Applauding for fun and profit“We cannot just sit there and smile. We have to laugh like crazy, shaking the whole body. Let’s clap all we can and do a screaming exercise. Remember, our backs are to the camera.”
So it went 30 minutes before a recent taping at an entertainment studio at MBC-TV. A coach was giving the instructions to 50 young females who comprised the studio audience. “What’s wrong with you? Forgot to eat your lunch? The atmosphere of this program lies in your hands,” the coach said. Loud screams make the performance better, he told them. “O.K., let’s try it one more time. I want thunder. A storm of applause.”
It might appear frivolous, but this is serious business.
Just being a big fan of a particular TV program will not get you into a taping. Nor is sheer determination to catch a glimpse of a celebrity enough to get you a seat. Only those who have been trained in spontaneity have a chance to watch a program live in the studio.
These quasi-professional audiences are shuttled around to about 80 programs produced by the three main Korean TV channels. From variety shows to sitcoms and talk shows, these trained audiences are an essential part of the production. One producer says there are many cases in which a scene is shot again because audience response was too mild.
“Trained” audiences, which began to be used early in the 1990s, are much more organized these days. They are no longer directly hired by the stations, but are provided by event companies. An online community called “Audience Country,” for people who are “professional” audience members or aspire to be, boasts 16,000 members. “If a real famous celebrity is set to appear on a particular program, suddenly we have volunteers in the thousands,” says Lee Cheol-heui, an official with Jin Jin, an event planning company. “Screening all of them isn’t such an easy job, you know?”
Professional audiences must have a basic knowledge of the program they’re watching so their reactions will be somewhat natural. At the taping of a program called “Time Machine,” outlines are distributed to educate the audience on how and in what order the program will be taped.
Mr. Woo, who is assisting with the taping, says new blood is been infused into the profession these days. “Since the college entrance exam is over, high school seniors without experience are coming in, and they have to learn the ropes,” Mr. Woo says.
Many of the professional audience members are girls or women in their early 20s. Women are said to be more perceptive in reacting to minor details. A rule of thumb is to use males for programs dealing with current affairs, and married women in morning programs.
So how much are these so-called professionals being paid? For one appearance, the average fee is about 6,000 won ($5). For programs that end early in the morning, after 1:30, the pay goes to about 20,000 to 30,000 won, but those are rare exceptions. Ahn Hye-yong, a college student who has been doing this work for more than five years, explains what motivates her to scream, shake and laugh on command:
“It’s not the money that makes you sit for two hours and scream a million times,” she says. “I like some particular celebrities, and basically I love broadcasting.”
“We now have people who go to the station in the morning and come home early in the morning after digesting four programs. It’s just like a job to these people,” says Park Ok-ja, an executive at Sejin Plannings, an event planning company.
Professional audiences were introduced as a way of overcoming the Korean tendency not to show too much emotion. Nowadays, people are complaining that audience enthusiasm has reached a level that actually annoys. “Because of the constant hollering, I really can’t watch TV anymore,” writes one netizen on a broadcasting company’s Web site.
Park Tae-ho, a producer with the Korea Broadcasting System, says that more emphasis is being put on getting a natural response from the audience.
“I have been more specific these days to the audience not to overdo it. I’ve noticed it can interrupt the flow of the program,” says the producer.
by Choi Min-woo