By Chung Ah-young
Korean dramas are getting old.
Young and glamorous stars in a typical "Cinderella-like" love story that have spurred hallyu, or the Korean Wave, are struggling to hold onto the viewers. Instead, soap operas targeting the older crowd, especially the "ajumma," are on the rise.
The "ajumma" refers to the middle-aged married women in Korean, who have always been a steady drama watchers with huge power over who gets to control the tv remote as well as the household budget in Korean households.
But as viewers tire of stereotyped Korean dramas with sappy, romantic themes and repetitive storylines, the young, especially those in their 20s are turning a cold shoulder to tv.
The current trendy dramas _ "Smile Again," aired on SBS featuring such top young stars such as Kim Hee-sun and Lee Dong-gun; "Great Expectations" on KBS starring Kim Jae-won and Han Ji-min, and "One Fine Day," on MBC starring Gong Yu and Sung Yu-ree _ all ended up with low viewer ratings of less than 10 percent on average.
The newly-aired drama, "Soon-ae, Please Come Back" which was first launched on SBS on July 11, following the final episode of "Smile Again," had a 20 percent viewer rating.
This comical drama casting Shim Hye-jin, Park Jin-hee and Yoon Da-hoon portrays two women, one in her 40s and the other in her 20s, who exchange their souls after an accident.
Although the drama basically features a comical and fantasy-like theme, the story unfolds in a realistic manner. Shim, the veteran main actress, who is 39 in real life, conveys the agonies of an ordinary housewife in her role as "Soon-ae," a typical housewife, dubbed "ajumma" connotation
"Ajumma," gives the idea of a woman who is tough and of shabby appearance because of her devotion to family.
Shim, with her disheveled hair and unexciting clothes is winning the hearts of viewers through her vivid portrayal of the "ajumma,’
"Invisible Man, Choi Jang-soo" which is broadcast on KBS on weekdays, is also gaining popularity among the middle-aged women who are the main viewers of soap operas.
The drama starring Chae Si-ra and Yoo Oh-sung is about a traditional story in which a husband who works as a police officer devotes himself to the happiness of his wife and two children after getting Alzheimer’s.
"The trendy dramas, mostly casting big-name stars who usually demand high casting premiums, face the shortage of variety in themes and items as they are getting stereotyped and similar in storylines," Kong Young-hwa, director of a drama division of SBS, said.
According to a recent survey by the AGB Nilson Media Research, the viewer rating for women who are in their 20s, who were the main viewers for the mini-series dramas in the 1990s, has been on the decline.
The comparable viewer rating was 22.6 percent in 2000 and 13.6 percent last year.
However, during the same period, the viewer rating for women in their 40s rose to 27. 7 percent from 23.9 percent; that of women in their 50s went up to 37.5 percent from 28.5 percent.
Also, young viewers are turning their eyes from land-based television broadcasters to other new media such as cable TV and the Internet.
"Young viewers are losing interest in television dramas because they do not satisfy viewers’ tastes which are fast changing in culture. A love story involving a son of a big "chaebol," and a girl from a humble family does not appeal to us anymore," 28-year-old woman Park Son-young who is living in Chamsil, southern Seoul, said.
"Many young women are turning to American dramas and sitcoms through cable channels. Unless Korean drama producers develop new and innovative stories, more and more young women might not return to programs aired by the nation’s broadcasters," she said.