Though KBS, SBS and MBC still maintained their hold over the drama market, 2009 proved to be a promising year for cable television.
While the three major broadcasting networks waged the usual ratings war with a mix of melodrama, rom-com, action blockbusters and period pieces, cable channels Mnet and tvN raked in relatively high viewer shares.
Cable, TV`s rising star?
Starting in July, music channel Mnet got the nation to dial into "SuperstarK," a reality show oft-referred to as a Korean version of "American Idol" - though Mnet might disagree with the comparison.
The nationwide search for its next pop idol nabbed viewer shares of up to 8.47 percent, stated news reports, a major feat considering that just two to three years ago nabbing over 1 percent on cable was deemed near impossible.
Backed by a trio of prominent judges - singer Lee Seung-chul, K-pop diva extraordinaire Lee Hyo-ri and YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk - the show kicked off with a series of auditions before culminating in the win of Seo In-gook in October.
While Mnet was getting audiences to vote for their favorite singer, tvN was reeling in laughs with the fifth and sixth season of its TV docu-drama "Missy Young-ae" and its popular new program "Roller Coaster."
TvN`s "Missy Young-ae" drove home the point that an empire is not built in a day.
"Missy Young-ae," a docu-drama that charts the life of an unmarried 30-something year old heroine, first started airing in 2007. Now, into its sixth season, the show is drawing more viewers than ever.
The first four seasons brought in steady viewer ratings that averaged 1 to 2 percent, according to a CJ Media press release. The last episode of the fifth season brought in 2.2 percent, while the first episode of the sixth season, which started on Oct. 16, kicked off with higher ratings at 2.4 percent.
On Nov. 13, "Missy Young-ae" recorded peak ratings of 2.7 percent, proving that domestic audiences are more than willing to tune into a season-based drama format.
The increasing popularity of tvN`s season-based docu-drama not only presents a radical departure from the usual miniseries format, it opens the drama market to the viable possibility of season-based formatting.
Expanding its portfolio of in-house shows, "Roller Coaster" - a show, which like "Missy Young-ae," is produced by parent company CJ Media - started airing on tvN in mid-July.
According to a CJ Media press release, "Roller Coaster" racked up viewer ratings of up to 4.7 percent.
A comedic program that brings the bestseller "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" to mind, "Roller Coaster" won viewers over with humorous skits that addressed gender differences.
The skits, acted out by comedian Jeong Hyeong-don and actress Jeong Ga-eun and crew, explored various possible scenarios, from how men and women cook to how men and women shop, illustrating theoretical contrasts in male-female thinking - all in good fun, of course.
Contrary to expectations, it was the female narration that stole the show. Documenting each scenario in a deadpan voice, the narration proved to be so infectious it spawned a series of spoofs.
Meanwhile, the line separating cable and the three big broadcasting networks blurred when OCN started airing re-runs of the action-blockbuster "IRIS."
"`IRIS` is a special case," said an OCN representative. "Before `IRIS` had found a major broadcasting network, when it was still in production, we voiced an interest."
Though "IRIS" first airs on KBS 2 TV, viewers who missed out can catch re-runs, almost right away, on OCN.
Though this may be a one-time deal for OCN, the move highlighted a change in the playing field, introducing the possibility that from now on dramas produced by production companies may be up for grabs, not only for the big three, but for cable television as well.
Still queen to throne
Carrying home viewer ratings that went well above 30 percent, the three major broadcasting networks - KBS, SBS and MBC - still maintained their claim to the throne.
According to news reports, MBC`s sweeping historical epic "The Great Queen Seondeok," averaged viewer shares in the mid-30 percent range, putting it at the top of the herd this year, if you do not count KBS` "You Are My Destiny," which aired its final episode on Jan. 9 and whose average viewer share for this year moved above 40 percent.
SBS` "Brilliant Legacy" - a sweet romance that propelled singer and actor Lee Seung-gi and cast to fame - averaged a reported 31.5 to 31.9 percent, while KBS` blockbuster "IRIS" is going strong despite controversies involving a plagiarism suit and a scandal involving lead actor Lee Byung-hun.
A quartet of fresh-faced young heartthrobs - Lee Min-ho, Kim Bum, Kim Hyun-joong and Kim Joon - kicked off the year with the hit KBS series "Boys Over Flowers." Veteran thespians Kim Nam-ju, Choi Cheol-ho, Oh Ji-ho and Lee Hye-young won audiences over in MBC`s "My Wife is a Superwoman."
A year of sequels
So what can viewers expect for 2010?
Sequels and second seasons.
An Mnet representative confirmed that plans for a second season of "SuperstarK" are underway, though nothing is set in stone.
Plans for a second season of the hit drama "IRIS" are also in the works, confirmed a representative of the drama`s production company, TAEWON Entertainment.
Fans of "Full House" will also be pleased to know that production company Kimjonghak Production is also planning a sequel to the hit drama, slated to air next year.
When asked if Rain and Song Hye-kyo would be reprising their roles in the sequel, a Kimjonghak production team member, who confirmed plans for "Full House 2," answered: "It is unlikely that they will be playing the lead roles."
By Jean Oh