning to air such a program.

Meanwhile, KISTV.com, a Korean Internet Web site, has been running ads in vernacular newspapers seeking recruits for a reality show called “Twenty Eyes” that bears more than a passing resemblance to “Big Brother.”

A rep with the company insists, however, that the concept for the site was inspired by the film “The Truman Show” and had been in the planning stages long before “Big Brother” came on the scene.

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