Korean Variety Show Introduction 101

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You may start from K-Pop or K-Drama, but as soon as you follow your bias (favorite idol/singer/actor), you will drawn into another side of Korean entertainment, namely variety show. As a newbie, Korean variety show can be a little tricky, as you may find that everybody seems to know everybody (in the variety), they could laugh on celebrities’ act/comment while you are still trying to remember each person’s name. What’s going on here?

Hang on, here are some tips for you to start your journey in the Korean variety show.

National MCs

Yes, you heard it right. Korea is known to dubbed their celebrity based on their most apparent strength, e.g. IU – Nation Little Sister (she has a baby face and start off since a young age, thus the little sister), Jung Hae In – Nation Younger Man (he rocketed as one of Korea’s top actor after his latest drama “Something in the Rain” where he played as a younger man building a romantic relationship with an older woman), etc. Here are some of Korea’s beloved Nation MCs:

  1. Yoo Jae Suk (known as the National MC)

Currently known as the National MC, the 45 years old comedian and presenter debuted back in 1991. He is widely loved for his talents, generosity and well manner. He is very popular to Koreans, from little kids to elderly. In fact, many elder women once named him as the most desirable son-in-law. Many of his works are (and were) very successful and become legends, such as Family Outing, Infinite Challenge, Happy Together, Running Man and many more. You may also notice him on Psy’s hit music video, Gangnam Style.

2. Kang Ho Dong 

Once a professional Sirreum (Korean traditional wrestling, similar with Sumo), Kang Ho Dong then became a comedian and tv host which later bring him the title of a National MC. But as they share the same title, Kang Ho Dong often being compared with Yoo Jae Suk and they somehow became “rival” (at least on television). Opposite from Yoo Jae Suk, Kang Ho Dong is infamous of being loud and his colleagues often joke of his ill manner and him being rude to others, especially juniors. But despite all these, Kang Ho Dong is a respectable MC as many celebrities (such as Super Junior’s Lee Teuk and Shindong) are practically swore their loyalty with Kang Ho Dong. Many of his works are and were also notably successful, like Men on Mission/Knowing Brother/Ask us Anything, Star King, Strong Heart, and many more.

3. Jun Hyun Moo

This 40 years old host and television personality could be seen in many shows, making you wonder “ah, this guy again!”. He often being teased for his love life, his love for female celebrities, and his active attempt to get in the spotlight during shows. Some of his notable works are/were Star Golden Bell, K-POP Star, Happy Together, I Live Alone and Hidden Singer.

Now that we are introduced to Korean variety show’s big names, we should also see through Korean variety shows trend. Normally, once a TV network starts on a new variety show concept, the other networks will try to adopt and even upgrade it. Here are some Korean variety show concepts that become huge domestically and worldwide..

  1. Games, challenges, missions and punishments

Variety shows like “Running Man”, “Infinite Challenge”, “Family Outing”, and partly “Barefooted Friends” are adopting this concept. With several celebrities act as main members and sometimes they also invite celebrity guest(s) to play along. Those members and guest(s) have to accomplish a particular set of missions on each episode. Sometimes, they would also gain reward for finishing/winning a mission, or punishment for failing.

Plus: it could be thrilling and exciting to watch since the mission/games/challenge/punishment are always different. We could also see celebrities’ true nature through this kind of variety show: the strong ones, the weak ones, the betrayer, the clumsy ones, etc.

2. Babies

Variety show with baby concept usually observe how parent(s) interact with their kids, their supposedly daily life and sometimes they are given the opportunity to do something new and see how they manage to do that with their kids. Some variety shows with this concept are “The Return of Superman”, “Oh! My Baby”, “Dad! Where are we going”.

Plus: we get to see cute babies and this kind of show usually offers good amount of real funny scenes since they cannot really ask the babies to follow the script. Those who already become a parent may relate to this variety show and perhaps even get parenting new tips along the way.

3. Traveling

With traveling becomes the latest trend for people around the world, it’s no wonder that there are so many variety shows adopting this concept. Some even make a cross-concept with it (dating-traveling like My Ear’s Candy, Celebrities trying something new-Food-traveling like Youn’s Kitchen, Mission-traveling like Barefooted Friends, etc). Notable variety shows with traveling concept includes “Law of the Jungle”, “New Journey To The West”, “Youth Over Flowers”, “Grandpas Over Flowers”, “Noona Over Flowers”, “Salty Tour”.

Plus: We get to see beautiful and attractive tourism spots around the world, they even provide useful information such as best time to visit, tips and tricks, and local customs.

4. Food

This kind of variety allow us to follow the journey of celebrity to discover and taste new food or even promote traditional Korean foods to people. Some of the popular variety shows with food concept include “Please Take of My Refrigerator”, “Youn’s Kitchen”, “Kang’s Kitchen”, “3 Meals a Day”, “Night Goblin”.

Plus: These variety shows successfully introducing Korean traditional foods as well as new dishes they found abroad to international (and of course domestic) viewer. It is also fun to watch these celebrity put their heart out to make proper meal, some even sell them!

5. Camping out/Sleepover

Wish to see your favorite celebrity’s daily life? Nothing will satisfy you like watching this kind of variety shows as they put several celebrities (one might be your favorite!) together for some time in the same house/place. They then learn to live together during those time and most of them end up being close to each other. Variety shows with this concept are “2 Days 1 Night”, “Roommate”, “Little House in the Forest”.

