Sadistic Cable Channel Does it Again: tvN Cuts Short “Ex-Girlfriend Club”

I have things to do today, but I can’t let this one rest. The news this morning that tvN is shortening Ex-Girlfriend Club from 16 episodes to 12 is pretty pathetic. I can think of one good reason for cancelling four episodes: maybe the drama writer based the plot on real-life exes who are threatening to sue. What TV executive can stand up to lawyers?

But barring exes with lawyers, the reason is probably the show’s relatively low ratings. Ex-Girlfriend Club is averaging below 1%, with episode 7 hitting only 0.65% ratings. These numbers are surprisingly low, given that, on balance, reactions to the show have been positive.

Cable shows generally claim to be successes if they average above 1%. And if we call anything that isn’t a success a failure, by that definition Ex-Girlfriend Club is a failure.

But by that measure, tvN’s autumn thriller Liar Game was also a failure, with ratings at 0.96%. Yes, 0.96% is close to 1%, I know. My point is that the numbers alone don’t give an ironclad indication of a show’s quality. Liar Club didn’t have a giant audience in Korea, but it was well made. And it was a cult hit with overseas viewers.

The executives who make these decisions have access to detailed numbers that I don’t have. But they’re human beings and they can be driven by fear, too. TvN executives say that they want to make grown-up shows about real-world situations. Yet cancelling Ex-Girlfriend Club indicates that when they get what they asked for—a smart script with plausible emotions (combined with implausible hair-pulling)—they panic.

The online comments about the show’s shortcomings are probably an echo of what executive meetings at tvN sound like. The story moves too slowly! No, it moves too quickly because the characters have back-story! The exes get too much screen time! No, they don’t get enough screen time! Song Ji-Hyo is too old! Wait, Byun Yo-Han is too young!

But it doesn’t matter what the shows strengths and weaknesses are. Because Ex-Girlfriend Club is in a time slot competing with Producer. (Among others; a full discussion of the competition is at the May Drama Report: Ratings and Reactions.)

TvN executives can’t compete with Producer, because although Producer has weaknesses, it has top stars Kim Soo-Hyun, IU, Gong Hyo-Jin and Cha Tae-Hyun. It also has a connection to reality television. And reality TV is the real ratings winner these days.

What?!?

cancelling Ex-Girlfriend Club drama ep 5 the girlfriends large 4web

Yes, girls, reality TV.

By acting “shocked, shocked” that Ex-Girlfriend Club is performing poorly opposite Producer, executives are acting like they don’t understand their own industry. They act ashamed of their own “product,” which they deliberately scheduled for a difficult time-slot. They’re afraid to look past the numbers at whether the show is good or not. Perhaps they don’t trust their own judgment.

Small-audience cable channels like tvN need to make good shows, not just well-rated shows. Good shows can find additional audiences overseas and make cable worthwhile. (Of course, ideally, they would make great shows, but even great shows usually start out as merely good.) The financial viability of twenty-first century drama has to take into account viewers who are online, international, or watching on “time-delay.”

Even American cable channels rely on overseas and “time-delayed” audiences. Few Americans actually watch a “hit” like Game of Thrones. I only know a handful of people who pay the exorbitant cost of premium cable. And I know even fewer who watch shows on the day they broadcast. The “popular” American cable dramas are watched in real time by a tiny percentage of the American population. They get many more viewers internationally and online, but they still have relatively small audiences. They’re what we used to call cult classics.

Generally, Korean executives seem to understand these market forces. But when they cancel a pretty good show for not getting enough viewers in three weeks (Exes Club debuted May 8), they’re acting like a broadcast channel, not a successful cable channel. A smart cable executive would have confidence that the word will spread and the show will get viewers. Anything worth approving in the first place is worth approving for the last four episodes. But apparently, tvN executives don’t trust their original decision to make this show.

C’mon, tvN, you say you want to be different than the broadcast networks, but you’re terrified to do what it takes: have good taste and believe your own judgment. If you were cancelling a show with low ratings and generally bad reviews, like Hyde, Jekyll, Me or Blood, I might understand. But you probably wouldn’t make those shows in the first place, right?

Given tvN’s shortening of the quirky Surplus Princess last fall—and its treatment of The Three Musketeers—it looks like the channel has misgivings about its goal to offer something different. Right now it only wants to offer something different if it can compete with Kim Soo-Hyun. Good luck with that one.

I certainly have misgivings about watching another tvN show before it has finished airing. I like tvN’s dramas, but I don’t like looking forward to something, then having it yanked away.

The disappointment of a small group of viewers might not matter much to tvN in the accounting ledgers, but it does hurt a network’s brand reputation. The economics of making dramas, like the economics of telling any stories, are difficult and unpredictable today. But it’s foolish to think you can cancel your way out of the economic risks.

