Reality television branches out to celebrities’ families

By Rumy Doo

Why we’re fascinated by daily routines of stars’ children, parents and spouses

  • Published : Aug 16, 2017 - 17:28
  • Updated : Aug 16, 2017 - 17:28
On Sunday evening show “My Ugly Duckling,” Kim Gun-mo crouches down on his kitchen floor to make kimchi. His mother watches through a screen in a broadcasting studio. Like any parent, she is full of affectionate criticism for her son, chastising the veteran singer as if he were still a young boy.

On SBS’ “Single Wife,” another reality program that kicked off this month, comedian Park Myung-soo’s wife Han Soo-min embarks on her first backpacking trip to Thailand. Enjoying an escape from her life as a working mom -- she is a dermatologist -- Han makes friends with other travelers and introduces them to the Korean mixed drink of soju and beer.

For several years now, Korean television has been inundated with reality programs featuring celebrities and aspiring entertainers, but in recent months, it has been branching out to spotlight the lives of celebrities’ family members.

According to “Single Wife” producer Jang Seok-jin, “observational entertainment” has risen as a trend in Korean TV.

“There was a period when audition programs were all the rage. These days, the trend has shifted,” he said.

Comedian Park Myung-soo’s wife Han Soo-min stars in “Single Wife.” (SBS)

Reality shows peeking into the seemingly unglamorous, behind-the-scenes lives of celebrities have long been a hit, humanizing stars and making them more relatable.

Shows like “I Live Alone,” which began in 2013, engage viewers in the daily routines of single actors, singers and comedians, including their often hectic schedules and the small pleasures they indulge in during solitary moments at home.

That year also saw “Dad! Where Are We Going,” the first to feature celebrities’ children.

Interest in the families of stars has since grown, leading to shows like “Same Bed Different Dreams,” which depicts celebrity newlyweds. “Escaping the Nest,” which began airing on tvN last month, features children of celebrities who have never lived away from their families on a trip abroad and attempting to survive on their own.

Viewers experience a complicated mix of emotions as they watch stars’ family members, who seem more accessible but still seem to exist in a slightly heightened reality, according to Jung Tae-yeon, a professor of psychology at Chung-Ang University.

“There are aspects of voyeurism in the sense that we’re intensely curious about the private lives of public figures. There’s vicarious satisfaction.

“Getting to know the family is going one step deeper into (celebrities’) private lives. It humanizes them -- everyone becomes human around family. It also makes us feel special, like we are close to them and know the intimate details of their lives.”

Singer Kim Gun-mo and his mother Lee Sun-mi star in “Mom’s Diary: My Ugly Duckling.” (SBS)

Viewers become acquainted with those featured, including aspects that are everyday and relatable. Sometimes deeply personal details are also revealed -- apart from vacationing, Han Soo-min is seen shedding tears over the “indescribable” pain of a miscarriage on “Single Wife.”

Some have pointed out that TV appearances and stardom are in danger of becoming an inherited privilege.

“There are tens of thousands of people training for years in dancing and singing to appear on TV,” writes columnist Kwon Sang-jip. “Broadcasters ... could face the public’s outrage and opposition by such effortless casting.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)