Absolutely LOVE your blog and best of luck in your journey to keep writing!
Two questions for you I hope you can help with, though they are sort of related:
1) Why is it so rare for kdramas to get more than 1 season?
2) What qualifies a kdrama to get a second season?
To explain a bit, I just finished Vincenzo (so amazing, SJK, JYB and the rest of the cast were brilliant, even if the logic got…stretched in some bits) but SJK’s interview right after the finale seems to indicate it won’t get a second season despite very very good ratings.
This seems to be the norm for kdramas–save very rare exceptions like Hospital Playlist and Age of Youth/Hello My Twenties. So what gives? Is it a different industry/culture thing? I do admit that I am based in the US, where, as long as a show doesn’t completely flop, getting at least 2-3 seasons is incredibly common.
Looking forward to your answer!
Thanks for your question! It does feel timely, actually, given that, 1, more kdramas these days are trying out the multi-season format, and 2, some of us don’t know how to feel about that.
The short answer to your question is: yes, it’s an industry / culture thing, and also, yes, this appears to be evolving.
Everyone, feel free to help me out by sharing your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments below; I certainly haven’t seen all of the dramas I’m going to be talking about today, plus, there are mostly likely more dramas out there that are relevant to this discussion, that I’ve missed out.
POTENTIALLY UNPOPULAR OPINION: The single season format is preferable to the multi-season format
The thing is, one of the big reasons that many of us came to love kdramas (and Asian dramas in general), is the single season format that they tend to favor. Sure, there are some dramas that get additional seasons, but those have traditionally been few and far between. Most of the time, with a single commitment, we get a full story, which comes with closure.
I don’t know about everyone else, but after investing 16 (or insert other episode number) hours of my life into following a story, I really want to know how it ends. I, and other drama fans, have been burned before, by Western dramas that operate on the multi-season format, because these dramas sometimes (oftentimes?) get canceled due to poor ratings. When this happens, it leaves fans hanging without much (or any) closure to the story they’ve been following, and that’s never any fun.
I personally have mixed feelings about Netflix getting much more involved in the streaming of Asian dramas, because while it’s great (really fantastic!) that Asian dramas are now so much more accessible to fans around the world, it also seems that more original Netflix series are being written in the spirit of encouraging a second season.
What this means is that when I got to the end of Sweet Home, I was more than a little disgruntled to find that (a) it ends on a cliffhanger, and (b) there is no second season confirmed. Like, where does that leave me, and other fans who really want to know what happened? 😭
I’m told that the very popular Extracurricular also ends on a cliffhanger, and as far as I know, there has not been any confirmation yet, on whether Extracurricular will get a second season. That’s not super promising, amiright?
It’s because of situations like this, that many drama fans actually prefer the single season format. It’s finite, and it promises closure.
On another note, it also seems to me, that the actors themselves are not keen to play the same character over and over. Rather, the impression I get from various interviews, is that many of the actors are always looking for ways to stretch themselves. Getting locked into a multi-season sort of thing might be good for die-hard fans of the show, but not so great for actor growth.
CHALLENGES TO THE MULTI-SEASON FORMAT
I haven’t seen all the multi-season dramas out there, but anecdotally, many drama fans tend to agree that the first season tends to be the best one.
Here’s a quick look at the various challenges of the multi-season format.
1. Is there still story to tell?
Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot more story left to tell, in Season 2. Because Season 1 has sufficiently dealt with the main narrative conflicts, Season 2 can feel like an extension for the sake of itself, not adding anything that meaningful to the established story.
2. Loss of momentum
It can be easy to lose momentum, both in making and in watching a drama. Sometimes production factors get in the way of Season 2 being as well-written or as well-made as Season 1. For example, what happens if you lose your PD from Season 1? Will you manage to recreate Season 1’s magic without that PD’s particular touch? Also, sometimes, audiences just lose interest and.. move on.
3. Will it be worth it?
Ratings are everything, and sometimes, even when a show is planned for several seasons, if Season 1 doesn’t do well ratings-wise, the other seasons are unlikely to happen, because it just wouldn’t make business sense.