Plus: We get to see celebrity daily life and even see them open up about their thoughts.

6. Talk Show

This may be the most typical variety show concept, where they invite several celebrities and make them talk about stuffs, from the hot gossip to embarrassing issues. Although many Korean variety adopt this concept, they manage to create their own unique style. For example “Knowing Brothers/Men on Mission” set on a classroom with their guests act as transfer students and the fix members have to guess those guests’ rather personal questions with limited clues. Or “Happy Together” has this more relaxing vibe with their background setting on a sauna room or living room. Some popular talk shows in Korea include “Knowing Brothers/Men on Mission”, “Happy Together”, “Strong Heart”, “Healing Camp”.

Plus: this is the best way to get reliable update and even secret from celebrities, not to mention the funny comments and moments induced by the MCs making it even more entertaining to watch. It’s so much better than the average gossip show.

7. Idol Audition

This concept has become a trend in Korea recently, with its initial purpose to give second chance for aspiring idols to become huge. Usually at the end, they will choose several promising idols who later put together in a group where they will train, make music, record and even promote together for some time (mostly around 1 year). Some Korean variety show with this concept are “Produce 101”, “Produce 48”, and “Mixnine”.

Plus: It is actually a good chance to find hidden gem from these many aspiring idols that previously clouded by more famous idols.

8. Dating/Romance

This concept is surely suit the taste for shippers, because we get to see how opposite sex celebrities/non celebrities are put together to get to know each other, talking about marriage or even pretend to be married to each other! Although most of them would look awkward at first, they slowly opened up and get comfortable. We could even see good chemistry here and there, leaving us wanting them to end up together in real life too. Some notable variety shows with this concept are “We Got Married”, “Heart Signal”, “My Ears Candy”.

Plus: A good way to satisfy the shippers’ thirst of seeing celebrities’ lovey-dovey. It’s also entertaining to watch celebrities’ supposedly true nature toward others (especially opposite sex).

9. Celebrity Showcase

Do you know that your favorite Korean star has another talent? The best way to figure it out is through variety shows with this concept. Usually they ask Korean star to do something they normally don’t (like sing/dance for actors) or simply showing off their talent even more. Variety with this concept are “Weekly Idol”, “King of Mask Singer”, “Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook”, etc.

Plus: It’s always nice to find out more about our favorite celebrity’s talents, or even finding new bias!

10. Celebrities trying something new

From actors/comedians/TV personalities try to make girl/boy group to open a bed and breakfast. This kind of variety show allows us to see how those celebrities struggle to do something completely new than their normal job. It is rather nice to see that those “perfect-pictured” stars are human after all, with their ups and downs. Also it can be inspiring as they (although possibly due to camera) not giving up and try their best. And usually along the show, we get to relate with them; happy when they success, sad when they fail and even nervous when they nervous. Variety with this concept are “Sister Slam Dunk”, “Master in the House”, “Youn’s Kitchen”, “Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast”, etc.

Plus: These variety shows are tend to be life inspiring as celebrities struggle to learn something new, getting though rough patches, and share their deep thoughts.

What makes Korean Variety Show different than others?

Based on our observation, here are the things that make Korean Variety Show stood out..

  1. They don’t even pretend that they are not in camera. Unlike most of other countries’ variety show (e.g. the Bachelor, Masterchef, etc), Korean sort of admitting that they are indeed being shot by talking to their VJ/PD and even showing off the set and crews.
Some of the PD and VJ are in fact gaining popularity too

2. They are not afraid to show celebrity’s true nature, when they are even inviting big names such as Rain, Gong Yoo, Big Bang, etc. Well, maybe that’s why those too well reserved celebrities are too afraid to join Korean variety shows.

Just when we thought that G-dragon only wears branded clothing and living a luxurious life..

3. Make use of awesome technologies and cinematography. Variety shows are relatively coming with low budget, that’s why most variety shows out there are using standard camera and techs. But not Korea, as they really love entertainments, they also put their heart out even for a variety show with awesome effects and attention to small details.

From using CGI – Running Man
Creating rather cool effects… – Running Man
making cartoon version of the casts – Youn’s Kitchen Season 2
and even give them proper outfits! – Sister Slam Dunk

4. Although at first, their concepts seem purposeless and make us wonder “so what?” For example, compared to “The Bachelor” which obviously choosing the most prospective wife for a bachelor, Korean variety show like “Roommate” might seems useless. But along the way, we may get tired of the well scripted “The Bachelor” with their obviously fake fight and tears. Whereas we get to know more about each member of the “Roommate”, seeing their rather real daily life, their hardships and their friendships. By the end of the program, we may even rooting for one or more celebrities and wishing them well with their career.

Thus a new friendship blooms..

5. Good at promoting product (ads) as well as both Korean’s and other country’s attraction/food/tourism. Maybe its all thanks to the combination of their beautiful cinematography, celeb’s good acting skills, and hilariously touching comments from PD on the footage, but they even manage to make a mere Ramyeon (Korean instant noodle) looks ridiculously good! No wonder that Korean ramyeon demand worldwide is getting higher and higher for an instance.

now Garachico would be an even more popular tourism spot thanks to Youn’s Kitchen…

6. With their vary concepts (they even find new concepts almost every year!), little chance are for us to be bored.

Like this murder solving variety show, why not?