April 18, 2006

Japan replaces extreme TV shows with duller fare

By Julian Ryall

TOKYO (Hollywood Reporter) - Nightly doses of pain,
degradation and downright embarrassment that once captivated
Japanese TV viewers have been toned down dramatically after
widespread concerns about their impact on society.

Some programs that horrified viewers and hiked ratings have
been replaced with chat shows, cooking series and low-cost
dramas -- chasing away viewers in the process.

"Part of the problem is that there were a couple of
accidents in the shows and people got hurt," said Shizuka Ota,
an analyst with Video Research Inc. "That may have influenced
advertisers, but also society has become more serious about
safety and compliance in recent years."

Philip Brasor, media columnist for the Japan Times, raises
another reason for Japan's gentler, kinder TV today. "Japanese
TV has got to the point where there is no reason for them to be
adventurous anymore," he says.

Japan's bizarre programming of the 1990s became so
outrageous that shows were often reported on by TV outlets
around the world. One infamous case involved a wannabe comedian
who was locked naked in a small room by for nearly a year and
told he could emerge only after filling in postcards and
winning YEN1 million (now $8,500) worth of goods in promotional

That suffering paled in comparison with a show that is
regarded as the highlight of brutality toward its contestants.
"Za Gaman" -- literally, "Endurance" -- pitted teams of
students against each other in unpleasant challenges. Some were
buried up to their necks in sand and licked by reptiles; others
took part in bicycle races with a mouthful of curry powder.

In one memorable episode, contestants had their legs tied
to a vehicle and were dragged along a series of courses,
including gravel. The winner, predictably, was the one who
endured the longest.

Japan's Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement
Organization voiced concerns about the level of violence that
was creeping into TV, driven by research that identified the
shows that parents did not want their children to watch.

These days, Japanese TV suffers from a lack of new faces
and ideas, insists Brasor. "They are bland and have the same
'talento' presenting them all, but that's the bottom line for
TV companies now."

"Everyone prefers to just play it safe now. It's much
cheaper to make the talk shows and variety programs that you
see here all the time now," he said.

Programs such as NHK's "Today's Recipe" are a daily
Japanese staple with a recipe of cooking, celebrity gossip and
panel discussions.

Also proliferating are daytime dramas such as Tokyo
Broadcasting System's "The Bus Driver's Daughter," which pulled
in a relatively low 800,000 households in the most recent local
measurements. Elsewhere, TV Tokyo has managed to base an
hour-long show called "Town Info Variety" around a park that is
popular with dog owners. NHK's "Premium 10" series recently
spent 90 minutes studying how light, wind and water change the
way Mt. Fuji looks.

Broadcasters are generally unwilling to reveal viewer
figures for their less-popular programs while the domestic
ratings agencies follow suit because those same companies are
also clients.

"To be honest, whatever the viewer figures are I'd suggest
they are inflated because of the habit among Japanese
housewives of just turning the TV on in the morning and leaving
it on all day," said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in media and
communications at Hokkaido University.

"Fewer and fewer people are watching regular TV here now,
particularly younger people as they can access exactly what
they want to see via broadband Internet companies such as Usen
Corp.," he said. "It is effectively TV on demand, there are
dozens of channels and the quality of the image is the same as

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter