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Dramas Lead the Ratings Race

September 11, 1998

Serial dramas are now Japan's hottest television programs. Generally aired between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, they command some of the highest audience ratings of any show. Most weekly serials have a three-month run, with close to 20 new shows being aired each season. Their popularity is such that they have come to define a commercial broadcaster's image and serve as an important barometer for its popularity.

Targeted at Young Women
Most TV dramas are targeted at women. In a March 1998 survey sponsored by a major TV station, 86% of the 453 female respondents (aged 12 to 49) in the Tokyo area said they watched at least one show a week, with the average being 3.09 shows.

Teenagers tended to watch more dramas than elder women; the average per week was 3.56 for teens, 3.10 for the 35-49 age group, and 2.93 for those between 20 and 34. Teenagers, thus, play a large part in determining TV drama ratings.

As for their favorite themes, respondents cited romance above all else. The 48.8% saying they enjoyed watching love stories were followed by the 38.0% who liked shows revolving around the family (respondents were allowed to choose more than one theme). While the eldest group favored family topics and dramatizations of real-life stories, romance was by far the favorite among younger viewers.

Predicting Hits
The survey also asked respondents to name upcoming shows that they were eager to watch. Of the 17 programs that aired from April to June, viewers most looked forward to watching Meguriai (Chance Encounter), a romance starring two popular TV stars. While this show did finish the season near the top in average ratings, the surprise winner was Shomuni, a comedy that had been projected to finish a lowly thirteenth.

Meguriai follows a traditional pattern for love stories: An elite businessman and a woman with dreams of becoming a dancer meet by chance, fall in love, and overcome the whims of fortune to end up living "happily ever after." The producer, Takashi Hashimoto, concedes that the principal merit of the drama was in the casting of the two stars rather than the quality of the script. The pairing of the two was so central to the show that Hashimoto had been trying for three years to convince the leading male, Masaharu Fukuyama, to play the part.

Shomuni, on the other hand, was hastily put together when a new slot for dramas was created shortly before the start of a new season. It humorously depicts the ordeals of six women in a trading firm's Second General Affairs Division (Shomu Nika)--better known in-house as an "OL dump" (OL is short for "office lady," a non-career-oriented female office worker). Despite its low pre-season assessment, the show became a sensation, thanks to a cast that captured the lighthearted and irreverent tone of the original comic book series. "These women made a mess of the company," producer Koichi Funatsu analyzes, "but they won the hearts of not only women but male viewers as well with their message to have a little more fun with life."

The ratings race for the current season (July to September 1998) is also being led by a comedy and romance. The front-runner is GTO (short for "Great Teacher Onizuka"), another comic-book-based series about a hot-rodder-turned-teacher. Following on its heels is Kamisama, mo-sukoshi dake (Please God, Just a Little Longer), a love story between a popular music producer and a high-school girl who contracted HIV through enjo kosai (schoolgirl prostitution). The producer of the latter describes his show as being of experimental nature and admits he was unsure whether the public would embrace it. But the drama appears to 0have succeeded despite its controversial theme due to its strong romantic overtones.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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