For example, although 2014’s The Three Musketeers had actually been planned for 3 seasons, Seasons 2 and 3 were canceled due to Season 1’s lackluster ratings.
4. Changes in cast
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to retain the same cast in Season 2, and this can result in Season 2 having a different vibe because the cast has a different chemistry. This will naturally give Show a different kind of appeal, and therefore, fans of Season 1 might not take to Season 2 as well.
Even though Age Of Youth 2 was a reasonably successful sequel, there were some casting challenges. For one thing, Age Of Youth 2 had to change actress for one of its key characters due to scheduling conflicts, and that did weird out a fair number of viewers, because it was supposed to be the same character, but she was played by a completely different actress.
On top of this, one of the key cast members, Ryu Hwa Young, did not return. Although the production stated that it was because the story arc for her character had been completed, it was speculated that her departure was actually due to a personal scandal.
The resulting changes in cast gave the Age Of Youth core character group a different dynamic, and many fans (myself included) missed the vibe of the previous core group.
SO WHAT ABOUT VINCENZO?
Personally, I think it makes sense that Vincenzo doesn’t get a Season 2.
For one thing, Vincenzo wasn’t planned as a multi-season sort of deal, so it would be extremely challenging to get all the actors back on board for a second season of filming. And, it wouldn’t be quite the same, if Show only kept Song Joong Ki and Jeon Yeo Bin, and left out the Geumga crew, right?
The other thing is, I also think that there may not be enough story to tell, to fill up a second season, that would be interesting enough to draw audiences the way Season 1 drew audiences.
Of course, that’s debatable, and a writer could creatively find a reason for the entire crew to come back together for a different sort of mission. My gut protests, though, that a Season 2 probably wouldn’t be as good as Season 1. Maybe a special episode would work, though, [SPOILER] with the Geumga crew making a trip to visit Vinny on his island. [END SPOILER] I wouldn’t mind tuning in to that!
APPROACHES TO THE MULTI-SEASON FORMAT
Based on my observations, there are various ways that multi-season dramas approach things. Here’s a quick breakdown.
1. The story factor
In my head, there are 4 main ways that Dramaland deals with the multi-season format, in terms of story.
(a) A procedural with different cases
This is where many of our existing multi-format dramas sit, because it’s relatively straightforward, and it works, as long as, 1, you retain your core team that’s solving the cases, and 2, you manage to write interesting enough cases, to keep your franchise going.
Examples: God’s Quiz, Special Affairs Team TEN
(b) One story, just broken up to air in chunks
This is something that’s relatively new in Dramaland, and I think this has a lot to do with Netflix being such a strong streaming presence. Sometimes, whole stories appear to be broken up, for the sole purpose of creating 2 or 3 seasons out of a single story. I personally don’t understand the appeal of this, because, by breaking up the story into chunks, don’t you risk losing fans between seasons?
Examples: Love Alarm, Kingdom
(c) A continuation in the same drama world, but Season 1 is a full story on its own
Typically, this means that a show does well enough in the ratings, to warrant a second season, and that second season is written after the completion of Season 1. I personally like this approach, because it means that you’re not being “tricked” into committing to watching a second season, just because you clicked “Play” on Season 1.
(d) A similar drama world, but with a whole new cast
This means that the various follow-up seasons aren’t strictly sequels, but they do tend to retain the flavor of the franchise, through writing and production touches. I like this approach too, because you’re never locked into watching multiple seasons, just because you tuned into one.
Examples: I Need Romance, the Reply series, High Kick, Goong
2. The cast factor
In my head, there are 3 main ways that Dramaland tends to approach the casting side of things, with multi-season shows.
(a) Aim to retain the original cast in full
This is the hardest to achieve, because every actor has their own scheduling commitments, so unless a show plans to be multi-season from the outset, and gets actors to commit to it upfront in the contracts that they sign, it’s not easy to get back the same cast for a sequel.
Examples: Hospital Playlist, Arthdal Chronicles
(b) Only aim to retain part of the original cast
This has been done with a fair amount of success, because by retaining a core sampling of characters, shows manage to recreate at least part of the magic that made Season 1 popular.
