Reuniting with an old chum -- if he’s aliveFrom my 20s, my New Year's resolutions have always included calling Hyang-sook, my old friend from sixth grade. Despite the convenience of e-mail and the cutting-edge cell phone, I always hesitate the moment I plan to make contact. After all these years, I'm afraid she might have forgotten about me. Even if she didn't, the conversation might not be as smooth as it was when we were kids. All I can do ― though it sounds like a poor excuse ― is look at a photo of us together and watch "TV-neun Sarang-eul Sitgo,” (On TV With Love).
Airing Sundays at noon on KBS-TV, "On TV With Love" features a bunch of celebrities looking for pals with whom they’ve lost touch over the years. Last Sunday, singer Lee Tae-won tracked down her old classmate, and boy band member Lee Hyun found his first love.
The star comes out to chat with the master of ceremonies about why they want to find a particular person. And then the TV camera moves to a dramatized episode of the star's good old days. Then it's time to watch messengers attempting to track down the person.
If the person is found and agrees to appear on television, he will be waiting before a curtain, ready to burst onstage when his name is called. To tantalize both the star and the audience, the person appears only after his name is called at least twice. Alas, there have been times when no one was behind the curtain: A schoolteacher of the politician Kim Jong-pil was a no-show; he had died.
The show is much like “This Is Your Life,” once a long-running staple on American television, hosted by Ralph Edwards.
One of the most memorable episodes featured the transsexual celebrity Ha Ri-su. Ha was reunited with her first love from elementary school, back when both of them were boys. Veteran social activist Baek Gi-wan also found his benefactor, who provided Baek with a hiding place when he was running from police.
Seo Young-a, the program’s scriptwriter, says that 2 out of 10 search efforts are unsuccessful. "It's not easy to search for a person from the past in the present," Seo says.
The program began in May 1994, and has now become one of the network’s oldest and best-liked shows. A producer concocted the idea after witnessing separated families from North and South Korea reunited after decades.
To star in the program, one must meet several conditions: No liaisons whatsoever should have been made in 10 years, and the person should be a celebrity. "Otherwise, there would just be too many people hunting down their old buddies on television," says Seo. Indeed, lots of viewers have badgered the production staff to find long-lost friends. It may sound like an easy job to get a celebrity to star in the program, but it's not a piece of cake, according to Seo. "It's rare to have a celebrity volunteer to star in the program,” she says.
Stars typically want to find first loves, friends and teachers. Once they come face to face with these chums from another era, stars often get tearful and exultant. So far, no celebrity has married a first love he was reconnected with through the program.
After writing this column, I guess it's really time for me to call up my friend Hyang-sook, and say hi. After all, it doesn’t take a television to make a simple call.
by Chun Su-jin
"What's on Korean TV" appears Wednesdays in the JoongAng Daily.