[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]'Pastoral Diary' set to turn final page

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]'Pastoral Diary' set to turn final page

In the world of Korean television dramas, "Jeonwon Ilgi" (Pastoral Diary), which airs on MBC-TV, channel 11, Sundays at 8:50 a.m., is the Energizer Bunny.

Most dramas on the peninsula, unlike their Western counterparts, are not intended to run indefinitely. They are, as a rule, miniseries, usually around 16 episodes long, occasionally 30 or more. If a program is a big hit, the station might lengthen the story a little more.

"Pastoral Diary," although a limited ratings success, has been going and going and going for over 20 years, making it Korea's longest-running drama.

But in a move that has shocked the program's small but definitely hard-core audience, MBC-TV recently announced that "Diary" would soon end.

"It's like losing my mental hometown," says Kang Eun-ju, a 17-year-old high school student, who has been watching the program with her grandmother since she was born. "What should my grandma do now?" she asks. "Sit and watch the flow of stupid pop songs?" Many viewers have voiced a similar sense of outrage as Ms. Kang, as angry viewers have flooded the online bulletin boards of the network with more than 50 messages a day.

Some threaten a boycott of the station. Others beg. One devoted viewer suggested that, if the station cannot come up with new episodes, just repeat the last 22 years instead.

Since it first aired on Oct. 21, 1980, the drama has never been a ratings smash or a critical hit. But "Diary" has always been known as one of the few shows suitable for everyone in a three-generation family, old and young, to watch together.

"Diary" tells the story of a country town named Yangchonri and its unsophisticated yet warmhearted people. Over its decades-long run, it has generated a serious and intense fan base.

Choi Bul-am, starring as the head of the Kim family, had to wear makeup to pass himself off as an old man in the 1980s. But these days he doesn't have to, since he's had the time to age into his role.

The drama has had 13 directors and 14 scriptwriters over the years. The first episode in 1980 was aired in prime time, at 10 p.m., but over the years the show slowly lost prestige, and now airs on Sunday mornings. With the recent news of the drama's cancellation, its ratings have rebounded somewhat, up to 10 percent from its recent, rock-bottom lows of less than 5 percent.

The rage of the few, passionate viewers, however, is not enough to change any minds over at MBC. "It's now an established fact that the drama will sooner or later end," says In Jun-hyeok, a member of the production staff. "The only matter left is when."

by Chun Su-jin

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