Examples: Voice, Dr. Romantic
(c) Change the cast, but retain the flavor of the franchise
This means that the various follow-up seasons aren’t strictly sequels, but they do tend to retain the flavor of the franchise, through writing and production touches.
Examples: I Need Romance, the Reply series, High Kick, Goong
A SAMPLING OF KDRAMAS WITH MORE THAN ONE SEASON
Season 1 aired to a pretty lackluster response, but in February this year, Show was renewed for a second season. Subsequently, filming and production got delayed due to the pandemic. As of 8 June 2021, filming is rumored to have started for Season 2.
Age Of Youth
Like I mentioned earlier, this is an excellent example of a show being popular, and therefore earning a second season. It’s a bit disappointing that Season 2 was unable to gather the original cast members in full, but I was still glad to have the chance to revisit this drama world.
Chief Of Staff
From what I understand, Chief Of Staff was greenlighted for 2 seasons from the outset, so fans always had the assurance of a sequel.
This is a great example of a franchise where some key characters are retained, while others are swopped out. Han Seok Kyu headlines both seasons as the titular Dr. Romantic, and a good number of the cast who play the staff of the hospital are in both seasons as well.
At the same time, other key characters, including the OTP in each show’s loveline, are different between Season 1 and Season 2. I haven’t seen Season 2 myself, but I’m told that both seasons manage to serve up very similar warm, soapy, heartfelt feels.
A Season 3 is rumored to be in the works, but there is no confirmation of this, to date.
Open Threads (including episode notes) for Season 1 are listed here.
This one got renewed season after season due to its popularity. I haven’t seen the show myself, but I believe Show’s procedural structure makes it easier to create multiple seasons. What Show does, is retain its core group of characters, while switching up the cases that the episodes focus on.
Goong (aka Princess Hours) was so hugely popular when it aired, that Dramaland (though, for the record, not the same people who brought us Goong) decided to serve up a similar sort of drama world with a modern monarchy, titled Goong S (aka Prince Hours). Unfortunately, Goong S was not quite able to capture the magic that Goong did, and suffered poor ratings.
High Kick series
This daily drama might not be a well-known franchise among international fans, but it was hugely popular in Korea, which is why it spawned 3 different seasons. This is a case where the cast is changed with each season, along with its story, but the flavor of the franchise is retained through writing and production touches.
Seasons: 2 (so far)
Hospital Playlist is a little different from most other dramas, because it was always planned to be a multi-season sort of thing. I tried to find out exactly how many seasons have been planned, but I couldn’t find any confirmation when I Googled.
What I do know is that Season 1 was wonderful, and I wouldn’t mind watching multiple seasons of this, because the main attraction is the chemistry among our 5 friends, with patient-related stories to spice things up along the way. In a way, it kinda-sorta reminds me of American series Friends, because the main draw in that was also the chemistry among a core group of friends.
As I write this, Season 2 has premiered to fantastic ratings.
Season 1 review is here.
I Need Romance
This is a case where the cast and story gets changed with each season, but all 3 seasons are written and executed to have a similar “modern city love” sort of vibe. I personally didn’t love any of this show’s seasons, though I will say that I found Season 3 the most to my liking.
Seasons: 2 (so far)
I haven’t seen this myself, so all I can say is that this series is extremely popular, and appeals even to non-fans of Korean drama. From what I understand, Season 2 is a direct continuation from Season 1 (if I’m wrong about this, you guys, please correct me in the comments!). I haven’t heard any confirmation of a Season 3, but it sounds like fans are eager to see Season 3 materialize.
A one-episode spin-off, Kingdom: Ashin of the North, is due to air on 23 July 2021.
Edited to add:
I can’t believe I forgot about Let’s Eat, since I watched all 3 seasons of this! 😅
Basically, Season 1 was popular enough with audiences, for the network to greenlight a Season 2, and this eventually gave rise to a Season 3; meaning, this was never a multi-season thing to begin with. However, probably because Show was never conceptualized as a multi-season thing, the overall flow of the story from season to season is a little odd.
