Drama award shows celebrate a promising year: Despite changing viewing habits, major broadcasters saw more success in 2019

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Drama award shows celebrate a promising year: Despite changing viewing habits, major broadcasters saw more success in 2019


From left, the winners of the 2019 Grand Prizes from the three major broadcasters: Kim Dong-wook from the MBC drama series “Special Labor Inspector, Mr. Jo,” Kong Hyo-jin from the KBS drama series “When the Camellia Blooms” and Kim Nam-gil from the SBS drama series “The Fiery Priest.” [SCREEN CAPTURES]

For the past few years, drama series from the three terrestrial broadcasters - KBS, SBS and MBC - have been ailing: Not only do some say the stories fail to keep up with the times, but moreover, there are now so many other distractions to amuse the viewers, ranging from various over-the-top (OTT) platforms to YouTube. While streaming media has proliferated at a daunting speed, the country’s major broadcasters have been slow to adapt, resulting in low ratings across television.

But 2019 hinted at a revival for local dramas, as seen by the success of the hit KBS series “When the Camellia Blooms,” and actors were celebrated for their successful performances at the annual year-end drama awards ceremonies for KBS and SBS held on Monday and Tuesday.

It was no surprise when Kong Hyo-jin took home the Grand Prize at the 2019 KBS drama awards for her portrayal of Dongbaek, a single mother making her way through a harsh world with her son Pil-gu in “When the Camellia Blooms.” The series recorded the highest ratings out of all dramas aired on the three main broadcasters last year, and its finale had a record 23.8 percent rating. The award was Kong’s first Grand Prize since her debut in the entertainment industry in 1999.

Fans of the drama praised the heartwarming story centering around Dongbaek and her hardships with a touch of a thriller that was added by a serial killer prowling around the town. Despite the current trend of using big budgets to entertain viewers with various visual effects, “When the Camellia Blooms” focused on narrating stories through the cast’s performance to move viewers.

“I’ve actually felt the enormous love that the drama received from the fans,” Kong said during her acceptance speech in Yeouido, western Seoul. “I heard that people say that they received so much comfort and encouragement through the drama, but actors too have received comfort and support [through acting] as well. It was a special set and I think all the staff members and actors had so much fun and were actually sorry to see the days pass by. I knew from early on that I would never experience that kind of set again, which is why I can’t say I’m completely happy right now.”

The drama series took home an incredible 12 prizes on Tuesday night, including Top Excellence Award for Kang Ha-neul, Excellence Award for Lee Jung-eun and Kim Ji-seok, and the Best New Actress Award for Son Dam-bi. Child actor Kim Kang-hoon also received Best Child Actor for portraying Pil-gu. Scriptwriter Im Sang-choon received the Best Writer Award.

At the SBS drama awards, Kim Nam-gil was given the Grand Prize for his lead role in “The Fiery Priest.” Although the series ended in April, it has been taking home the top prizes at various drama awards over the year. However, Kim still looked surprised as he climbed the stairs to accept his award amid a standing ovation and cheers from his fellow actors.

Kim played a hero in “The Fiery Priest.” As the title implies, Kim’s character Kim Hae-il is a hot-headed priest whose actions speak louder than his words as he works to bring justice into the world.

“I live by the saying that there are ups and downs in life, so I’m not usually the type to cling to certain notions, whether they are big or small,” Kim said. “But now standing here after receiving such an enormous prize, it’s hard to stick by that […] I’m really grateful for all the fans of ‘The Fiery Priest’ who still remember and love the drama although it’s been quite a while since it ended.”

The Producer Award, the second-highest prize at the SBS awards ceremony, went to Jang Na-ra for her role in “VIP.” The drama series ended with a viewership rating of 15.9 percent, a significant achievement for a drama that aired on Mondays and Tuesdays. Viewership ratings during the early weekdays have been especially low for all three broadcasters over the past several years.

“VIP” tells a tale of a gripping affair between employees of a department store, led by actors Jang, Lee Sang-yun and Pyo Ye-jin.

The MBC drama awards ceremony, held on Monday, was perhaps overshadowed by other broadcasts’ successes, as there were no outstanding accomplishments that resonated among viewers nor managed to surpass single-digit viewership ratings.

Both the Grand Prize and the Top Excellence Award went to Kim Dong-wook for his role in “Special Labor Inspector, Mr. Jo.” Not unlike “The Fiery Priest,” the drama is a satire-comedy in which the hero is working to fight against the evil forces in society.

According to Kim, this year was the first time he was invited to an award ceremony hosted by a major broadcaster since he made his television debut in the hit MBC drama “Coffee Prince” in 2007.

“It’s a moment when a dream comes true,” the actor said during his acceptance speech on Monday. “But I’m also very well aware that I failed to exceed expectations while playing the lead role for fans of the drama. I don’t know what to say or do upon receiving such a prize, but I will do my best to be an actor who can really act and be a person who is humble and thankful to those around me.”

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]
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