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Dreaming of "Dream High"

2011/02/18 | Permalink | Source

Korean-Content.Com's Mark Russell Talks To JYP President Jimmy Jung

Jimmy Jung, president of JYP Entertainment, one of Korea's biggest music companies, had a dilemma – how could his company be successful making music when young people no longer buy music? After all, the Internet killed off physical music sales in Korea years ago, and the rest of the world since then. Endorsements and reality programs can only take you so far. The company needed something bigger.

The result is "Dream High", a 16-episode music-themed drama created by the unusual team-up of JYP Entertainment (founded by Park Jin-young) and Keyeast, the entertainment company founded by Bae Yong-joon, one of Korea's most famous actors, known especially for "Winter Sonata" and his pivotal role in popularizing Korean programs around Asia.

The story of ambitious young students at the fictional Kirin Art High School, "Dream High" features several of JYP Entertainment's biggest stars, a slew of up-and-comers, as well as the creators themselves, Bae Yong-joon and JY Park.

"There were so many negative opinions about the program before it aired", confessed Jung. "The cast is full of idol singers and band members, many of whom had never acted before. Everybody laughed at this project. But then it started airing and people actually liked it, and its ratings went up and up, and now it is winning its time slot. People have been really surprised".

Actually, despite people's preconceptions, combining singers and TV dramas is an old formula, one that JYP Entertainment learned with their megastar Rain. Rain acted in three TV dramas when he was first with the company, most famously "Full House", the show that became a hit all over Asia and helped propel the young singer to the next level. "Through Rain's three TV series, I learned how TV is a great promotional tool", said Jung. "There are so many so-called 'hallyu' stars in Korea, but compared to stars who only act, stars who can act and sing and dance have a much stronger position".

"With Rain, our strategy was to sync the release of his TV show with his album release in each country, then have him travel to the country to appear on showcases and entertainment programs. The basic purpose of 'Dream High' is to do that again".

At first glance, Korean stars JY Park and Bae Yong-joon seem completely different – JY is a music star, a graduate of Yonsei University, with a taste for beer and whiskey, with a distinct focus on the American music market. Bae is one of Korea's most famous actors, known for his taste in wine, and is most famous in Japan and around Asia.

The show began about two-and-a-half years ago, when Park sent his company president a memo, telling the basic idea of a musical drama about a high school. Because JYP Entertainment is not a television company, they began looking for partners, but had a tough time finding someone they could work with.

But then one day, Jung was talking to his old university friend who was now the president of Keyeast, and he mentioned that Keyeast was looking to create a similar sort of program. So they got together with Bae and Park for a big series of meetings, talking, drinking wine, and trying to hammer out some sort of arrangement. "It was kind of surprising", remembers Jung. "Everybody has these preconceived notions about JY and Bae Yong-joon. But when we met and talked, everyone got along and really understood each other".

Since "Dream High" began airing on Jan. 3 on KBS, ratings have moved steadily upward, now topping 17.2 nationwide, and over 20 points in Seoul. In addition to great ratings, the soundtrack to the program has already had three hit singles, by JY Park, IU, and Sun (Min Sunye) from Wondergirls. But the real measure of the program's success will be how it performs abroad.

"Dream High" could air in Japan on a free-to-air channel as soon as August (although a broadcaster has not been announced yet), and KBS has already sold the drama to Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with promises of more territories to come.

As for the future of production at JYP Entertainment: "Of course going to do it again", laughs Jung. "JY and I are planning to make a movie this year, also music-themed. It won't have so many young people in it, but we are planning on some big names".

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