Show retains male lead Yoon Doo Joon across seasons, but swops out everyone else, including the female lead – and therefore his character’s love interest. This is unconventional by kdrama standards, and this caused a good number of fans of Season 1 being unable to root for the OTP in Season 2, because of their loyalty to Season 1’s OTP. I personally really enjoyed Seasons 1 & 2 (Season 1 had the best food scenes, while Season 2 was better written), but I didn’t really care for Season 3 (which got cut short, because of Doo Joon’s sudden enlistment).
I haven’t seen this show myself, but from what I’ve heard, it seems that this was a whole story that got sliced in two, in order to make 2 separate seasons out of it. I remember hearing that fans were quite disgruntled at the end of Season 1. Now that Season 2 has aired, I’ve also heard that Season 2 is quite underwhelming, which just doubles this show’s disappointments.
My First First Love
This was a reboot of 2015’s Because It’s The First Time, which I liked quite well. However, I haven’t seen either season of this iteration of the story.
Similar to Love Alarm, I also heard that this was also a whole story that got sliced in two, in order to make 2 separate seasons. I remember hearing that fans were quite upset at the stealth approach to the multi-season format, since most had tuned in expecting a full story, only to reach (what they’d thought was) the end and realize that they’d only watched half a story and had to wait for the second half to come out.
Penthouse is a blithe makjang that is extremely popular in Korea, while international audiences don’t appear to be quite as excited about Show. Originally planned for 2 seasons, Season 2 was split into two, to make a total of 3 seasons. Clearly, SBS wants to milk Show’s popularity as much as possible; I can’t blame them though, it’s been a while since any of the Big Three networks have seen ratings like these.
This is a case of switching out entire casts and storylines (and timelines!), while retaining the warm retro vibes that are this franchise’s signature. I enjoyed all 3 seasons, but the third and final season, Reply 1988, is my favorite.
Special Affairs Team TEN
Show is a crime procedural, which makes it one of the easier shows to take into a multi-season format. From what I understand, Show retains its core team across both seasons, while switching up the supporting cast.
Stranger / Secret Forest
Season 1 of this show was so well-received, that a second season was then planned; ie, Show wasn’t a multi-season deal to begin with. It’s pretty impressive, that Show manages to retain its core characters across both seasons, while introducing new supporting characters in Season 2. From what I understand, Season 2 is a worthy follow-up to Season 1, even though it is a little bit of a slow burn.
This was also a case of Season 1 being popular enough, that a Season 2 was greenlighted. Show retains its core group of characters across seasons, while switching up the supporting cast, along with its episodic cases. Show does switch PDs between seasons, though, and it shows. I much prefer the restraint and elegance of Season 1, vs. the violence and excess of Season 2. Just goes to show that it’s not quite enough, to retain your cast, if you can’t retain your signature touch, eh?
For the record, fans very much wanted a Season 3 of this show, but Yeon Jeong Hun was not keen to reprise his role as our titular Vampire Prosecutor yet again.
Seasons: 4 (so far)
Voice is a crime procedural, which, again, makes it one of the easier shows to take into the multi-season format. What’s interesting to me about Voice, is that it’s our female lead Lee Ha Na that is the constant, while Show switches out its male lead with each new season. Jang Hyuk starred in Season 1, Lee Jin Wook starred in Seasons 2 and 3, and Season 4 stars Song Seung Heon.
Welcome To Waikiki
From what I understand, both seasons take place in the same Waikiki guesthouse, but in terms of cast, Lee Yi Kyung is the only constant. In my head, this kinda-sorta places it in the same category as Dr. Romantic, for me, although Dr. Romantic managed to retain more members of its original cast. Season 2 did ok, though it wasn’t quite as popular as Season 1.
I hope this post helps to shed at least some light on the industry context around single season vs. multi-season shows!
How do you guys feel about single season shows vs. multi-season shows? Let us know in the comments below! (Hey! That rhymes! ..says my inner poet. 😆)
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!