In preparation for their Spring program reorganizations, KBS has been airing several pilot variety shows over the past couple weeks. One of those pilot shows happens to be “I’m a Man,” KBS’s attempt to field a show that takes advantage of the recent explosion in popularity of “risque” and “honest” talk shows like “Witch Hunt” and “War of Words“. The interesting twist here is that they got the “National MC,” Yoo Jae Suk, to lead the show, who, on first impressions, seems to be a rather peculiar choice for a show that’s meant to be all about being provocative and direct. Does the show offer an interesting twist to whole risque talk show genre or is KBS and Yoo Jae Suk just a bit too conservative and modest to do the concept justice?
Defining the concept
As part of the reorganizations, each broadcasters fields various pilot shows to gauge viewer interest. These pilot programs are usually one or two episode specials, designed to show off a program’s basic concept. This time, KBS showed off “Mr. Peter Pan,” “The God of Food, ” and lastly, “I’m a Man.“
With that out of the way, lets talk about “I’m a Man,” because at first impressions, the concept of the show might be a bit hard to grasp. “I’m a Man” was heralded by KBS as a show “A show by Men, for Men, about Men.” It was designed to be a talk show that intimately dealt with the male culture and the various situations pertaining to men in particular.
Some early marketing seemed to suggest that the show was going to be the KBS equivalent to talks shows such as “Witch Hunt” and “War of Words,” shows that have caused waves in recent months for tackling discussion topics that were previously considered a bit too lewd for television. “Witch Hunt” in particular has been extremely open about discussing the topic of sex and relationships, while “War of Words” has focused on dealing with the various controversies surrounding the entertainment industry.
When first impressions may be deceiving
While marketing may have led some people to believe that this show was going to be just a male version of “Witch Hunt,” anyone who has watched the show will now realize that this is hardly true. In a lot of respects, the show actually has a lot more in common with KBS’s other major talk show, “Talk Show Hello.”
When KBS called it “A show by Men, for Men, about Men,” they really weren’t beating around the bush. The first episode comprised of a six-man MC team comprising of Yoo Jae Suk, Noh Hong Chul, Lim Won Hee, Lim Si Wan, Jang Dong Min, and Heo Kyung Hwan. They were accompanied by an audience of 250 males, all of whom were picked for their limited exposure with females, whether that be because they attended a male only high school or studied engineering in university.
I mentioned above that the show more closely resembled “Hello” than “Witch Hunt.” A key aspect of that is the role the audience plays in the show. The show isn’t really about the MCs in the middle, it’s more about the audience members and getting to hear their stories and perspectives. In that regard, the show’s set is also designed in such a way that the audience takes up the majority of the view.
The set is designed in such a way that the audience essentially envelopes the centre podium where the MCs sit. Relative to other shows, the audience is a lot closer to the MCs and are positioned relatively level to the MC cast. This has the effect of always placing the audience in line of the camera, irrespective of who they are focusing on. As a whole, the design of the set solidifies the importance of the audience on the show.
Another aspect about the audience is that, compared to other shows, they are given a much louder voice. By that I mean the audience appears to act much more naturally and get involved with the show more frequently than other shows of this type. Gone is the usual FD (Floor Directors) out in front, giving audience queues for laughter and emotion. Instead, we see a dynamic group of guests that are constantly engaged in conversation and respond naturally to everything that is happening on the show. While it’s not completely unscripted, the audience interactions and reactions feel a lot more natural than most other talk shows currently on air.
You might have noticed that I’m focusing quite a bit on the audience and that’s because they are pretty much the whole premise of the show. Yet we can’t really ignore the MCs, as they are the ones responsible for getting the most out of the audience members.
The same old Yoo Jae Suk
Lets start off with Yoo Jae Suk, the ever popular “national MC.” Yoo Jae Suk is certainly not completely alien to talk shows, having being involved in numerous talks shows over the last decade. However, he hasn’t fielded a lot of shows that involve significant interactions with normal audience members and he has certainly not been involved in shows that many people could describe as being lewd or risque. That department is usually well served by fellow MC Shin Dong Yup.
So how did Yoo Jae Suk do in these uncharted waters? Well, I guess the best thing I can say is that Yoo Jae Suk acted pretty much exactly how I expected him to act. He has a certain style of MCing that becomes evident if you have watched him over the years. He tends to be very structured and is exceptional at garnering responses from his fellow guests and members by way of positive reinforcement and engagement. While this works well in most occasions, I’m not particular sure about it for this show.
The main issue I have here is that Yoo Jae Suk just doesn’t seem to interact with the audience at a much more personal level. Yoo Jae Suk tends to keep fairly dignified and professional throughout the course of the show, only occasionally letting his hair down a bit, and even then, he never quite seems to completely let his guard down. It’s in stark contrast to someone like Shin Dong Yup, who tends to treat his guests and audiences as friends and equals rather than kings.
I guess you could say that I found Yoo Jae Suk’s interactions with the guests to be very conservative. Yoo Jae Suk would constantly address the audience in a way that implied a level of importance that seemed completely out of line with the general premise of the show. I was personally expecting something more along the lines of “Radio Star” or “Talk Show Hello,” where the MCs and the audience would joke with each other like they would with friends down at a pub. Instead, what I got was a show where the audience was king and the MCs were just along for the ride. In some ways, Yoo Jae Suk’s outstanding manners, inadvertently, got in the way of making the show personally more enjoyable.
That’s not to say that the other MCs were as strict as Yoo Jae Suk. Jang Dong Min kept up his usual outlandish character and was definitely one of the highlights of the MC team, constantly brandishing out clever witty jokes that would break some of the formality of the show. The other highlight was Noh Hong Chul, who’s endless supply of energy and brashness helped to egg the audience members on and made the show feel much more alive.
Also, the show actually had some celebrity guests on their pilot episode, with singer Goo Yoo Jin and Miss A’s Suzy appearing in the latter half of the show. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why they had to be there. They didn’t really change the dynamic of the show in any significant way. Suzy in particular felt really out of place and the whole “pick the most handsome guy” segment seemed completely out of line when they spent the last 50 mins talking about guys being unfamiliar and awkward around girls.
A whale of a time
Lets try and conclude proceedings here. Despite my various misgivings, the show did keep me interested throughout the hour that I spent watching it (times 4 since I watched it 4 times to do this review). A lot of that interest was mainly from the audience interacting with each other rather than anything substantial from the MCs. The show just never seemed to flow as naturally as I hoped it would and Yoo Jae Suk’s formality and courtesy seemed to do more harm than good in terms of keeping me engaged in the show.
Will the show actually end up on KBS’s final Spring schedule? That’s a hard question to answer. It did moderately well rating wise and conceptually, it seems to be a sound show. The issue is whether it offered something more interesting than KBS’s other major pilot program “Mr Peter Pan,” a show about middle aged guys engaging in new hobbies, incidentally, MCed by Shin Dong Yeop and Yoon Jong Shin. Personally I think the general concept “Mr Peter Pan” is more future proof and offers something for KBS that’s currently lacking for them, a more casual open ended real variety show.
“I’m a Man” on the other hands seems to exist in this rather awkward position of being rather similar in style to “Talk Show Hello” while not really offering the type of experience seen on shows like “Witch Hunt” or “War of Words.” In either case we’ll soon find out whether the show survives the chopping block but it’s probably best not to hold your breaths.