You never have a guarantee of making your money back in the story-telling business. But you can still make good shows, if you don’t lose your nerve. ♥

I would translate this into Korean and send it to tvN, but unfortunately, my Korean is only good enough for swearing. Which tvN might not appreciate, though it captures my feelings. (>_<) Big hugs to everyone who is as annoyed as I am!

22 thoughts on “Sadistic Cable Channel Does it Again: tvN Cuts Short “Ex-Girlfriend Club”

  1. “…my Korean is only good enough for swearing..” ROFL! I was contemplating a TVN strike too. That’ll teach them to mess with our poor delicate feelings! I mean Surplus Princess, maybe the rental tail fees were too much, Musketeers, action scenes are expensive, but come on, just four more episodes! Somebody start a Korean Kickstarter.

    • Hee hee! I included the shout-out to the Musketeers because you reminded me of it, Muse! No other network gets so freaked out and shortens so many shows. I could understand with the Musketeers because of expenses. Horses and Joseon hats don’t come cheap. But yeah, what’s with shortening rom coms? The tail rental fees, hee hee.

  2. Definitely as annoyed as you are. You know how i’ve been obsessing over this show. I just realized that some of my most beloved dramas this year came from tvN. Why don’t they have confidence in their dramas? They generally make some fun and interesting shows. I really hope that the outrage from netizens makes them re-consider this action. But who knows? Im clinging to any form of hope right now. But I don’t think I can trust tvN again.

  3. Agree with you. Dont they believe in their work? How different are they from other channels, when they act like this?
    I had planned to watch Surplus P., but then I heard it was cut… I dont even feel the need to check it now, because the whole story may be butchered because of that…I dont think I will start a new drama from tvN so easily.
    Dramabeans wrote, they dont even plan to start the next drama earlier, which means they dont have anything for the time slot. So why cancel a perfect running drama?…wait, is it because of Producer? So why did you, tvN, even bothered to air a drama in the same time slot?!! Or did you plan to cut it, if it isnt good enough to compete against the other drama?!! I dont get it…

  4. Finally, I read an article that I agree with regarding tvn Ex Girlfriends Club cancelling 4 episodes. Most other ones seemed to push blame on the cast/acting as weak points. I like kdramas but some more “popular” than this and also some actresses/actors i find boring. Some are overrated. This drama i looked foward to every week. I think it has a different plot line thats more unique. Cable networks already have paying subscribers i would be extremely upset if i paid for tvn. I would definitely cancel if that were the case. I can see a public doing that but tvn network canceling shows due to rating and not even considering how viewers enjoy this show… I’ve lost respect for tvn. I really hope that Ex Girlfriend Club gets really popular elsewhere like china, usa, singapore etc. The cast and staff deserve to be recognized for their hard work despite tvn being cowards on shows that some people genuinely enjoy.

  5. “I certainly have misgivings about watching another tvN show before it has finished airing.”

    QFT.

    Do they make much money selling to non-Korean markets after the show has started? Did Liar Game make them a lot despite the ratings (It is my personal favourite k-drama to date). I was just thinking that they really may not care at all what other markets feel about it. But still I would think they would be driving away viewers from their own broadcasts because who would bother to invest time in their shows if they keep getting butchered part way through?

  6. Well said, Miss Odessa! I have zip to add! Just my frustration, too >_<
    My hope from now on would be if only tvN could sack on the spot all those executives-slash-"geniouses" they have probably moved to the upcoming star cable channel rating-wise.
    They decided on a drama in cable's usual time-slot while KBS is experimenting Fr-Sat…ok, I can live with that. They chose this particular scenario for their usual time-slot…ok, it's fine by me. They aren't gaining enough ( they do make a profit, of course, since their commercial time is already covered for!)…not ok, tvN!
    They should have learnt their lesson by now. KBS had been the winner against The Heirs when the underdog Secret had ranked first in its time-slot! Miracles do happen, folks. Just not ALL the time. They should have organised their production better and not have wasted all the actors' talent had they not truly believed in their project! The rest is easy now, I presume: Throw away your child for it's not competent enough against reality and variety shows! And by that, I don't include The Producers since that drama is in a different slot even though the same days.

  7. I’ll finish out this show because it’s awesome. After this, I won’t watch another tvN show, ever. It’s too annoying to get vested in a show to find out they are ruining it by cutting it short. I know tvN must make money on their shows when they sell it overseas. So, a site I pay to watch videos on has paid for a license to show it and now we are getting less episodes. Anyway, tvN executives, you are all pieces of “dong”!

  8. It’s sad for the fans that ExGC is ending but it’s not true that Producers is a weaker drama….I don’t know if you have seen it but it’s a really good show.

    • I think its a matter of preference. Some people may find the story interesting, some may find it mediocre. Like beauty – it is in the eye of beholder.

      I am watching both, but prefer ExGC.

