JTBC’s ongoing TV series titled Sky Castle became the highest-rated cable drama in Korean television history when it achieved a nationwide viewership rating of 19.243 % on January 12. This figure, based on data released by Nielsen Korea, broke the record of the 2015-2016 tvN drama Reply 1988 which obtained a peak rating of 18.803 percent on its finale.
Sky Castle, whose title refers to an exclusive residential community that’s home to Korea’s elite, centers on rich families desperate for their children to enter a top university in the country. This may not be a compelling synopsis that could attract a large number of audience, which is possibly why the series started off in November 2018 with just 1.727 percent in nationwide audience share according to Nielsen Korea. However, with attention-grabbing scenes and unpredictable story development, the drama’s ratings skyrocketed to nearly 9 percent over the course of just six episodes, surpassed Woman of Dignity as the highest-rated JTBC drama of all time on its 12th episode, and made history on Saturday.
The recent success of Sky Castle exceeded not only Reply 1988’s peak rating, but also that of highly popular dramas Goblin (18.680 %) and Mr. Sunshine (18.129 %) which ranks third and fourth, respectively, in the ranking of the highest-rated Korean cable dramas based on nationwide single-episode rating from Nielsen Korea. The series has a high chance of hitting a 20 % rating as it is scheduled to broadcast four more episodes in the second half of January. No Korean cable drama has previously reached or surpassed the 20 % mark, so Sky Castle getting its viewership to surge to that number is quite a feat.
Sky Castle has become an unexpected commercial hit which have had viewers drawn into its mockery of Korea’s elite parents’ obsession with top-notch education, or Korea’s education system in general. Culture critic Jung Duk-hyun attributed the attention received by the drama to the viewers’ curiosity and uneasiness of looking at this obsession.
“In terms of education, the drama satisfies people’s desire to peek into what those closed rich family circles do for their children. But at the same time, viewers feel uneasiness when watching their stories. Those two conflicting emotions ― wanting to know but feeling uncomfortable ― makes for some interesting chemistry in the minds of drama fans and puts it on the must-see drama list,” Jung said.
The subsequent immense popularity of Sky Castle, nevertheless, is not the reason why the series got extended by four episodes. The production team decided to extend the originally planned 16-part drama to 20 episodes even before the first episode was broadcast because they found the story to be “really good” even though the script was only at episode 7 at the time when the decision was made. They put so much confidence in the script ― a move which did not disappoint them.
Sky Castle is written by Yoo Hyun-mi and directed by Jo Hyun-tak. It airs every Friday and Saturday at 23:00 Korean Standard Time.