After almost nine years since the show first aired, the first season of Hello Counselor has concluded after 431 episodes. Following rumours that the show had been cancelled, the production staff released a statement confirming that Hello Counselor would be returning after a short hiatus with a second season. The popular KBS show boasts impressive television ratings (5.2% in 2019) so news of its return is sure to please many. However, after some recent controversy and in an effort to improve the show, it may be prudent to make some changes to Hello Counselor going forward.
For those who have never seen Hello Counselor, it is a talk show where regular people present problems they have with a loved one to the show’s cast, in hopes that their observations and advice can help solve the issue. At the end of each segment, the live audience and cast vote on whether they think the problem is of concern or not. With each episode, the segment with the highest amount of votes is titled a winner. The show is lighthearted in nature and the cast members are primarily comedians who introduce the problems with humorous roleplay scenarios.
The comedic tone of the show is more often than not appropriate to the problems being presented. Yet, there are times when more serious issues are introduced and herein is where the problem lies. When dealing with scenarios involving issues like alcoholism and sexual abuse, the behaviour of the cast needs to change to match the severity of the problems being presented.
An episode that aired in January of this year gained some traction on the internet due to the cast’s tone-deaf response to a clear molestation case involving a father and his son. Popular YouTubers DKDK made a video critical of the episode and some viewers took to Twitter to express their outrage with the hashtag “#endhellocounselor.” In the 397th episode of the show, the first segment was a mother’s plea for her husband to stop tormenting their children, especially their son whose “man parts” he regularly plays with.
This is an instance where a more serious tone should have been adopted, especially as the segment progressed and the extent of the father’s abuse was revealed. His wife explained that he often pins his crying son to the ground and plays with his genitals, even doing so in public sometimes. When questioned, the father explained that he does not see a problem with his behaviour and that he enjoys how pale his son’s skin is. This caused the cast and guests to giggle, which was an odd response to the admittance of molestation. Maintaining the comedic tone of the show in this situation implies that this is acceptable behaviour.
Even when the wife revealed she developed depression and an anxiety disorder from her husband’s behaviour towards her and her kids, the cast failed to adopt a harsher tone with the father. Lee Young-ja, to her credit, did force the father to specifically promise not to touch his son inappropriately anymore after he tried to be noncommittal. It is hard to completely blame the cast for their response in this situation, considering their role as comedians and having an expectation to keep the show entertaining.
The tone of the show certainly does not suit serious topics like the above case. A troubled family should be directed towards professional help rather than having their serious problems made fun of on national television. The show is undoubtedly better suited to dealing with less severe or life-threatening problems and squabbles including examples like a child being too obsessed with an idol. It is easier to make light of such problems in a tasteful manner and conversations on-site have higher persuasive potential, in line with the talents of the cast members as veteran hosts. Admittedly, more dramatic problems are more entertaining for viewers and it is this reason they are likely to continue appearing on Hello Counselor. With this in mind, some changes should be made to the show to make it more nuanced and helpful.
First, for more severe topics, the cast should be forewarned of the nature of the problem. Instead of a playful introductory roleplay, the problem should be introduced in a more neutral manner that properly conveys to both the viewers and the live crowd the severity of the issue. There is no need to take all the comedy out of these segments, the presentation just needs to be tempered depending on the situation. Making this change will allow the cast to tackle tough cases with appropriate thoughtfulness. It is likely that this altered mode of engagement will improve their chances of helping the aggrieved party.
The other change is something the show has toyed with in the past. Depending on the specifics of the problem the cast will be dealing with, a relevant professional should be brought onto the set to give an educated opinion on top of the general advice given by the regular cast members. A similar mechanic has worked well in the past, such as in the 341st episode of the show where a father was very reluctant to admit his gambling addiction despite conceding that he regularly saw slot machines on the ceiling before he slept. The show’s producers referred the case to an external psychologist who recorded a response that was aired during the show. After hearing the opinion of the psychologist, the father committed to making a change.
There have been other notable cases where the show would have benefitted from having a professional opinion to more effectively solve problems, such as in episode 381 where a father’s alcoholism threatened to tear his family apart. He often missed events in his daughter’s life and his relationship with his wife was on the brink of divorce. This is a situation that could have benefitted greatly from the advice of a family psychologist, considering how the father stubbornly refused to change his drinking habits.
A similar situation where the cast actually recommended professional help occurred in episode 430, where there was no telling if the husband in question would seek help. On the other hand, there is a possibility that he would be more willing to heed the advice of a specialist, had there been one in the studio. Hello Counselor were to make use of on-site professionals, this improvement would lend the show more credibility going forward.
These two changes to Hello Counselor have the potential to make the show more tasteful and sensitive towards the problems presented. Having a more nuanced programme will allow the show to avoid unwanted controversy in the future. However, there is a better reason than public opinion to make these changes. Making appropriate alterations to the show’s format ensures that they have a better chance of helping the desperate people who come on looking for an answer to their problems.