      It would be interesting to see the ratings, if the drama had some unknown actors…

  9. @Camille: If tvN owes viewers an apology, I think for your total devotion they owe you a handwritten apology, delivered in person by Byun Yo-Han along with an umbrella and a signed Kara T-shirt. Hear that, tvN? (And I want a picture of you and Yohan, Camille! :))

    @erin: “Do they make much money selling to non-Korean markets after the show has started?” Sometimes I think the show is already airing when they finish the negotiations. I guess producers have to be careful how they write the contract. TvN must not specify how many episodes you get when you buy the rights to a show.

    Or maybe some overseas contracts do specify a number of episodes. That could be why some low-rated broadcast dramas with big Hallyu stars haven’t been shortened despite ratings that dip into dangerous territory. Maybe tvN cancels things more than the networks because their lawyers write more devious licensing agreements?

    I’m sure the accountants can prove the decision saves them money. But I have trouble believing it will save much money, since a lot of production costs are sunk costs. The admin work, the promotional expenses, etc., are already spent, for 12 eps or 16. And I hope that the contracts for talent, directors, etc., include contingency fees for these situations. I’d love to know more about how the business side works–I still find it hard to believe anyone can afford to make dramas at all.

    @Elena: tvN does seem to be fast on the canceling thing compared to other networks, so there’s no way to argue it’s purely a quality decision. I got annoyed when I saw people doing that, too. It’s pretty unfair to the cast and staff. I really hope it doesn’t hurt Song Ji-Hyo. I know she has her variety gig, but I want to see more of her in dramas.

    @chooks: Take a stand! Networks and streaming sites work hard to get viewers to feel loyalty to them. But that works both ways and can hurt them when we care about a show more than the people actually making it. I’m feeling hesitant too–I’m going to try not to get too attached to the next tvN drama I watch. And what’s the point of not getting attached?

    @Jiah: just for the record, I don’t think Producer is a weaker drama. I’ll admit I got bored in the first two episodes, but that’s mainly because I don’t know enough about variety television. I’m going to try again with the new director that came in on ep 3. Much like Exes Club, it’s a show about getting to know the characters more than about nonstop plot. If tvN really wanted to compete with Producer, they should have run a tense action thriller Fridays and Saturdays. But instead, the Korean audience for slice-of-life dramas has to choose between the two shows. It’s too bad. I don’t think either one is weaker, but Exes Club will be remembered as the shortened one.

  10. I love tvN’s dramas because most of their dramas, i can say that they are different. I know Ex-Girlfriend Club is competing with The Producer. But I don’t know….different people have different taste of drama, I’ve heard some negatives review for Producer, then I tried to watch it,and it doesn’t really gives me the first impression that say “this drama is going to be awesome” when compared with Ex-Girlfriend Club. I don’t know, people say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how am I suppose to “read the book” when it doesn’t give me a “good vibe”.

    Even though Producer have…you know, big Hallyu Stars (I’m a big fan of Kim soo hyun, though)…but it still can’t catch my attention.
    I can say that, no matter how many Hallyu Stars you put in a drama, if it can’t catch my attention, then sorry…. I just can’t go with it.

    hahahaha

    p/s: a very disappointed fans of the Exes Club.

  11. I’d love to write a long, detailed comment explaining how much I agree with this post, but instead, I’m just going to say: “Yes. This.”

  12. From Mexico, I was realy realy sad too, I hope they know , the horrible executives, what they did to us. (excuses for my english )

    • The last episodes made me smile so much–I’m sad all over again that there isn’t more. Hugs from up north!

  13. Yeah. I’m bummed too. Like you rightly said Odessa, they’re not giving the viewers confidence to watch their dramas if they keep cutting them due to ratings. First, Surplus Princess, then my beloved Ex girlfriends Club. And they won’t even bring in a second season of The Three Musketeers because the ratings for Season 1 was not high. SMH. These are good quality dramas. Why start something you can’t finish because you get scared of numbers?

    BTW I Love this site! I am bookmarking it asbone of the sites I am going to use yo check out my love of all Korean dramas. Thanks!

    • They really aren’t very good at managing audience expectations at tvN. I mean, Three Musketeers was great, and if they hadn’t gotten our hopes up about a second season, we wouldn’t be disappointed. Sigh. Thanks for dropping by!

  14. M as disappointed as all of u r. I enjoyed watching this drama and the chemistry between the characters r great. I used to fast forward watching a drama but I watched this one from beginning till the end without fast forwarding. Producer is not a very good drama, may be because of my expectation from KSH after My love from another star. I feel ex gf c is a far more entertaining series than P. Way to go writer. Sad for tvn for cutting it short.

  15. I looooooooooooved ex-girlfriend club sooooo much romance between the leads, and the lead actress Song Ji Hyo was sooo beautiful and charming, her intimate scenes with byun yo han made my heart beat faster soo many times, because it’s soo intense, damn I Hope they release release the cut episodes in DVD i really want to watch it all, I look forward to any new project of Song Ji Hyo this actress makes me addicted to see her, i am such a sucker for good romance and femme fatale woman, and she excels in that!

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