Ongoing SBS drama My Absolute Boyfriend is the latest completely pre-produced series in Korea. While it can boast of the fact that all of its episodes had been filmed even before it made its premiere in mid-May, it cannot say for sure if it has succeeded in representing a production trend that has veered off the norm in the Korean drama industry.
In fact, My Absolute Boyfriend has become a flop as far as TV ratings are concerned. It started off its broadcast on May 15 with nationwide audience shares of 2.1 and 2.4 percent and this week—which represents the midpoint of its 10-week run—the already disappointing numbers have dropped further to 1.8 percent, which is the third lowest rating among the 22 terrestrial Korean dramas which aired since January 2019.
And if the series continues to lose to its strong prime time rivals Angel’s Last Mission: Love and One Spring Night, it is only a matter of time before it can defeat, albeit in an unwanted fashion, Spring Turns To Spring which recorded the two lowest ratings—1.5 and 1.7 percent—for a terrestrial drama so far this year.
Wrong timing, strong rivals, clichéd premise
My Absolute Boyfriend seemed to have the strong recipe to succeed, or at least perform well in terms of viewership. After all, the drama is headlined by popular actors Yeo Jin-goo and Girl’s Day’s Bang Min-ah whose previous projects obtained decent ratings. Yeo Jin-goo’s The Crowned Clown became the highest-rated cable drama in the first half of 2019 while Bang Min-ah’s Beautiful Gong-shim achieved a double-digit average rating in 2016.
But things went wrong and the series can attribute its failure in pulling in good ratings to a number of factors including its premiere date and broadcast schedule, the relative strength of its rivals on KBS2 and MBC, and its storyline.
My Absolute Boyfriend aired its first episode against the finale of KBS2’s Doctor Prisoner, which was the highest-rated weekday prime time terrestrial drama at that time. It was clearly a wrong timing for the drama because it would not make sense for most of the fans of Doctor Prisoner to deliberately miss its last episodes just so they could watch the premiere of a new drama unfamiliar to them. MBC’s The Banker also aired its penultimate episodes during that day and likewise, the fans of the drama were less likely to make a sacrifice in favor of a new series. In sum, My Absolute Boyfriend began airing at a time when most people are very less likely to check it out.
What happened a week after the premiere can be blamed on its strong rival drama and weak premise. Avid followers of the recently concluded Doctor Prisoner and The Banker were in a situation in which they had to choose between My Absolute Boyfriend and Angel’s Last Mission: Love. The latter, which stars Shin Hye-sun (Thirty But Seventeen, My Golden Life) and INFINITE’s L or Kim Myung-soo (Miss Hammurabi, Ruler: Master Of The Mask) in a story involving an angel and a professional ballerina, eventually won.
Angel’s Last Mission: Love not only boasts of a star-studded cast that can match against Yeo Jin-goo and Minah, but it also has a seemingly more interesting storyline than My Absolute Boyfriend.
A TV adaptation of a popular manga series of the same English title, My Absolute Boyfriend tells the love story of a special effects makeup artist and a humanoid robot. Its premise has apparently lost its ability to attract viewers following the mediocre performance of recent robot-themed dramas like Are You Human Too and I Am Not A Robot. On the other hand, an angel falling in love with a ballerina seems a fresh or unusual concept.
The rise, and fall, of pre-produced Korean dramas
The typical Korean drama production follows a live-shoot system in which the shooting and editing of an episode are done in the same week the episode is supposed to air. In general, only the first few episodes are filmed prior to a drama’s premiere and the shooting continues as the drama is being aired. Although this system is notorious for its hectic schedules, unfavorable weather conditions, and last-minute script changes, it is widely still used until today.
In contrast, the pre-production system involves shooting and editing all the episodes of a series before its premiere, giving enough time for the whole production team to enhance the drama’s overall quality. In theory, this format is way better than the live-shoot system since it allows the actors and the staff to work efficiently without the time pressure of the latter. However, it did not get the attention it deserved until KBS2’s phenomenal 2016 series Descendants Of The Sun opened the industry’s eyes to the potential of a fully pre-produced series. With an average and peak rating of 28.6 and 38.8 percent, respectively, Descendants Of The Sun triggered the trend of pre-producing Korean dramas.
Afterwards, plenty of other dramas followed suit such as Uncontrollably Fond (average rating: 9.4%), Entourage (1.0%), Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (7.6%), Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (8.4%), Saimdang Light’s Diary (10.2%), My Sassy Girl (8.8%), The Package (1.8%), and Are You Human Too (5.5%). However, none of them came close to scoring the victory achieved by Descendants Of The Sun both in terms of local TV ratings and international popularity.
My Absolute Boyfriend, meanwhile, is the most recent pre-produced series to fall short of expectations. With an average rating of 2.7 percent for its first 18 episodes, it has become the lowest rated pre-produced terrestrial drama to date. So far in 2019, it has made a 21th place finish (out of 22) in the terrestrial drama ranking based on average ratings.
All SBS dramas are not doing well
However, My Absolute Boyfriend is not the only SBS drama that is suffering from low TV ratings. The Secret Life Of My Secretary, which airs on the network every Mondays and Tuesdays, has maintained an average rating of around 3.2 percent and barely hit a 4 percent audience share.
Meanwhile,Nokdu Flower, which occupies the network’s brand-new Friday-Saturday time slot, most recently posted 5.6 percent. It premiered with a double-digit rating of 11.5 percent and now has an average viewership that stands at 7.3 percent. These figures are not really bad until someone compares them with the achievement of The Fiery Priest, Nokdu Flower‘s predecessor and the highest-rated terrestrial drama in the first half of 2019 whose average rating reached a whopping 16.1 percent.
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