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Late TV producer plagued by debt

July 24, 2013 - 20:10 By Korea Herald
Kim Jong-hak. (Yonhap News)
Acclaimed TV drama producer Kim Jong-hak who was found dead Tuesday in an apparent suicide in a studio apartment in Bundang, just south of Seoul, suffered from legal and financial problems that may have led him to take his own life.

The man behind the 1995 megahit drama “Hour Glass” became mired in financial problems in recent years, especially after the 2012 SBS historical mini-series “Faith,” which starred former “Boy Over Flowers” actor Lee Min-ho and “Sad Love Story” actress Kim Hee-sun, largely failed. Earlier this year, some of the cast members of “Faith” filed a complaint against the producer at the conclusion of the drama for fraud and embezzlement, claiming that they had not been paid for their roles in the show. 
A scene from the SBS drama “Faith.” (SBS)

It’s been estimated that the outstanding payments from the series are 600 million won ($540,000). Kim had denied any wrongdoings on his part.

With the average cost of a mini-series drama running at around 300 million won per episode, the high costs and risks of producing a program has led network broadcasters like SBS to purchase shows from independent production companies. This was the case with Kim’s most recent series, “Faith.”

“If you want to produce a show, you need writers,” said an SBS public relations official. “The reason why broadcasters sometimes seek independent production companies is because they not only have more writers on staff, but often times you find more famous and well-known writers, resulting in a better-quality production.”

However, in these cases, the purchasing broadcast companies tend to pay for only half of the total production costs, leaving the rest up to the independent producers to raise. The independent production houses, in turn, typically rely on raising funds by recruiting sponsors and including product placement advertisements within the drama, and earning profits after the airing of the drama.

Industry insiders point to a structural flaw for difficulties experienced by independent production companies. Calling Kim both a perpetrator and a victim of a flawed “outsourced production system,” the Korea Broadcasting Actors Union issued a statement stating “such tragedies will continue unless the outsourcing system that benefits only the broadcasters is eradicated.”

“Faith” was an ambitious project, three years in the making, which was initially conceived as a 3-D production.

Yet, “Faith” was a historical drama, and producers were unable to take advantage of product placement deals, such as having cast members using a particular cell phone brand. Rather, the drama relied heavily on its all-star cast.The big-name leads, ironically, did not lead to high viewer ratings but resulted in snowballing costs. “Faith” aired with disappointing viewer ratings of only 10.1 percent, ultimately resulting in a loss.

By Julie Jackson (