[TV review]A remembrance of Korea’s television past

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[TV review]A remembrance of Korea’s television past

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“Old TV,” features today’s celebrities acting out past TV shows. [SBS-TV]

The mellow smell of rice cooking in the pot and my mother singing along to the Carpenters “Yesterday Once More” in the kitchen is a favorite memory of my childhood. Another essential element to complete the evening scene would be a TV set and me fighting with my sister for the best spot to watch our favorite animated cartoon, “The Little Princess Sarah.” We would fight like cats and dogs, but the skirmish would magically stop at the sound of the show’s theme song. We would then sing along, hand in hand. My mother would have to stop her own singing to warn us not to sit too close to the TV and to ask if we were done with our math homework.
I still remember the lyrics and tune of the “Princess Sarah” theme to this day. One of my souvenirs from childhood is a videotape of an episode of that Japanese cartoon, based on an American novel and dubbed into Korean. Now that I am older, I find myself missing the “good old days,” and television is the object of my reverie in this column. Besides, I am old enough ― at least theoretically ― to have a daughter of my own with her eyes glued to the TV screen for a dose of princess tales, although I would be singing the Spice Girls or Britney Spears in the kitchen instead of the Carpenters.
When I play that old videotape from time to time, I still get this sweet, yet painful warmth in my heart for things that will never return. Some of the TV commercials recorded along with the animation on the tape still make me laugh. Especially one about a popsicle featuring three young women dancing on a huge paper picture of that treat.
I used to detest that commercial when I was looking forward to the revenge of Princess Sarah against Miss Minchin, but now it makes me laugh. That’s the thing about memory. It has the power to embellish bygone times. Apparently I am not the only one who gets nostaligic at the thought of television’s past, as the birth of a “new” form of local retro television demonstrates. “Yetnal TV,” which translates into English as “Old TV” premiered last month.
Airing on SBS-TV at 5:30 p.m. Sundays, Old TV brings viewers back to the time when television was still something new in Korea, and everything from news programs to entertainment shows and commercials had to be aired live, due to the lack of recording and editing technology. Now, television in all its hundreds of varieties is on the air around the clock, from the public airwaves to narrowly focused cable channels, but it was a different story decades ago.
The producers of Old TV feature a group of today’s celebrities sharing all the roles on all the segments, trying to shoot the scenes without a mistake ― just like in the old days. They act out news, dramas and commercials drawn from the 1960s. It is all supposed to be done in one take, but when there is a mistake, the lights go out and people in black outfits come out to punish the performers by beating them in slapstick fashion with rolled up paper.
The producers say they are teaching the celebrities and viewers how difficult it was to make a TV show in the past. Yet it does not seem all that meaningful ― or fun ― to watch the performers repeat scenes over and over again to get them right.
Instead, why not choose favorite shows from the past and rebroadcast them? Watching today’s celebrities murmuring lines from past TV shows is mundane and pointless. Yet I still find myself tuning in to Old TV, perhaps because it also features special guests from the old shows. With people like legendary TV weather forecaster Kim Dong-wan and actress Kim Mi-hwa, who was a hit as a obstreperous wife on a comedy, the guests are the most powerful element of the show.
These older celebrities remain in our collective memory, and there is a part of us that still lives in the past.


The mellow smell of rice cooking in the pot and my mother singing along to the Carpenters “Yesterday Once More” in the kitchen is a favorite memory of my childhood. Another essential element to complete the evening scene would be a TV set and me fighting with my sister for the best spot to watch our favorite animated cartoon, “The Little Princess Sarah.” We would fight like cats and dogs, but the skirmish would magically stop at the sound of the show’s theme song. We would then sing along, hand in hand. My mother would have to stop her own singing to warn us not to sit too close to the TV and to ask if we were done with our math homework.
I still remember the lyrics and tune of the “Princess Sarah” theme to this day. One of my souvenirs from childhood is a videotape of an episode of that Japanese cartoon, based on an American novel and dubbed into Korean. Now that I am older, I find myself missing the “good old days,” and television is the object of my reverie in this column. Besides, I am old enough ― at least theoretically ― to have a daughter of my own with her eyes glued to the TV screen for a dose of princess tales, although I would be singing the Spice Girls or Britney Spears in the kitchen instead of the Carpenters.
When I play that old videotape from time to time, I still get this sweet, yet painful warmth in my heart for things that will never return. Some of the TV commercials recorded along with the animation on the tape still make me laugh. Especially one about a popsicle featuring three young women dancing on a huge paper picture of that treat.
I used to detest that commercial when I was looking forward to the revenge of Princess Sarah against Miss Minchin, but now it makes me laugh. That’s the thing about memory. It has the power to embellish bygone times. Apparently I am not the only one who gets nostaligic at the thought of television’s past, as the birth of a “new” form of local retro television demonstrates. “Yetnal TV,” which translates into English as “Old TV” premiered last month.
Airing on SBS-TV at 5:30 p.m. Sundays, Old TV brings viewers back to the time when television was still something new in Korea, and everything from news programs to entertainment shows and commercials had to be aired live, due to the lack of recording and editing technology. Now, television in all its hundreds of varieties is on the air around the clock, from the public airwaves to narrowly focused cable channels, but it was a different story decades ago.
The producers of Old TV feature a group of today’s celebrities sharing all the roles on all the segments, trying to shoot the scenes without a mistake ― just like in the old days. They act out news, dramas and commercials drawn from the 1960s. It is all supposed to be done in one take, but when there is a mistake, the lights go out and people in black outfits come out to punish the performers by beating them in slapstick fashion with rolled up paper.
The producers say they are teaching the celebrities and viewers how difficult it was to make a TV show in the past. Yet it does not seem all that meaningful or fun to watch the performers repeat scenes over and over again to get them right.
Instead, why not choose favorite shows from the past and rebroadcast them? Watching today’s celebrities murmuring lines from past TV shows is mundane and pointless. Yet I still find myself tuning in to Old TV, perhaps because it also features special guests from the old shows. With people like legendary TV weather forecaster Kim Dong-wan and actress Kim Mi-hwa, who was a hit as a obstreperous wife on a comedy, the guests are the most powerful element of the show.
These older celebrities remain in our collective memory, and there is a part of us that still lives in the past.


By Chun Su jin [sujiney@joongang.co.kr]

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