×

Korean Dramas Adopt Pre-Produced Format to Mixed Results

Enjoying pan-Asian popularity, Korean TV series have long been known for their live-shoot production format.

Most Korean TV series start airing after shooting just a few episodes. Production gets busier as the shows rush to the end. Actors have been known to receive scripts right before filming starts on all-night shoots, while editors often struggle to deliver a final cut on time. The end result usually meant lower-quality episodes as a series reached its climax.

The 2007 blockbuster series “The Legend” offers a cautionary tale. Despite its mega-budget ($38 million) and three years of preparation, “Legend” did not have enough time for shooting and editing all 24 episodes in advance. As a result, one episode failed to finish editing before the designated airing schedule and its broadcasting station, MBC, had to extend its live news to fill up time.

In spite of such problems, the live-shoot model has enjoyed consistent popularity as it allows series the flexibility to adapt to real time audience feedback: popular characters receive increased screen time and writers may even change plotlines to satisfy audience expectations.

However, the success of KBS’ 2015 series “Descendants of the Sun” opened the industry’s eyes to the potential of a fully pre-produced series. “Descendants” started airing only after production had wrapped.

“The series was set in an imaginary war-torn foreign country. It had to be filmed on location overseas, for which pre-production was necessary,” “Descendants” producer Han Suk-won tells Variety. “Also, we had pre-sold the series’ exclusive broadcast rights in China to video-streaming giant iQiyi. Pre-production was a must since, in China, the entire series had to obtain censorship approval from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television before it went to air.”

The disaster zone medical drama’s huge success in both countries — estimated at 38.8% ratings in South Korea and more than 2 billion views in China — triggered the trend of pre-production. Since “Descendants,” major series such as “Uncontrollably Fond,” “Entourage,” “Scarlet Heart: Ryeo,” “Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth” and “Saimdang, Light’s Diary” have followed the lead.

Though many of them were directly targeting the Chinese market, expecting pre-sales and simultaneous broadcasting, China’s ban of Korean content allegedly due to the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile has altered the situation. Only two episodes of “Hwarang” aired in China, while some series did not clear censorship at all.

“Many Korean dramas have relied on China since the success of ‘Descendants,’ ” Han says. “Since it has become extremely difficult to expect Chinese investment or rights sales now, it is true that the overall production environment for Korean dramas is not as fertile. However, local platforms are being diversified. Telecom giants and internet content service operators are competing to secure more exclusive, original series, with Netflix also jumping into the game. Though the size of their investment might not be as big as [former] partners in China, they will certainly contribute to the pre-production system in Korea.”

Another hurdle has been the disappointing performance of some pre-produced series. “Entourage,” for example, rated below 1% in South Korea.

“It’s an endless dilemma: entirely pre-produced series are given no room to reflect audience feedbacks,” notes a talent management agency’s head, whose actor recently performed in a pre-produced series. “That’s why some pre-produced episodes often get re-edited and sometimes even require reshoots on the day of airing, just like any other live-shoot shows. It may downgrade the overall quality of the show as the whole process is done in a rush.”

Recent hit series including “Goblin,” “Good Manager” and “Defendant” were either partially pre-produced, or not pre-produced at all.

That said, Han believes more producers will recognize the value of completing a series before it airs. “Broadcasting stations and production companies may go back to live-shoot format for now, but in time, more series will be pre-produced,” he says. “It is important for quality dramas to be made under stable production environment.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

  • Peter Fonda Dead: 'Easy Rider' Star

    Peter Fonda, Star of 'Easy Rider,' Dies at 79

    Two-time Oscar nominee Peter Fonda, who became a counterculture icon when he co-wrote, produced and starred in seminal 1969 road movie “Easy Rider,” then showed Hollywood he could act about three decades later in “Ulee’s Gold,” died on Friday from lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 79. His sister Jane Fonda [...]

  • CineLink Drama Brings High-End Series to

    CineLink Drama Brings High-End Series to Sarajevo

    When the organizers of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Industry Days surveyed the local TV landscape several years ago, they recognized the chance to make an impact. “We decided five years ago that we need to do something,” says CineLink industry coordinator Armin Hadzic. “The [regional] TV and public broadcasters were coming from another age.” [...]

  • SCHOOLED - ABC's "Schooled" stars Bryan

    'Kids Are Alright' Creator Joins 'Schooled' Season 2 as Showrunner

    Tim Doyle is taking over as showrunner and executive producer on the upcoming second season of “Schooled” at ABC, Variety has confirmed. Doyle takes over from Season 1 showrunner and series co-creator Marc Firek, who has exited the series to focus on development. The news comes just months after Doyle’s 1970s-set comedy series, “The Kids [...]

  • Matthew Miller'Lethal Weapon' TV series screening,

    'Lethal Weapon' Team Lands Put Pilot Order at Fox for Cop Drama 'Dead Eddie' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Matt Miller and Alex Taub are staying in business with Fox. The pair, who previously worked together on Fox’s series adaptation of “Lethal Weapon,” have scored a put pilot commitment at the broadcaster for a new drama project, Variety has learned exclusively. The drama is titled “Dead Eddie.” In the series, after a near-death experience, misanthropic [...]

  • Krypton Syfy

    'Krypton' Canceled After Two Seasons at Syfy, Network Not Moving Forward on 'Lobo' Spinoff

    “Krypton” has been canceled after two seasons at Syfy. In addition, the NBCUniversal cabler is not moving ahead with a planned “Lobo” spinoff. “Krypton,” set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s titular home planet, follows Superman’s grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) as a young man faced with saving his home planet or letting it be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content