Why Have "Running Man" Ratings Dropped?
"Running Man," Korea's most popular Sunday variety program for over two years, has been slipping in the ratings. Although that in itself is not a cause for panic, it is a cause for concern. The producers have to consider that they are being beaten by shows that were actually inspired by their format. Furthermore, they are being beaten by newer shows with newer casts who, unlike Running Man members, haven't had the time to bond and develop the same sort of chemistry.
1N2D was the closest thing on television to Running Man when Running Man first premiered. But 1N2D was never a competition-oriented show. It centered more on the characters and the crazy things they did in simple situations. Then Running Man came along with its nail-biting and breathtaking games. Suddenly, variety shows in their time slot started hyping up their challenges. In other words, other shows set out to beat Running Man at its own game—and they're succeeding.
Every show goes through this, of course. Even Friends and Oprah have lost their spots at some point in their run. They, of course, regained popularity after some fine-tuning. Running Man can also get the number-one spot again, if it does the right things.
What's Wrong With the Show?
1: It’s That Time in Its Existence
The third year is usually a transition phase for TV shows, and that's where RM is right now.
When a show first begins, viewers are eager to see where it will go. But by-and-large, by the third year, members have reached the "potential" that viewers were waiting for. That's essentially where the characters are now. Each member has developed his or her skills in name-tag tearing, their signature game, and tactical planning. It has really become unpredictable who will win. The characters have hit their stride.
It’s also what happened to 1N2D. By its fourth year, you could feel the members were starting to plateau. The format of the show didn’t change, and eventually the members left.
Running Man members are exactly at that stage. They have reached their peak and have nowhere to go. Not that they are doing badly; it’s just that they are doing the same thing every week which makes things predictable:
- Lee Kwang Soo (LKS) will "disturb" Kim Jong Kook (KJK)
- KJK will exert his physical strength
- The Monday Couple (MC) will have some sort of moment
- Ji Suk Jin (JSJ) will be the weakest link
- Song Ji Hyo will always get the advantage of being a woman
These repetitive factors are compounded because the cast is put in the same situation every week. It is always a "race," so you know when the above-mentioned things are going to happen.
Best of the Best
The show's Best of the Best (BotB) is often regarded as a turning point. In episode 74, each Running Man member was given a "superpower" which, if used correctly, would help him or her win the game. The first two BotB were won by KG and the third one was won by Haha.
2: Characters Are Also in Their Transition Stage
In 1N2D, Eun Ji Won (EJW) left because he outgrew his show and his character. There simply was nowhere for him to go. The show could have saved him if there was some sort of an adjustment. They could have changed the format a bit or added new members who would allow him to evolve his character.
Running Man members are reaching a similar situation to the one EJW encountered. Granted, it’s more complicated as members have two personas each. They have both the characters they play in the games and their comedic characters. But both have reached a plateau.
- YJS is the leader
- Haha is the schemer
- LKS is the betrayer
- KJK is the strongest
- KG is the unexpected hero
- SJH is the brains
- JSJ is the weakest
- YJS is the initiator
- Haha is YJS’s second-in-command
- KG is the witty one
- KJK is YJS’s match
- JSJ recently showed body gags
- LKS is the wild one
- SJH is not funny
These characters have reached their full potential. The cast is also getting into that stage when they need and want change or growth. The question is how:
- Haha lost his playboy character when he got married and seems lost about what to become next.
- KG was on his way to becoming a casanova when MC was brought back. The problem is that MC is becoming predictable too.
- KJK has realized everyone is catching up to him.
- SJH has always had a problem with her interpersonal skills, and although she has improved a little, it is not enough.
3: The Games and Guests
Then there are the games. There are certain games that are being repeated far too many times. The dodgeball and food games are two examples. The problem is that it’s rare for these games to evolve or be fine-tuned. Needless to say, it becomes boring.
Pair this up with recent guests who are either too weak or too strong, and you have a disastrous episode for the members. Episode 149 featured older comediennes, for example. Based on history, comedians bring the best laughter to an episode—they help the male cast members relax, especially when they are already friends with cast members. Bringing in female older comediennes, however, didn’t turn out as well as expected. The members had to be conscious of their manners towards the older women and the older women didn’t attempt to level it off.
Running Man has also filmed in different countries, and each time the cast was literally mobbed. In Hong Kong, the production team was forced to cancel filming because there were too many people—a testament to the show's international popularity.
What Can Be Done?
1: Be Open to Elements Besides Competition
This is on both the cast and the PDs.
In the 150th episode, the cast played the Avengers and were supposed to be trained and tested to see whether they were ready to save the world. In the last game, they were asked to battle each other, but in a twist, guests came to battle them.
It was an opportunity for the members to work together to battle what was arguably the strongest set of guests to ever set foot on RM. They didn’t. The members ended up battling each other which clearly demonstrated what RM has become: a competition-oriented show.
Like the Avengers in movies and comics, their individual powers weren’t a match to the strength of their opponents, but they would have been unbeatable together. Unfortunately, after deciding to work together, one of them betrayed the team, which caused the crumbling of the whole team. Instead of the betrayer admitting the betrayal and saving the team, they resorted to lies even after being confronted with the truth. Instincts, which they had developed after years of competing, forced them to turn against each other.
Some rechanneling is needed.
2: Slow Down and Re-Bond
In the early days of RM, the casts participated in activities that weren't necessarily a competition against each other, such visiting the aquarium and doing challenges where everyone had to work together. It’s probably time to slow down a bit and re-bond the team. It’s time to remind both the members and the viewers about what RM is supposed to be: a bunch of crazy guys having fun who have become a family.
There is no need to change the format to become more like other variety shows such as Infinity Challenge. Running Man has its own identity and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that they’ve been running on top gear for so long now, they need to give the machine a rest.
It’s time to remind the members that, although they will still need to battle each other, they can also work together when the time calls for it.
3: Check-in With the Members
The PDs need to sit down with each member and just talk with them where they want to take their characters and what they need in order to figure out how to help. They may be doing this already, but if they are, it’s not working. The PDs need to help the members evolve instead of stubbornly sticking with what they have banked on in the past years, such as LKS’s, betrayal, Haha’s scheming, and MC.
4: Think More
The show needs new games, new approaches to old games, and guests who will help the members. The think tank needs to do more thinking.
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