It’s shocking and very upsetting indeed for the fans of Beautiful Mind, as KBS suddenly decides to pull the plug and cut it down by 2 episodes, bringing it now to only a total of 14 episodes. And just when it was getting better and better!
Not long after hearing about the news of the looming reduction, follow-up reports have surfaced to confirm that the decision has been finalized – with Jang Hyuk and a few KBS reps in-the-know beforehand. KBS points to conflict with the upcoming Summer Olympics as the reason behind the move, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t even dare touch its schedule if the drama performed well in terms of ratings. At the end of the day, ratings means revenue, and revenue means everything for a network, it seems.
To this I say, ratings and quality are different things; and low ratings does not mean low quality. Networks should protect not just the highest-earning, but more so the quality programs they have on-air.
I would not have cared so much if it was just any other drama, because not many shows can actually sustain quality all through 16 or more episodes. But ever since the pilot episode of Beautiful Mind, I have rooted for this show’s success and consequently saddened by news of its low ratings week-on-week (hovering around 3-4%). There’s still so much more to the show that can be fleshed out, and I daresay there’s enough material to last even up to 20 episodes.
Internally I debated on whether I should publish this blog now or after the show’s finale, just to be sure that I won’t regret praising it too much too soon. But I am evaluating the drama on the 10 episodes I’ve seen so far, and in my opinion – while it is not perfect – it’s up on the list of the best productions of 2016, for the following reasons:
The thoughtful and well-paced writing.
Beautiful Mind has a way to get you at the edge of your seat in each episode. The show also adds texture by carefully peeling back characters’ layers through the episode prologues – revealing their motivations behind their current actions. The hospital power struggle, the case of the mysterious deaths, Lee Young-oh’s inner battle to be normal, the tense father-son interactions, the budding relationship between the leads, and the interplay of all these characters’ personal agenda are woven well into the medical case of the day.
I also love the fact that the show tries to question big subjects like the concept of good and bad, choosing between ethics versus survival, and human instinct on self-preservation. The characters aren’t just people; they represent belief systems that clash and overturn each other. (Speaking of which, I may be over-reading it but the contrasting characterization of Lee Young-oh as a neurosurgeon and Hyun Suk-joo as a cardiothoracic surgeon is a good example of head vs heart, figuratively.)
The execution and attention to detail.
This show’s cinematography is among the better ones compared to other dramas currently airing; and I find myself admiring how some of shots were done. I also love the touches of symbolism on the wardrobe and lighting that contribute to the overall mood the show wants to convey. I’m even amused at how creative their PPLs are, as they are incorporated smoothly into the dialogues, without awkwardly breaking the momentum of the show. My favorite was the Nivea PPL while something about Kim Min-jae’s inner feelings is indirectly revealed.
Okay, admittedly ‘attention to detail’ may be a strong term given the questionable fact that Jin-sung had seemingly unrestricted hospital access and complete autonomy over her job as a patrol officer (now-detective). I am adding this bit in the spirit of objectivity and transparency, that I am not overlooking the show’s loopholes. But oh, don’t get me started on the “more successful” dramas having worse logic than this.
The nuanced and well-portrayed characters.
One thing I like so much about this drama is its set of grey characters – no one’s purely good or purely evil, and you are made to understand why. Note that you “understand”, but you don’t necessarily have to agree with them.
*To those who are familiar with Game of Thrones, you know exactly how it is to like and hate a character at the same time, with the exception of Jon Snow who knows nothing and may be annoying that way (in this context, Jon Snow is Jin-sung)
These kinds of characters will only be effective with the skill of capable actors, and no less than Jang Hyuk can pull off the most difficult role on the show. Portraying someone unable to empathize is a handicap because he can’t show emotion, and has to rely on other ways to express how his mind works and get the audience to feel for him. Yet he makes it work. I was optimistic that “monster rookie” Park So-dam will shine on her first leading role on a major network. But the poor girl received prejudice as soon as the first broadcast week (both as the character and as the actress) for her young age, extreme nosiness and impulsive behavior. But I do stand by her, seeing how it is essential to have that kind of rashness to move the story along and to create more impact to the unfeeling Young-oh. Without an ulterior motive like the rest of the characters, this impulsiveness becomes her flaw (making her human), which she repents on in the latter episodes.
These elements built good episodes that got me invested, and the show kept getting better each episode despite the difficulties that it faced just to get it off the ground. Actually, I’m surprised that the show is any good at all, with them working in a much compromised schedule.
Did BM actually see this situation coming, considering the rocky preparations it went through?
Beautiful Mind got spectators worried with its shaky start on the production side. For one, this show already had delays due to difficulties in securing the lead actor (Jang Hyuk was already the fifth name on the table). Then as the production rounded out the cast and closed in on a schedule, they had to wait for Park So-dam to wrap up filming for Cinderella and the Four Knights before they could have her onboard. It appeared as if there were no other names in consideration for her role, sort of implying that the director was willing to put production on hold for her. The schedule was so tight that other cast members actually had their test shoots without a female lead, a month before the actual premiere. The casting issues resulted in a two-week delay for the drama (hence Baek Hee Has Returned stepped in as the filler mini-drama). Had it aired on time, the drama would have steered clear from the conflicting Rio Olympics schedule.
So had the show been able to air as originally scheduled, would KBS still give it the full run?
Probably not, I wouldn’t know for sure. Cutting down dramas due to poor ratings is nothing new in the drama business. And it’s rumored that KBS had initially wanted to cut it down to 12 episodes, which doesn’t follow the pathetic Olympics excuse at all. It could have gained a bit more traction if it aired 2 weeks before Doctors, but this type of drama is not designed to please the general public like its rival.
Is Jang Hyuk’s paycheck per episode so big that they can effectively cut their losses with two episodes less?
What irks me most about this whole thing is that the decision was announced days after episode 10 was aired. Meaning there’s just a little over a week to fix the remaining 4 episodes, possibly compromising the whole flow. Most of episodes 11 & 12 are probably already filmed and under editing, but the team might have to do a bit of recalibrating to balance out the pace for the final four episodes. Not to mention the major rework to be done for final week’s script to smooth out the plot and give a satisfactory ending. I feel bad for the BM team especially writer Kim Tae-hee (who also wrote Sungkyunkwan Scandal), who had so far done an amazing job on the show.
Adding to my frustration are the underwhelming shows that get to stay on air even if they barely have enough material to do so. If KBS wants prioritize ratings all the time, then they can just fill the rest of the year’s lineup with star-studded cheesy dramas.
As for me, an ordinary and powerless viewer, I could only grieve a little and move on. I look forward to savoring the last four episodes of Beautiful Mind, and hopefully it doesn’t disappoint (though odds are stacked against it). There’s nothing like a mind-blowing ending to make the network (as well as naysayers and non-viewers) regret not paying attention. Then my ~1,500-word post will not be in vain, and I can complete this drama with a smile on my face.