'Running Man,' the show that was revived from the grave, has miraculously overcome their abysmal domestic ratings and near cancelation. The show recently hit the refresh button and returned, energized and ready to run. But how is this even possible?
This show, just about this time last year, was just about to be scheduled for its on-screen death: cancelation. 'Running Man,' a South Korean variety show, that began in 2010 and has been airing since, was once acclaimed for its fresh concept and signature name tag ripping game. The cast, consisting of Yoo Jae Suk, Kim Jong Kook, Song Ji Hyo, HaHa, Ji Suk Jin, Lee Kwang Soo, and Gary, as well as previous members Lizzy and Song Joong Ki, all seemed to get along well with each other, showing off their hilarious chemistry on the small screen.
However as the years passed, domestic interest in the show plummeted. Although, 'Running Man' still was internationally acclaimed and is still one of the biggest popular variety shows overseas, South Korean viewers often talked about how childish the variety had become. There was even a saying that the only Korean population base that watched 'Running Man' were elementary school students.
And the rough patch continued. The last couple of years before the new castmates, Jeon So Min and Yang Se Chan, arrived; the national ratings were in the low single digits.
And then there was the situation after Gary left the program, where 'Running Man' decided to plan a season 2, without Song Ji Hyo and Kim Jong Kook, adding Kang Ho Dong to the mix. The problem? Song Ji Hyo and Kim Jong Kook were never notified about their removal. Overwhelming negative comments flooded in, as expected from a program that seemed to solely function, at the time, on the chemistry of the cast. Long story short, season 2 was scrapped and 'Running Man' was slated to be canceled in the first few months of 2017.
But then miraculously, 'Running Man' was given its second chance, through the newly added members: Jeon So Min and Yang Se Chan. And this change was instrumental to the re-founded success the show now has, cancelation status now completely cleared.
Obviously, the new angle that the producers and writers created after the new members came in, was another element that helped the program. However, after sticking with 'Running Man' from its first episodes in 2010 to now in 2018, I would have to argue that the main reason for the public's re-founded interest is the additional cast members.
'Running Man,' in its beginning old school days, was fun to watch because of the hide and seek inspired game that was the name tag ripping. It was a fresh idea and watching celebrities fight over trying to be number one, in this mock scenario, using their wits and strength, was amusing.
Yet after the initial interest in the game wore off, what was left were the cast members and their chemistry.
The cast boasts good friendship and it showed in the roles they played in the variety system. Their interactions were what made the show such a gem. From Ace Song Ji Hyo to Sparta-kook Kim Jong Kook, to Haroro, to Big Nose Suk Jin, Yoo-mes Bond, and betrayer Kwang Soo, the show honed in on the cast's characters and ran with it (pun intended).
Yet, a show can only last so long on relationships, especially a South Korean variety show. South Korea's variety shows work in a very specific manner where each person has a role to play. For example, Kim Jong Kook is the strong warrior, never to be out won in strength or Kwang Soo is the betrayer that always betrays. But once these roles have been established, it is extremely hard to break out of or create a new character. Once a betrayer will always be a betrayer, once a warrior always the warrior.
Basically, although the roles that variety cast members play may be based on their personalities and habits, it is very much a role, a character. In a way the members always are slightly acting. If you can't believe that, Kwang Soo has said that his personality in real life is a lot quieter and reserved while Haha, in the OG days, was the childish boy that always hit on the female guests, until his engagement with his now wife, Byul, was revealed. Even though he was dating Byul, he never let the façade of his character fall until he could no longer fulfill his role because of reality.
These variety roles are slightly two dimensional and one set minded always tracked to its on-screen personality, not fully encompassing the nuances a real-life person has.
So imagine playing a role, a character for 7 straight years, with the same exact members. There can only be so many scenarios. In a way it was amazing for the cast to last this long, creating laughs for their audience, only off their slightly flat on-screen personalities. And you could see it on the screen.
Right before the cancelation, the show floundered, unable to come up with new scenes and framework for a cast that had done almost everything they could within their set boundaries. Nothing in the cast relationships were new, which is why the show wasn't doing so well.
And then the new cast members joined.
They were a breath of fresh air.
The original cast members had all sat down with the staff and had handpicked their new members. Maybe this is why the two newcomers are meshing in well with the crew, or maybe it is just because the new members are bringing new elements to the show.
Jeon So Min came in with a bang from the start. Her 4-dimensional personality, no filter for a very PG show, and need to one-up the show's main betrayer, has produced so many new plots and stories for the cast to bounce off of and explore. Yang Se Chan, maybe slightly invisible relative to his chaos-inducing castmate, but his presence has made new opportunities. And when he finally finds his character and place in the show, I am sure that his presence will be as explosive as So Min's.
Whatever the case, 'Running Man' is back in business and I'm definitely staying to see what new adventures they race off to.