Scripted Formats & The Cultural Exchange

It is known humor and localities are hard to translate, hence variety and reality TV (non-scripted) programs are most commonly adapted. But that’s changing as these barriers are gradually broken down with more scripted formats adapted all over the world. Highlighting some known projects in Korea, perhaps this is a start to paving inroads for other stories written in Asia?

First off, due to the widespread of Western mass media, it’s no surprise stories are tweaked and adapted to the local taste. One of the more recent examples include BBC’s "Doctor Foster", remade to “The World of The Married” by JTBC. The drama series depicts a story of married couple's betrayal towards one another resulting in a vicious cycle of revenge, grief and eventually acceptance. The series was adapted with a realistic ending, made suitable for the Korean audience. “The World of The Married” later went on to smash nationwide TV ratings to become Korean cable television's top performing drama series at 28.4% overtaking “Sky Castle” which held the record at 23.8% since 2019

Entertainment One’sDesignated Survivor: 60 Days” is another successful remake example of "Designated Survivor" starring Kiefer Sutherland. While an adaptation, the Korean political thriller was written by screenwriter, Kim Tae Hee, who also wrote for "Sungkyunkwan Scandal" and "Beautiful Mind", and produced by Studio Dragon. The series went on to win the Best Adaptation of an Existing Formate Category in the 2019 Asian Academy Creative Awards.

This is all well and good, but we’re starting to see an uptake of Asian series remade overseas as well. Most of which are noticed to be Korean dramas adapted in South East Asian countries. BBC Studios representative Geo Lee, mentioned “The World of the Married” garnered stronger remake interest after its stellar performance on JTBC. This leads to market expansion and a bigger exchange in creativity worldwide. Thanks also to Netflix and the likes of video platforms, plus distribution efforts by companies such as Eccho Rights, more Korean dramas are fast becoming available worldwide. Examples of Korean titles distributed include: "Queen of Ambition", "Incarnation of Money", "Strangers from Hell" and "Watcher". Eccho Rights’ Head of Asia Business, Deborah Youn mentioned the company typically selects titles under 10 years old due to its quality. Eccho Rights also their remake progress for “Tunnel” with France’s TF1 and “Kill Me, Heal Me” with Endemol Shine at this year’s BCWW. “Good Doctor” was another successful remake borne from Korean shores. 

You might then ask, what are some of the major demands of the global market? Eccho Rights’ Managing Partner, Nicola Söderlund shared at BCWW 2020, that while it differs country to country, crime and thriller genres work best. In Turkey and the Middle East, family and women-centric dramas tend to do best. Korean scripted formats are increasingly popular for remakes due to their flexibility. Korean dramas’ pace tend to fall right in the middle compared to European series, typically 8-10 episodes long, and telenovelas, which could run for as long as a lifetime. Also, there’s a high possibility Korean series bring an alternative perspective to subject matters, keeping it fresh for global viewers. 

Both Eccho Rights’ representatives did point out the longevity of Korean dramas is limited as stories end by the 16th episode with no option of a second season, unlike series in the western markets. As a result, Season 2 gets tackled by a new set of writers and causes some disconnect in the story. Cultural and society differences might pose as a challenge to translate, given the expression of excessive emotions in Koreans' acting is another factor that could baffle the European audience, along with the unfamiliarity of Korean names. Women too, in the European society, hold a stronger and more powerful status compared to the women portrayed in Korean dramas. 

However, due to the position of Korean entertainment in the global market, there is still a strong demand for Korean scripted formats, leading to a brain drain with the lack of quality writers. Hence, despite previous resistance from Korean producers to adapt formats from other markets, the mindsets are gradually shifting and it certainly looks like the format buying trend is here to stay. Do refer to a previous post titled, "Formats, Media and Trends Overview Thus Far in 2020" for more. The good news is, great ideas and stories come from everywhere, while web toons and books are great resources, their rising IP prices are lowering profits. Quality content still must be continuously made accessible to Korean producers with some facilitation from content owners looking to sell their formats.  

Perhaps with these crucial steps taken in Korea, it could lead to inroads for export of other Asian stories. Apart from Korea, Japan has also already seen a fair share of live action remakes from popular anime and mangas in Hollywood. The potential from other Asian markets remains to be seen. 

Who do you think might or would like to see follow in Korea and Japan’s footsteps next? 

Images are taken from screenshots of the BCWW 2020 online conference.

Drama posters are from official websites first airing the respective series.

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