The “Reply” TV drama series from cable channel tvN has been hugely successful, evoking nostalgia in viewers by accurately and comically depicting Korean culture and everyday life in the 1990s.
The success of the first two primetime installments of the trilogy not only made their leading female stars, Jung Eun-ji and Go A-ra, household names, but also boosted former cable underdog tvN into a prominent original content producer.
But series producer Shin Won-ho has low expectations for the third family series “Reply 1988” in terms of ratings, saying it is not likely to do well.
“There were some viewers who said that doing a third show was a bad idea, and others who wanted to see it,” Shin told reporters ahead of its premiere.
“We went into it with two premises: First, it was not a series we could just stop unilaterally and second, there was no way it would do well since statistics have shown that the third installment of anything never does well.”
So, the creators stopped trying to make a third installment that would potentially gain high Nielsen ratings.
They instead stayed focused on creating a true family, period drama with comical elements that could “evoke nostalgia and warm people’s hearts” through stories of love and interpersonal relationships in a specific time, Shin said.
After studying a couple of time periods that could work well with its concept and story, it chose 1988 -- when Seoul first held the Summer Olympics and a year before the Berlin Wall came down.
“Since we wanted to do a show about family, neighbors and friendship, we didn‘t have a lot of choices. It didn’t feel right to try and create a warm family story set in 1999 or 2002, for example,” he said.
“In my memory, in 1988 Korea still had a lot of warmth and affection in interpersonal relationships, regardless of the economic, social or political conditions.”
But the producer reiterated that the third series’ focus is on common families going through both ordinary and extraordinary events, not on major historical moments.
“There are movies like ‘Forrest Gump’ where the main character actually becomes a part of historical events,” Shin said.
“Our focus was more on reality and believability. If we tried to incorporate a huge event into a family story, it would shake up the show’s identity. We tried to depict history as ordinary people experienced it.”
The new drama, which began last Friday on tvN, got off to a good start, with Nielsen ratings of 6.8 percent.
With surprise appearances by film stars Lee Mi-yeon and Kim Joo-hyuk, “Reply” fans have commented that the third series is “looking better than the first two series,” and its characters, including female lead Hyeri and actor Sung Dong-il are “hilarious.” Sung has starred in all parts of the trilogy playing a father with both temper and wit.
Shin said that although “Reply 1988” is not a romantic drama, elements will still be there to “surprise” viewers, as the creators did in previous parts of the “Reply” series.
The first two installments, which took characters back in time after introducing themselves in the present, kept viewers guessing at which characters would end up marrying each other as the series progressed.
This element, which Shin calls “hunting for husband,” has been a big part of the “Reply” storytelling.
“We couldn’t leave out the ‘first love’ element. Our show has a beginning, middle and end in every episode. We needed to have some kind of overarching goal. We need ‘and they lived happily ever after,’” he said.
“Reply 1997” depicted the rising fandom culture in Korea that came with the first wave of idol stars and “Reply 1994” portrayed the everyday life of college students who had moved to Seoul to study from all over the country.
With the “Reply” series and “Misaeng” based on the hit webtoons of the same name, tvN, part of CJ E&M, has emerged as a content powerhouse challenging traditional network broadcasters such as SBS and MBC.
The cable channel’s content portfolio includes hit comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live Korea” and “Conte and the City,” as well as the entertainment reality show “New Journey to the West,” starring comedian Kang Ho-dong from star producer Na Young-suk for mobile video platform Naver TV Cast.
Despite Shin’s efforts to lower expectations for tvN’s new big series amid increasing attention by fans, he said he realized it would be impossible to “fail quietly.”
“Look, for a family drama to have a big impact, someone needs to get cancer or die,” he said with a half-hearted laugh, noting that there wasn’t any of that in “Reply 1988.”
The 20-part “Reply 1988” series airs every Friday and Saturday on tvN at 7:50 p.m.
By Won Ho-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org