Most people may have told their concerns to someone. Some get great comfort from others that listen to their stories. Others get useful advice from professional counselors to relieve their troubles. Recently, entertainment programs showing this process have become very popular. People with various worries appear on TV and talk honestly about their situation. Panels and viewers deeply sympathize with their stories. As such, counseling entertainment shows are now acting as a new method of communication.
Reality is more dramatic than you think
There is an increasing number of counseling entertainment shows that listen to, garner sympathy from, and get advice from the public, not celebrities. During the counseling, viewers sympathize with the problems that everyone can experience in life, but unrealistic and dramatic stories also attract sympathy too. All the topics in the counseling entertainment shows are not unrealistic and dramatic, but they are stories that are not easy for individuals to reveal in public. Nevertheless, the reason why the demand for counseling entertainment shows is increasing, with difficulty of revealing hidden truths, is that the guests gain comfort and healing in the process of talking about their past. They can receive advice, evaluation, and judgment from panel members and talk about themselves. The panels also listen to the story by immersing themselves in the speaker's situation, not just suggesting solutions. Producer Kim Jin of <Erobubu> said, "The guest talks with the production team on the phone in advance, and in the process, they look back on themselves and get healing." And they can get comfort from the production team saying, "You must have been very upset." The guests, who have difficulty in making objective judgments due to their shocking events, sometimes find solutions by talking about their stories.1) Through these counseling entertainment shows, viewers become enlightened and comfort themselves through expert and panel members' advice and empathy for them.
Counseling entertainment shows are simply divided into shows with experts and celebrities. First, Oh Eunyoung's <My Golden Child> is a representative example of an expert's counseling entertainment show. An accurate solution from experts is presented as counseling entertainment for children in <My Golden Child> and celebrities in <Golden Counseling Center>. They consist of stories that anyone may have experienced at least once, such as relationships with parents, friends, and partners in their lives. They even concern about their personality, forming consensus with viewers and comforting viewers as a solution. A representative counseling entertainment show that celebrities consult on is <Ask Us Anything Fortune Teller>. This program is more of a conversation for entertainment purposes than an accurate solution. Therefore, there is a limitation in that it is impossible to provide a clear solution because panel members are not experts. Nevertheless, viewers are comforted through the conversations. It is also meaningful to create a place of communication by utilizing the characteristics of entertainment.
The reason why it is bound to develop
Due to the prolonged COVID-19, counseling entertainment shows are becoming a genre of entertainment. Seoul National University's Graduate School of Public Health asked 2,000 adult men and women "What emotions did you feel the most in the COVID-19 era?" Under the theme of "COVID-19 and social health" in 2021, anxiety (47.5%), anger (25.3%), and fear (15.2%) were dominant.2) This is the result of an increase of 2.2 times in anger, and 2.81 times in fear compared to the same survey conducted two months ago. The psychological agitation caused by the so-called "Corona Blues" and "Corona Black" which means feeling frustrated and hopeless has increased. This reality brought about the popularity of counseling entertainment shows. Analysts say that social structural problems along with COVID-19 have led to the interest in counseling entertainment. Popular culture critic Kim Sungsoo said, "Recently, in a situation where communication has been cut off due to COVID-19, the public quenches their thirst for communication by matching counseling entertainment shows with their own cases."3) In this way, counseling entertainment shows were able to grow as a solution within the contradictory structure of society and the disconnection of communication due to COVID-19.
Along with the change of social atmosphere, the change in perception is also one of the causes of the development of counseling entertainment shows. In the past, there was a negative point of view of mental counseling, so many people tried to hide their pain and worry. However, mental counseling and health awareness have changed recently, and individual pain is shared and sympathized with by the public. Accordingly, some argue that rather than worrying alone, people can feel catharsis in the process of being exposed to the public and asking for advice. One broadcasting official said, "the process of sharing worries, seeking solutions together, and understanding each other is meaningful. And the perception changes like this, people can see that there is an atmosphere of sharing individual pain with others to empathize and find solutions."4) Over time, rather than solving one's worries alone, the atmosphere has changed to one where everyone listens and agonizes together. The typical counseling entertainment show <My Golden Child> is an example of a parenting coaching program that most young people like. Young people without children better understand their childhood and parents through Dr. Oh Eunyoung's solutions such as "It's okay to fail," and thus psychological healing takes place. Although people watched it for fun at first, with the serious consultation and empathy from experts, they heal the pain that is difficult to tell even to their family or friends.
