The Making of a Popular Cultural Commodity:Korean TV Drama Production
Korean television dramas, one of the leading cultural commodities in the phenomenon of Hallyu, have generated various scholarly discourses mainly concerning the driving force of their popularity and their reception to audiences. Yet, few studies have addressed the question: “How are Korean TV dramas produced?” This paper aims to fill this critical gap by investigating the Korean drama industry with the view that the production system of commercial cultural products also tells us about the consumption and distribution of them. By combining ethnography of the drama industry and content analysis of recent Korean dramas, this paper presents four sets of production systems of Korean TV dramas. First, Korean television dramas are spontaneously produced by the practice of “live filming.” The commercial interests of drama producers, to earn a higher turnover rate through higher viewer ratings and to reduce production costs by cutting the shooting days, have created the last-minute and short-filming practices in the Korean TV drama industry. The mechanisms to handle/maintain spontaneous production are collaboration and mutual exploitation among producers and workers. Second, it argues that Korean television dramas have formulaic narrative elements and narrative styles. The formulaic content and form manifest the fabrication of cultural creativity tailored to the tastes of a mass audience. By securing broader and loyal audience groups, formulaic production efficiently commodifies audiences to be sold to advertisers. Third, Korean television dramas are being made by interactions between consumers and producers. Drama producers commercially tap the active viewers’ “discursive consumption,” through which they produce their own meanings and pleasures, to re-direct future storylines. Interactive production exploits consumers as a free labor force for feedback and contributing to production. Yet, the level of consumer participation is limited, only affecting the endings of dramas at best. Fourth, significant parts of anecdotes and dialogues of Korean TV dramas are manipulated to cater to product/city placement. By blending sponsored products/places with characters and plots, sponsored production triggers audience desires for conspicuous consumption and tourism, configuring landscapes of Korean/East Asian consumption. In sum, this paper elucidates the ways in which popular cultural commodities are produced: spontaneous, formulaic, interactive, and sponsored production. Korean TV dramas exemplify commercial production, built on the commodification of labor and the emotions, participation, and desires of consumers.