Actresses rush to the altar as ratings falter
By DOUG JACKSON
Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec. 21)
Why are hordes of TV1's leading drama queens suddenly rushing to get married? While a few recent ceremonies, notes Shukan Jitsuwa, were dekichatta kekkon (shotgun weddings), these actresses all had one predicament in common: Dramas on the small screen are mired in a swamp of bad ratings, and the TV divas are taking the impact right on their lovely chins.
Roles are scarce, and becoming scarcer, "so they're running to get hitched," says one entertainment reporter. Besides affording the chance to flaunt their happiness at rival actresses, the wedding bells and rings bring them a brief but welcome flash of media recognition.
Anyway, what's the crisis here? According to recent survey data, one problem is that the average twentysomething now watches television a paltry three hours a week.
"Four or five years ago, they watched an average of three hours of TV a day, so about 30 minutes a day represents a violent drop," comments entertainment critic Makoto Kanazawa.
Where's the disconnect with this audience? "Instead of watching TV, they come home and spend hours on the Net reading blogs and getting onto Mixi (Japan's version of MySpace) and YouTube," Kanazawa reports. "They can usually find the segments they want to see on YouTube, too, or store the programs on their hard drives. Even when they do watch TV, they're often yakking on their cellphones at the same time."
Inevitably, the dramas are being shortened to match the shortened attention span, which in turn means fewer places for commercial spots. "Sponsors are avoiding dramas because they're not drawing audiences, so the actresses that appear in them aren't needed," Kanazawa concludes, noting that two-hour productions appear to be especially vulnerable.
There's more to this dramatic twist of fate, mostly having to do with a disturbing lack of originality and inspiration in the shows themselves. Industry people disparagingly refer to this as san-ku (the three "ku"), reminiscent of the familiar 3-K employment problem -- "kitanai, kitsui, kiken," meaning "dirty, difficult, dangerous." In this case, the elements all include the phonetic ku. The first is komikku (comics), from which more scripts are being adapted; the second is remeekku, because the shows are often rehashes of earlier hits; and finally, there's the masuku, or cast selection.
The cumulative effects of fleeing viewers, derivative content and the same old faces are dire. A 15 percent viewer rating is considered the dividing line between success and failure, but most dramas these days are only managing to pull 12 or 13 percent, and some just 8 percent. Even regular shows that were huge in the 1990s have taken a hit in the ratings. For example, "Kayo Sasupensu Gekijo (Tuesday Suspense Theater)" was consistently pulling 20 percent, but not any more. Embarrassingly, several shows have even been canceled in mid-season.
"With fewer commercial spots to fund them, the money to produce dramas is drying up," one industry insider comments. "This September, for example, average revenues from commercials declined by 5 to 6 percent. Sponsors don't believe the commercials on TV are effective anymore; they're switching to Internet spots instead. They're also monitoring costs more closely, and trying to keep the number of commercials down. It looks like the money for dramas will continue to drop."
While Shukan Jitsuwa claims the careers of actresses and female tarento are on a downward curve, it says nothing about what the leading men in these productions are up to. Moonlighting at host clubs, perhaps, or hanging around in hotel bars to meet female high flyers?
More curiously, while the story mentions all the major commercial networks, it completely glosses over the state of NHK and its massive period pieces and other long-running dramas. But then NHK is going through its own emotional scandal with angry subscribers at the moment, so perhaps the writer took pity on the benighted national broadcaster.