Infinity Challenge (IC), 1N2D and Running Man (RM) are often considered breakthrough variety shows. Each has a different concept and started at different eras. Thus, this comparison does not intend to determine which one is the better show. That’s an impossible order. I only intend to examine the fundamentals of each show and what made or makes these three shows arguably the most influential shows to have ever been aired in Korea.
Journey to Success: A Brief Description
IC is 1N2D’s senior. IC opened in 2005. Despite having a loyal following, its ratings were very low at less than 6 percent per episode. It is credited to the fact that the show is competition-based. This prompted the network and the productions staff to change the format. In 2006, IC finally came up with the concept that remains to be their current format. Except for handful of weeks, IC has retained its number one position in its timeslot. More importantly, it is often regarded as the ultimate real variety show.
1N2D (Season 1)
In the heyday of 1N2D, they reached 40 percent in ratings. This is by no means the highest rated however on Korean television but it is the show that has recorded the highest rating. Their season 1 ended more than a year ago with the departure of most of its original cast. It is now on its season 2 but is nowhere near the greatness, in terms of ratings, of season 1. It is not to say that it is the most successful variety show ever. That “title” is often awarded to IC.
IC is considered the inspiration of RM. It started over three years ago with an urban-theme competition based variety concept. It wasn’t an instant success. In its first several months, the show came close to being shut down when the ratings weren’t going up. They show more than survived the threat. In fact, it is so successful that it has inspired “modern-day” variety shows. Most variety shows in its time slot now concentrate on challenges and competition.
Cast Members’ Ability to Improvise
Characters are the “roles” that cast members play in the show. It may be compared to characters in a movie or TV drama. In a variety show, however, the cast members are supposed to develop their own character to make it easier for them to improvise and be spontaneous in different situations. If there is any element in a show that could make or break a show, it is the cast members and their ability to utilize their characters and make them compelling.
This best demonstrated in 1N2D. The show’s primary objective is to show the different scenic spots of Korea. On their way to these places, they are given “limitations”. They may be given only a certain amount which they have to budget to make sure they can pay the toll fee, have enough gas and have some food to keep themselves from starving. They may be broken into two teams or asked to find a certain location with only a photo.
The members improvise to ensure that the viewers have something to watch. They could end up staging a concert in a random university or do a game to determine who gets to eat a bowl of noodles or left to their own to figure out how to earn money. Since the production team often don’t give specific challenges, the cast members are left to improvise and the characters they play make it fun. Without their creativity and ability to spot opportunities, the show would feature nothing but a bunch of guys going to a place and coming back.
IC and RM have more help from the production team in boosting their characters. Although the cast members remain to be the ones who create their characters, the production team are able to provide more support by designing games and situations that would allow the characters to be highlighted. This is because IC and RM are a bit more competition-based.
IC, however, has downplayed competition through the years. They continue to play games but they concentrate on the process more than the result. Like 1N2D, they have episodes that seem like the cast is doing nothing. They have episodes when they were asked to go to Japan to meet a boxer. Another episode featured the cast members delivering their calendar to fans. They have episodes where simply discussed what is going on in their lives and yet, they remain in the number one spot. Situations when the cast members are not doing anything that demonstrates just how critical it is for the cast members to know how to improvise and play their characters.
No, it’s Not the Competition, It’s the Comedy
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As stated, IC’s low ratings in the beginning were largely credited to the types of games they played. They played games suggested by the audience sent through their website. These games were mostly the members playing a specific sport against professionals. The comedy stems from the fact that they are all bad at the sport they are playing but it wasn’t enough to turn off some viewers because it emphasized the competition.
IC evolved. They continue to promote the show with their motto “Dirty. Dangerous. Difficult.” However, they downplay the results. They are more likely to highlight the process than emphasize who wins or lose. They have rowing specials that went on for five episodes. They showed the training that members and their guests went through and devoted only one episode to the actual rowing competition. They have singing and performance competition where preparations are shown for 2 episodes and 1 episode for the actual competition.
The prizes they give away are also nothing to small which emphasizes that they don’t do the show for the prize.
They also have a lot of episodes that are devoted to fan interaction or the members learning new skill or going through strange experiences. Actual competition takes less than 20% of their shows yearly.
Running Man is more competitive. Show after show, the members are pitied against each other or against guests. The objective is always to outwit and outplay the other members or guests. However, the cast members, especially the ones that have been in variety shows for a lot time, balance this out by playing out their characters to create funny situations instead of doing nothing but play and strategize.
Korean media also tend to write about comedic situations or character milestones in the show rather than the competition itself. Based on the comments and other forms of reaction of fans, it is what interests them, not the competition itself.
It is also common to see, hear and read about fans complains when there aren’t a lot of interaction or comedic situations in an episode.
Part 2 will discuss the importance of family and friendship, how a female affects the show and how evolution and growth could spell the difference between success and failure in a variety show.
Please do keep in mind that this article does not intend to determine which one is the best variety show. This is just to help fans, like me, who like analysing movies, songs and TV shows understand what it is about our favorite shows that make us all follow them. If, by some chance, these insights help us understand a little about ourselves too, that’s a bonus.