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TV Drama Breathes New Life into Flagging Genre

March 16, 2000

Until recently, Japan's television industry had been in hibernation, failing for most of the 1990s to come up with a hit drama series. In 2000, however, a new drama has hit the airwaves that is attracting a viewer rating of over 30%--the first to do so in quite a while. The success of this show is being touted as the start of a comeback for this genre of program.

A Revised Formula
Trendy dramas were all the rage for several years at the height of the bubble economy. This all changed, however, with the bubble's collapse. Today, with more people than ever struggling with unemployment and other recession-related concerns, viewers are giving the cold shoulder to the fairy-tale dramas that were once so popular. Storylines featuring heroes and heroines with flamboyant careers as designers and stylists falling in love against backdrops of glitzy bars and decked-out apartments are out of fashion. Dramas that depict the harsh realities of life too vividly have also not been well received by those looking to TV shows for inspiration.

As a result of these conflicting attitudes, broadcasting companies have struggled over the past few years to come up with a winning formula. While dramas with average ratings of 15% are considered successful in the TV industry, almost none of the offerings in 1999 achieved this mark.

A new Sunday-evening drama released by Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS) on January 16, 2000, titled "Beautiful Life," however, has come from out of nowhere to grab a viewer rating of over 30%. What is more, it has maintained these high ratings throughout the course of its run.

This series portrays the love relationship between a female librarian, who is paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, and a well-known male hair stylist. The show's high ratings are primarily owed to its dynamic cast. Takako Tokiwa, the female lead, and Takuya Kimura, her male co-star, are two of the biggest stars in Japan right now. "Beautiful Life" also has the benefit of having been written by Eriko Kitagawa, known for her compelling love stories that leave the audience on the edge of their seats begging for more. This story is not merely a tale about a handicapped person who falls in love; rather, it is the tale of love between two people, one of whom happens to be disabled. The show has attracted a legion of young female viewers.

Other dramas enjoying superior ratings include Fuji Television Network, Inc.'s "Nisen-nen no Koi" (Love in The Year 2000), a spectacular story about a female systems engineer who unwittingly becomes romantically involved with a political terrorist.

Staking Out New Territory
"Beautiful Life" is also garnering attention because of its scheduling in the 9 PM Sunday evening prime-time slot, unusual for a drama targeting a younger audience. For seven years running, TBS had reserved this time for its "Sunday Theater" series, which featured programming centered on families or businessmen, assuming its main audience to be households gathered together and relaxing in front of the TV. Scheduling a love drama aimed at younger people into this time slot represents a break from tradition for the network.

In changing its strategy, TBS had ambitions of capturing a healthy share of the large number of young viewers at home during this hour and appears to have hit the jackpot. Now other networks are likely to follow suit and begin developing similar programming. If this happens, Sunday evening could develop into a battleground for the eyes of Japan's TV-viewing young adults.

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.