|A scene from Channel A's "Doomed Marriage" / Captured from Channel A website|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
Star-studded reality shows about dating and child rearing have long been a staple part of Korean television programming. However, as viewers have been getting tired of watching the same old shows with similar formats, a number of them have gone a step further to tackle what have up until recently been taboo subjects: sex and divorce.
Through an "observational" format, a panel of celebrities and viewers get a sneak peek at celebrities' unscripted lifestyles and spontaneous reactions to given situations. However, netizens and critics remain uncertain about the purpose of the reality shows that depict celebrities' sex lives and unhappy marriages.
Sky Channel and Channel A's reality show "Doomed Marriage," which premiered in July, follows couples' relationships and sexual activity in excruciating detail.
The weekly 90-minute program is divided into two parts ― actors reenact real situations that married couples face and celebrity couples share their own relationship struggles.
In September, actor Cho Ji-hwan and his wife Park Hye-min became a hot topic after appearing on the show to openly discuss their marriage problems. Netizens were flabbergasted after Park complained about Cho's excessive demands for sex.
"My husband has high energy and excessive desire for sex. Regardless of place, he demands to have sex every 32 hours," Park said.
This video clip surpassed 1.6 million views, but comments below were mostly negative. "The show is X-rated and deals with celebrities' private lives, but I don't want to hear the gory details," a viewer commented online.
Revealing explicit details about celebrities' sex lives aroused discontent on the celebrity side, too. Lee Sang-ah, who was on the show's panel, announced recently that she will step down after four months.
The actress, who has been divorced three times, wrote on Instagram: "To me, it was a documentary, not a variety show. I couldn't laugh off the issues dealt with in the show."
|A scene from TV Chosun's "We Got Divorced" / Captured from TV Chosun's website|
TV Chosun's reality show "We Got Divorced," which began airing in November, explores divorced couples as they share their thoughts about their lives before and after divorce while living in the same home for three days.
Two hosts and two panelists, including a divorcee and a psychiatrist, observe and analyze the couple's behavior as they look back at their failed marriage and share feelings about each other.
Veteran actors Lee Young-ha and Sunwoo Eun-sook, who got married in 1981 and divorced in 2007, appeared in the first episode, pulling up the viewership rating to 9 percent.
Experts said that heated competition from cable TV networks channels such as Channel A, TV Chosun and tvN, and streaming media services like YouTube has pushed producers to create unhinged content.
"What I fear the most is that terrestrial broadcasters are going to run a show with a similar concept very soon," culture critic Jung Duk-hyun said. "If that happens, TV programs are going to compete with more lewd content. Is that an effective way of maintaining viewers' interest? I don't think so."
Culture critic Kim Hern-sik said he is worried that TV programs are seeking sensationalism and voyeuristic appeal through reality shows.
"I knew that TV would come up with repulsive reality shows. There have been many shows centered on married couples, but most of them had similar formats or content. I believe they should work on improving people's lives, not making both the viewers and celebrities uncomfortable," Kim said.
"Reality shows like Doomed Marriage and We Got Divorced only make the scars worse, bringing out bad memories for mere entertainment."
Both critics said the TV stations need to take a more serious approach in order to make their programs long-running shows.
"There is a lot of programming related to marriage, divorce and staying single, and they definitely affect young people's views of marriage and divorce. They also lead to social trends, so it is important to take a serious approach," Jung said.
Kim advised programs to avoid casting celebrities that are just popular or have sensational stories to share.
"It would be difficult to find guests or panelists who would be willing to share their dirty secrets with the public. In order to gain support from viewers, these reality shows need to look toward the future, not remain stuck in the past," he said.