SBS recently announced a new variety program scheduled to hit the airwaves this fall. Named Beating Hearts, the new show will thrust its cast into the world of firefighting, documenting them as they undergo the process and training needed to be firefighters.
While still relatively early in its conception, the confirmed cast members so far include Park Ki-woong, Lee Won-jong, Jo Dong-hyuk, Choi Woo-shik, and sole female member Jeon Hye-bin. While only a pilot of two episodes has been reserved, the show prides itself as a “reality-variety” program, promising to bring the charm of variety television and the rawness of reality television.
From the description alone, the show seems like a SBS’s thinly veiled answer to the huge success that was MBC’s Real Men. Also a mixture of reality and variety television, Real Men proved to be a colossal success. Along with its lineup partner Dad, Where Are You Going?, the two shows have skyrocketed the ratings of MBC’s Sunday lineup.
Previously the black sheep of three main broadcasting stations — as KBS and SBS had ratings powerhouses 1 Night 2 Days and Running Man respectively – the two new, noteworthy shows have allowed MBC to take the lead, beating out their competitors with significant margins.
Real Men currently features a similar concept to what Beating Hearts is promising: both shows plan to take their widely popular celebrity casts and throw them into grueling, real life situations. Only rather than firefighting, Real Men has its cast situated in the army. Now with their flagship Good Sunday lineup struggling to regain footing, it seems like SBS wants to mimic the success of Real Men with Beating Hearts.
However, while it may be what Beating Hearts is mimicking at the moment, the concept of mixing reality television with variety programming certainly didn’t start with Real Men. Real Men isn’t even the first widespread example of a reality-variety program. The concept has existed for a while now, and their charms are pretty obvious.
Besides offering some level of entertainment like any other variety, the reality aspect of these shows allows us to see another side of the celebrities headlining them. Seeing as we’re used to seeing these individuals in a more glamorous setting, relocating them to different settings often shows us the more genuine and hardworking sides of these well-known individuals.
Many of these shows often feature difficult and tiring work, typically a service of some kind, so they often turn out to be humbling to the celebrities involved. Moreover, these shows also turn out to be fairly informative for the viewers as well. Reality-variety shows tend to be highly concept-based, and considering how these shows attempt to show the reality of the situations they air, usually they give at least some background to their area they film or the workings of the tasks they complete.
Furthermore, there’s a pretty wide spectrum of how these shows vary. The core common denominator after all is using the realness of reality television to provide entertainment akin to variety television. Consequently, as the requirements are so broad, the variety between these shows have great diversity.
Most notably, there’s the level of scripting. While the degree of scripting in these shows tend to be much lighter than a typical variety show, many of these shows still rely on at least minimal bits of scripting to pace the show together. As a result, some of these shows tend to be much more scripted than others. And the difference in scripting can make an enormous difference in how a show of this nature is presented.
Take for example, Invincible Youth. At face value, the program is vastly different to a show like Real Men. While Real Men has an all male cast consisting of a variety of different types of entertainers with a much more serious tone, Invincible Youth is completely idol-centric, with an all-female main cast and a significantly lighter feel. Moreover, Real Men takes place in multiple army bases, while Invincible Youth is set in a countryside village. Yet despite their differences, at their cores, both shows have exceedingly similar concepts: throwing their popular cast members into unfamiliar and oft-times grueling experiences.
While I noted some of the more superficial differences between the two shows, another notable difference is the level of scripting. Invincible Youth certainly feels more scripted than Real Men does. While the chores, reactions, and people the girls of Invincible Youth faces were just as genuine, certain events or outcomes were certainly planned, and the girls’ use of characters were blatant and acknowledged. By contrast, tonally, Real Men feels much more raw and unedited.
Going to the other extreme is a show like Kim Byung-man‘s Laws of the Jungle. While its scandal made viewers question the actual level of scripting of the show, for the most part, it airs more like a documentary, focusing more on the reality aspect of its concept. Nevertheless, the show still retains some signature staples of a variety show.
With all that said though, while Real Men isn’t the first case of reality-variety television, and will almost certainly not the last. However, Real Men is likely one of the most notable instances of reality-variety programming, for it has started a huge trend in Korea at the moment, a trend Beating Hearts desires to seemingly follow.
This is also why I don’t see Beating Hearts reaching anywhere near the level of popularity Real Men has experienced. Real Men is truly one of a kind. First of all, its concept is certainly one of its main draws, for it attracts a very wide demographic. Going through the difficulties of serving in the military is something almost everyone in Korea can relate to, from the able-bodied men who have to serve someday to their families and loved ones, who miss them in their time away.
However, there’s more to the show than its concept. If one were to go back a few years, there actually was another show that aimed to focus on military life: KBS2’s On Your Command Sir! The show was led by variety veteran Lee Su-geun, and despite its winning concept, the show never reached the level of popularity Real Men did. This is because Real Men truly discovered a recipe that works. Its cast and format are pretty special as well, making its success all the harder to replicate.
Just reading its description alone, I can already predict some potential problems Beating Hearts may face in the future. For instance, while firefighters are a very noble position that sacrifices a lot to serve their comminutes, the concept of the show is fairly hard to relate to. When compared Real Men, whose army concept would resonate well for almost every Korean, the firefighting life of Beating Hearts may have a bit more trouble when finding a target demographic.
Moreover, the nature of the work of firefighters also poses another problem. Seeing as situations can get potentially dangerous especially to those untrained, the cast would end up being very dependent on their trainers. At surface level, this may not be a big problem. However, being over-dependent to their mentors is what brought Invincible Youth 2 down, for dependency not only cuts back the casts’ self-sufficiency, but it also typically signals potential scripting the show may take to compensate.
Additionally, the cast also can’t train in true hazardous situations, making the end goal of the show a bit questionable. While there’s certainly more training in being a firefighter than actually putting out fires, it’s still a major aspect of the job, and it would also probably be what most viewers would be expecting out of the show.
What I really expect the show to be is more of an informative piece on the life of firefighters than anything else. And honestly, that’s more than sufficient. The show would depict its cast going through the physical and mental struggles of being firefighters, and while I doubt they would be left responsible of real emergencies, the training alone would provide decent entertainment. But sadly, I don’t think this show would reach anywhere near the level of Real Men.
This doesn’t mean the show is a guaranteed failure, though. If it manages to carry the same heart that shows like Real Men or Invincible Youth brought, then maybe Beating Hearts could get an extension and climb in popularity. However, for now, in my eyes, the future of this upcoming reality-variety looks a little bleak.
But what are your thoughts readers? What do you think of the upcoming Beating Hearts? And what are your thoughts on reality-variety television as a whole?