Nightly doses of pain, degradation and downright embarrassment that once captivated Japanese TV viewers have been toned down dramatically after widespread concerns about their impact on society.
Some programs that horrified viewers and hiked ratings have been replaced with chat shows, cooking series and low-cost dramas -- chasing away viewers in the process.
“Part of the problem is that there were a couple of accidents in the shows and people got hurt,” said Shizuka Ota, an analyst with Video Research Inc. “That may have influenced advertisers, but also society has become more serious about safety and compliance in recent years.”
Philip Brasor, media columnist for the Japan Times, raises another reason for Japan’s gentler, kinder TV today. “Japanese TV has got to the point where there is no reason for them to be adventurous anymore,” he says.
Japan’s bizarre programming of the 1990s became so outrageous that shows were often reported on by TV outlets around the world. One infamous case involved a wannabe comedian who was locked naked in a small room by for nearly a year and told he could emerge only after filling in postcards and winning YEN1 million (now $8,500) worth of goods in promotional draws.
That suffering paled in comparison with a show that is regarded as the highlight of brutality towards its contestants. “Za Gaman” — literally, “Endurance” — pitted teams of students against each other in unpleasant challenges. Some were buried up to their necks in sand and licked by reptiles; others took part in bicycle races with a mouthful of curry powder.
In one memorable episode, contestants had their legs tied to a vehicle and were dragged along a series of courses, including gravel. The winner, predictably, was the one who endured the longest.
Japan’s Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization voiced concerns about the level of violence that was creeping into TV, driven by research that identified the shows that parents did not want their children to watch.
Return of the talk showThese days, Japanese TV suffers from a lack of new faces and ideas, insists Brasor. “They are bland and have the same ‘talento’ presenting them all, but that’s the bottom line for TV companies now.”
“Everyone prefers to just play it safe now. It’s much cheaper to make the talk shows and variety programs that you see here all the time now,” he said.
Programs such as NHK’s “Today’s Recipe” are a daily Japanese staple with a recipe of cooking, celebrity gossip and panel discussions.
Also proliferating are daytime dramas such as Tokyo Broadcasting System’s “The Bus Driver’s Daughter,” which pulled in a relatively low 800,000 households in the most recent local measurements. Elsewhere, TV Tokyo has managed to base an hour-long show called “Town Info Variety” around a park that is popular with dog owners. NHK’s “Premium 10” series recently spent 90 minutes studying how light, wind and water change the way Mt. Fuji looks.
Broadcasters are generally unwilling to reveal viewer figures for their less-popular programs while the domestic ratings agencies follow suit because those same companies are also clients.
“To be honest, whatever the viewer figures are I’d suggest they are inflated because of the habit among Japanese housewives of just turning the TV on in the morning and leaving it on all day,” said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in media and communications at Hokkaido University.
“Fewer and fewer people are watching regular TV here now, particularly younger people as they can access exactly what they want to see via broadband Internet companies such as Usen Corp.,” he said. “It is effectively TV on demand, there are dozens of channels and the quality of the image is the same as television.