In terms of financial considerations, there is a reason for the development of counseling entertainment shows. Counseling entertainment shows can be seen as an attempt to reduce production costs internally by broadcasters. The production costs of them are lower than outdoor variety shows or observation entertainment shows. Most of them are filmed in the studio installed in the beginning. Therefore, if a counseling entertainment show builds a set initially, there is no cost of changing the place. The cast and panel members can also reduce appearance fees because not only celebrities, but also non-celebrities participate except for two to five fixed cast members. Despite the low production cost compared to other entertainment shows, stable ratings are guaranteed. An official from Channel A said, "Once the set is built, most of the remaining production costs are labor costs. Viewers deeply empathize with the participation of non-celebrities. Each person lives with one or two worries, but those who are burdened by visiting experts for counseling feel vicarious satisfaction."5) One of the reasons for the development of counseling entertainment is that it can satisfy the needs of viewers with a low budget.
Shows in a dilemma
As counseling entertainment shows are produced rapidly, concerns about them are also increasing. In particular, there are many questions about the professionalism of counseling. In some counseling entertainment shows currently being aired, psychiatrists look for solutions through the process of discovering the problem and analyzing the psychology of the guests. Other panelists who are non-experts also participate in the process, but the solution is determined based on the expert's opinion. Therefore, it is difficult to expect professionalism in programs where celebrities provide counseling. Simple concerns can be solved with the listening and advice of non-professionals. However, the deeper the concern, the more professional knowledge is needed. In <Love Interference>, which aired in February 2020, a woman talked about her concern that her boyfriend, who had entered the military, had shared explicit photos of women with friends on SNS and engaged in sexual talk. If the case were investigated by military law, it was shown that her boyfriend could be punished for up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 2 million won. The program's production crew dealt with the story by delivering expert opinions through legal advice. However, it was impossible for celebrity panels to give immediate advice as usual. This eventually seems to reveal the limitations of counseling entertainment shows conducted by non-professionals.
Problems also arise due to the characteristics of the entertainment show genre. In the past, counseling programs such as <Our Children Have Changed>, which aired on SBS for nine years from 2006, were labeled as part of the current affairs/cultivation genre. Therefore, their format was one in which experts directly answered questions or provided a behavioral pattern. Since the 2010s, counseling-based programs have shifted to the entertainment show genre. Counseling entertainment shows such as <Witch Hunt> and <Hello Counselor> have become popular, and many similar programs have been produced. However, the hosts' remarks to draw laughter in the entertainment genre based on the "fun" element led to controversy. For example, in <Witch Hunt>, a host caricatured sexual orientation by jokingly asking, "Have you ever dated a man?" to a man who was worried about not having had an experience of love. In addition, in <Same Bed, Different Dreams>, celebrity panels simply dismissed a woman's worries as family love and treated her thoughts lightly in the story of a high school girl who felt burdened by her father's excessive physical affection. The problem with these past programs seems to be a part of being careful about the counseling entertainment shows currently being aired. An anonymous broadcast station staff member said, "The production crew of the counseling program needs to be more careful because the act of treating concerns lightly because it is an entertainment program can instill false perceptions in viewers."6) The staff pointed out that the production crew of entertainment shows should pay attention to the specificity of dealing with "concerns" at various levels.
In some cases, the public's high interest in counseling entertainment shows rather harms the program guests. Some viewers who are overly immersed in the program make malicious comments pretending to criticize not only celebrities but also the general public. Actor Lee Jihyun appeared on Channel A's entertainment show <My Golden Child>, which aired on February 18, to talk about her concerns about the relationship between her son suffering from ADHD and her daughter. During the consultation process, Dr. Oh Eunyoung pointed out her wrong parenting method and advised her how to correct her son's bad behavior. However, after the episode was aired, Lee Jihyun's personal SNS was plastered with attacks. In addition to swearing at her, there were also personal offensive comments about her son, who isn't a celebrity. In a situation where malicious comments continue, she said, "Since my second son is the focus, I was shown living with my son, and in editing, I looked like I was discriminating against my first daughter. What you see isn't everything."7) She mentioned the possibility that the videos could be misinterpreted and voiced an explanation for excessive criticism. In addition, children's emotional damage caused by malicious comments can also be a side effect. In the end, it seems that viewers need a mature viewing attitude to keep to the purpose of counseling entertainment.
1) Ham Sangbeom, "The background of the rapidly increasing counseling entertainment show", The Ilyosisa, March 8, 2021
2) Ahn Jinyong, "A society of depression, anxiety, and anger... The heyday of "Counseling Variety Show", The Munhwa Ilbo, November 22, 2021
3) Lee Jeonghyeon, "The lack of communication called by COVID-19...'Counseling Variety Show' that draws attention", Yonhap News Agency, April 4, 2021
4) Kim Sori, "Blame "Corona Blue"? How did TV fall into counseling?", The Ilyosisa, February 9, 2022
5) See Footnote 4
6) See Footnote 4
7) Kim Taewon, ""Why Did You Do That to Me?" the Trap of Disciplinary Entertainment Shows That Are Popular These Days", Iiyo Shinmun, February 25, 2022
Park Sung Iyoung / Reporter
Kim Seol Yunha / Reporter