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As audiences age, so do small-screen stars

Aug 11,2015
From the top, Song Yun-ah, Kim Hee-ae and Choi Ji-woo play unorthodox characters in their latest TV dramas. [JoongAng Ilbo]
Female characters in TV dramas these days are diverging from the typical formula.

Small screens used to be filled with girls in their 20s or 30s struggling with romantic issues, but these types are not the mainstream anymore.

Instead, the age range has gotten a little older, and their major concerns don’t revolve around men or love anymore but have more to do with their careers.

For example, the new SBS drama “Mrs. Cop,” which started airing last week, features actress Kim Hee-ae as a detective.

The 48-year-old actress has many times graced the screen, starring in roles such as an older woman who falls passionately in love with a young man in JTBC’s 2014 drama “Secret,” or a secret mistress in the 2007 SBS drama “My Husband’s Woman.”

However, this is her first time taking on a character as physically tough as this one.

“It is not easy to come across a character who is as active as this one in your 40s,” said Kim during a press conference for the drama. “I thought this was my last chance.”

Kim’s character, Choi Young-jin, is a single mom who has to go out in the field and raise a kindergartner at the same time. It shows her many struggles of having to manage both jobs at once.

Another representative case is the character played by Song Yun-ah, who appears as a competent politician in the KBS Wednesday-Thursday drama “Assembly.”

The 42-year-old actress, who has also more often been seen in romance and family dramas, plays the part of a career woman who is more experienced at politics than any of her male colleagues.

One major factor behind this phenomenon is that viewers of dramas on terrestrial channels are mostly middle-aged people.

“Unlike cable channel dramas, which have very fragmented audiences, terrestrial channels focus more on middle-aged viewers, which is why the protagonists’ age is tending higher these days,” said pop culture critic Jeon Deok-hyun.

“While the plot line mostly revolved around romance, that has now changed, too, to show distinctive characteristics of different professions,” he added, going on to explain that the thematic change is one of the public broadcasters’ strategies to diversify their viewership.

That strategy has been working for “Mrs. Cop,” which kicked off with stable 8.4 percent and 9.4 percent viewership ratings for the first and second episode, according to Nielsen Korea.

“Viewers in their 40s liked watching actresses their age deal with romantic issues. But now they have dipped their toes into active and down-to-earth issues, which can gain more sympathy from ordinary people,” said culture critic Gong Hee-jeong.

Meanwhile, a different attempt is being put forth by cable channel tvN’s drama “Twenty Again.” Instead of specifically aiming at younger viewers, it is reaching out to older ones. The program shows actress Choi Ji-woo at the forefront as a 38-year-old college freshman, who challenges herself to study again after spending most of her 20s as a young mother.

“Just like the hit office drama ‘Misaeng,’ which was supposed to solely appeal to people in their 30s but gained support from all age ranges, this drama, which revolves around events that happen at a university campus, is also meant to be an easy-to-approach drama among 40-something viewers as well,” said Lee Min-jin, the producer of the drama.

The first episode of “Twenty Again” is scheduled to air on Aug. 28.

BY LEE HOO-NAM [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]




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