The Two Producers Who Changed The Format of Korean Variety Shows

A famous scene from
<무한도전 (Infinity Challenge)>

A variety show is a type of entertainment that includes different formats and genres all mixed up together.

From tournaments with high prize money to reality dating shows, literally anything can happen. After YouTube was introduced, the genres and channels have become even more diverse.

Each country can have different tastes and preferences on topics. That’s why watching Korean variety shows can help people understand Korean culture and norms. If you’re interested in Korea’s culture and language, we recommend you check out Korean variety shows!

Variety shows are called “예능” in Korean. It’s pronounced “ye-neung.”

When talking about Korean variety shows, we have to mention the two most successful producers: Na Young-seok and Kim Tae-ho.

They are widely known as the game changers who greatly influenced other TV programs in Korea.

1. Kim Tae-ho (김태호),
the man who produced “Infinity Challenge (무한도전)”

Kim Tae-ho is the one who produced <Infinity Challenge (무한도전)>, a legendary variety show that has left a myriad of memes and stars. It aired on MBC from 2005 to 2018 with a total of 563 episodes.

As the title says, the show always has new “challenges” for the panels to try. The members tried so many reckless, brave challenges, such as participating in a rowing race, delivering food to the South Pole, and surviving on a desert island.

Every Saturday at 6:25pm, many Koreans sat in front of the television to watch Infinity Challenge, being curious about what the members would do this week.

Kim Tae-ho used this amazing talent of giving unique characters to each member, which, as a result, made the audience fall in love with them. Even though the show ended in 2018, its episodes uploaded on YouTube still get over 10 million views, which shows how much people miss this show.

2. Na Young-seok (나영석),
the man who produced “2 Days & 1 Night (1 2)”

Another figure who’s impacted the system of Korean variety shows is Na Young-seok, often referred to as “Na PD”. He became a star producer with KBS’s hit variety show <2 Days & 1 Night>. It was Korea’s first “wild variety show” where members traveled around different regions of Korea (for 2 days and 1 night) and played various games with penalties. From a group rope skipping to not saying English words while playing ping-pong, the games were really hilarious and fun to watch. Penalties included sleeping outdoors, not being able to eat delicious dinner, etc. These interesting games are still Na PD’s trademark.

He focused on the team chemistry between members. Due to this great chemistry, an unexpected course of events often happens on the shows, which keeps the audience amusing. He directed the show from 2007 to 2012, when he left KBS, the national broadcaster of Korea. The show aired every Sunday night at 6:15pm.

Surprisingly, 2 Days & 1 Night Season 4 is still on air with a different producer now directing the show.

Na Young-seok & Kim Tae-ho, Are They Rivals?

  • Infinity Challenge : 2005 ~ 2018, every Saturday at 6:25pm
  • 2 Nights 1 Day Season 1 : 2007 ~ 2012, every Sunday at 6:15pm

When <Infinity Challenge> and <2 Nights 1 Day> were aired around the same time, people started to debate, “Which show is more fun to watch?” But after all, many Koreans loved both of them. People watched <Infinity Challenge> on Saturday night, <2 Nights 1 Day> on Sunday night, and talked about how fun this week’s episodes were on Monday morning.

Here are some of the similarities between two influential producers’ hit programs:

  1. Fixed members with unique characters
  2. Producers giving members missions/challenges
  3. Members having great chemistry
  4. Emphasizing the show being “real”

and more.

What is Kim Tae-ho up to nowadays?

After <Infinity Challenge> ended in 2018, Kim Tae-ho came back with the variety show called <Hang Out with Yoo (놀면 뭐하니)> in 2019 on MBC. The show first started with a question “What does Yoo Jae-seok, one of the most beloved comedians in Korea, do on his day-offs?” With Yoo Jae-seok as the main host and six other members, they do various projects (ex. releasing albums), on the show.

When <Hang Out with Yoo> became a steady, well-recognized program, Kim Tae-ho left his job at MBC as a lead producer and established his own production company, TEO.

He, then, did two other variety shows, <Seoul Check-in> and <Canada Check-in>, with Lee Hyo-ri, the superstar. It was, of course, a huge success.

And now, he’s gathered three famous, one-of-a-kind travel YouTubers: Pani Bottle (빠니보틀), Wonji’s Day (원지의 하루), and KWAKTUBE (곽튜브) to play a “real” Blue Marble, Korean version of Monopoly. The program is called <지구마불 세계여행>, which means “Earth Marble World Tour.” They have to travel to whatever country they end up on the game board. The first episode will be released on February 23, 2023 on TEO’s YouTube channel.

What is Na Yeong-seok up to nowadays?

His next step was joining TvN, a television broadcaster/network owned by CJ E&M. From then, he has been making hit reality shows endlessly until today. One characteristic of his variety shows is that they are based on seasons. This fact has made him air a number of variety shows in a year.

On January 23, 2023, Na Young-seok resigned from TvN’s lead producer and moved to a production company called “Egg Is Coming (에그이즈커밍).”

에그이즈커밍 was incorporated into the label under CJ E&M in 2022.

삼시세끼 (Three Meals a Day)
꽃보다 할배 (Grandpas Over Flowers)
신서유기 (New Journey to the West)
윤식당 (Youn’s Kitchen)
알아두면 쓸데없는 신비한 잡학사전 (Encyclopedia of Useless Facts)
신서유기 (New Journey to the West)
서진이네 (Jinny’s Kitchen)

His major works include,

  • 삼시세끼 (Three Meals a Day) – 10 seasons
    The cast members go to the countryside of Korea and cook three meals a day with whatever food they harvest on the farm.
  • 꽃보다 할배 (Grandpas Over Flowers) – 4 seasons, 1 spin-off
    Four senior actors in their seventies and one assistant travel around the world.
  • 신서유기 (New Journey to the West) – 8 seasons, 4 spin-offs
    Inspired by the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West, the cast members travel to different Asian countries to “find seven dragon balls (do missions)” that make wishes come true.
  • 윤식당 (Youn’s Kitchen) – 2 seasons, 1 spin-off
    Famous Korean actors open a Korean restaurant in different countries. They went to Bali, Indonesia in Season 1 and Garachico, Spain in Season 2.
  • 알아두면 쓸데없는 신비한 잡학사전 (Encyclopedia of Useless Facts) – 3 seasons
    Experts in different areas, such as politics, literature, economy, food, and science, gather around to share random facts and stories. Although the title says the facts are “useless”, the experts share thought-provoking, helpful ideas and concepts.
  • 뿅뿅 지구오락실 (Earth Arcade) – 1 season (preparing for Season 2)
    The cast members, a.k.a. “the warriors”, carry on different missions to “transcend time and space to capture the moon rabbit who has escaped to earth.” It’s the most recent program, targeting the Gen Z audience.

Na PD’s team produced all these programs above from 2013 to 2023. Oh, and the list doesn’t include all of his works, which means there are more programs. What’s fascinating is that many of his programs have spin-offs. For example, <서진이네 (Jinny’s Kitchen)>, which will air on February 24, 2023, is a spin-off of <Yoon’s Kitchen>.

On Egg Is Coming and CJ E&M’s official YouTube channel, called Channel 15ya (채널 십오야), you can check out episodes and highlights of Na PD’s various programs. (Many videos have English subtitles.)

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