SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Korea Bizwire) – Recent reports that Chinese TV networks had outright plagiarized variety show content from their South Korean counterparts has some questioning whether the domestic industry is any better.
Variety shows are a form of reality show in which participants, usually celebrities, partake in a number of activities, ranging from traveling and cooking to even training for months to perform a WWE-esque wrestling performance before hundreds of fans.
The shows have steadily earned increasing popularity not just at home but abroad, with hit shows like SBS’ Running Man and MBC’s Infinite Challenge forming a part of the Korean cultural fabric.
On October 4, the National Assembly’s Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee stated that data obtained from the Korea Communications Commission showed that there had been 29 cases of plagiarism committed by the Chinese.
The Korean networks plagiarized from were KBS (5), MBC (2), SBS (9), JTBC (4), MNET (3) and tvN (6).
Some specific examples mentioned by Assemblyman Kim Sung-su were Shenzhen TV’s Kitchen’s Secrets, ‘inspired’ by JTBC’s Please Take Care of my Refrigerator, and Hunan TV’s Life Yearned For and Dear Visitor, near doppelgängers of tvN’s Three Meals a Day and JTBC’s Hyori’s Homestay, respectively.
Using the Chinese government’s ban on Korean cultural products as an excuse, networks are blatantly ripping off ideas and settings from many of South Korea’s most beloved shows.
Locally, industry experts believe that the issue of plagiarism started to become a severe problem once the Chinese government imposed shackles on Chinese networks’ ability to import content that corresponded to specified formats.
As is the case, allegations of imitation at best and plagiarism at worst by the country’s next door neighbors have been met with a familiar feeling of mild outrage followed by a shrug of the shoulders that can be interpreted as mild apathy or tacit acknowledgement.
What the revelations have done is shed light on the local scene, only to find that the hodge podge of networks and their variety shows are but a cut above the plagiarism employed by the Chinese networks.
KBS, a major network, has been one of the more egregious offenders in this category. Aping popular shows but inserting just enough variance into the programming to use as a shield against allegations of plagiarism, the network has consistently attracted criticism for its variety shows.
KBS 2TV’s May I Sleep Over resembles JTBC’s Wednesday night program Let’s Eat Dinner Together almost to a T. The only difference is that the latter shows two or more celebrities wandering the streets of Seoul, knocking on doors and asking the residents if they can come inside for a meal, whereas the former shows celebrities going abroad and asking for lodging by knocking on doors.
The show has gained derision not only for its borderline plagiarism, but also for causing what the online community has dubbed an ‘international nuisance’, pointing out that providing a meal might be a slight inconvenience, but offering sleeping quarters to a complete stranger can be extremely intrusive.
Another KBS show that has come under some criticism is I Came Alone, which resembles Channel A’s Heart Signal, both of which are centered on showing the lives of a group of 20-somethings living under one roof. The only meaningful difference between the two? The KBS variant is set in a foreign country.
Other alleged transgressions include KBS 2TV’s Year of the Dragon Club featuring celebrities born in 1976. It borrows its format from shows like tvN’s Youth Over Flowers, a show showing 40-something musicians traveling, and Youn’s Kitchen, a show of a group of celebrities who open a small restaurant in a tourist hotspot abroad.
KBS, though perhaps the most frequently accused, is not the only major network that has come under fire for shows bearing uncanny similarities to on-air programs.
Teasers for SBS TV’s A Little Crazy is OK have already drawn accusations of stealing from the well-established I Live Alone on MBC, which follows the lives of individual celebrities in their homes and at work and leisure.
Even cable network tvN, usually the victim, has not escaped suspicion after it began its music program Suspicious Singer, which is being compared to MBC’s King of Mask Singer, a show that has aired since 2015.
Those in the industry believe the current trends of copying back and forth are likely to persist for some time.
“As cable and TV programming channels have become more energized, lots of observation-based variety shows that go a long way on a small production budget were released, which became more popular and valuable than expected, creating a situation where the major networks also decided to jump in,” an industry veteran explained under condition of anonymity.