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MBC pulls plug on ‘The Age of Heroes’

Possible outside pressure, low ratings see drama’s demise

Feb 22,2005
Amid endless controversy surrounding the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation’s television drama “The Age of Heroes,” the series will finally end its run on March 1 after 70 episodes.
The story is centered on the rise and fall of two major industrialists in South Korea during the second half of the 20th century, depicting the life and times of the founders of Hyundai and Samsung groups.
The “art-imitates-life” drama series provoked a lot of controversy since it began its run, with officials from both conglomerates allegedly pressuring the television station to stop airing the series, lest the story damage the image and memory of the two prominent business figures.
Also, flagging ratings are said to have added to the pressure to cut short the intended 100-part drama.
Last week, several cast members formally protested to executives of the broadcasting station for referring the producer of the series to the company’s personnel committee for a reprimand for allowing the show to overrun its alloted time.
Also, the actors demanded that the studio keep its promise to run the series in its entirety as long as the ratings were over 20 percent; they even threatened a walkout unless their demands were met.
The cast and crew also raised the issue of external pressure causing MBC to terminate the series. Some experts say the drama idealized former President Park Chung Hee and current Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, who was a former executive of Hyundai Construction.
Last Sunday, 10 members of the cast, including Choi Bul-am and Yoo Dong-gun, met with executives of MBC and again protested the decision to end the series earlier than planned. The executives apologized for not being able to keep their pledge, and denied that there was any pressure to end the series early.
After much persuasion, the cast agreed to film the last episode ― thus preventing a showdown ― and on Sunday afternoon, the final shooting took place at MBC’s studios in Yeouido. But the cast and crew could not hide their disappointment.
Mr. Choi, who plays a character modeled on former Hyundai Chairman Chung Ju-young, said, “I specialize in playing old characters, but this is one character that I will sorely miss playing.” He said he met the former founder of the conglomerate before Mr. Chung died a few years ago, and wanted to play the part well.
Another actor, Jeong Wook, said, “Many people ask if there was indeed external pressure to have the show cancelled, but it is difficult to say.” He added, “I believe timing is crucial in the airing of a series, and the ‘Age of Heroes’ met with the wrong timing.”
The producers originally planned a 100-part series, describing the rise and fall of the conglomerates and the rapid industrialization of South Korea during the 1960s and ’70s. From part 60 onwards, the producers planned shootings in foreign locations for scenes depicting the construction of highways in Thailand, buildings in Vietnam and ports in Saudi Arabia, among others, but the cost reached staggering proportions.
The constant rumors of external pressure, lack of advertisements related to the series and increasing costs of shooting led the executives to end the series early, they said. Hence, the final part 70 of the series will conclude next Tuesday.
“We expected to see an upsurge in ratings after shooting such scenes as the death of former President Park Chung Hee and the emergence of the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan, but it is sad that they have decided to end the series early,” Mr. Yoo said. “They are ending the series just when it was about to take off.”
The cast and crew of the series will hold a farewell party at a restaurant in Yeouido on Friday.


by Choi Jie-ho


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