Americans love reality television shows. Since their initial mass popularity in the late '90s and early 2000s, there has been an explosion of formats depicting nearly every facet of American life, including pawn shop owners, hoarders and drug addicts.
A more recent arrival to the reality show universe are the ethnically-based shows that include the very popular “Jersey Shore,” which focuses on Italian-Americans in the state of New Jersey, and “Shahs of Sunset,” which focuses on Persian-Americans in Los Angeles, also known as Tehrangeles because of the number of Persians living there.
The latest entry to that genre is “K-Town,” which follows a group of young Korean-Americans in the predominantly Korean area of Los Angeles known also as K-Town. Unlike “Jersey Shore” and “Shahs of Sunset,” “K-Town” will be shown on YouTube, which has become a trendy outlet for Asian-American performers of all ilks.
When development of the show was announced two years ago, the media immediately dubbed it Jersey Shore for Asians.
It was something executive producer Eugene Choi both embraced and shunned.
“We wanted to show that there are lots of layers among Asian-Americans,” he said. “I think that with a lot of Asian-Americans in TV and film it’s two dimensional. It’s either the violin playing nerd or the martial arts master. Once people watch people will see how different it really is. It’s not just “Jersey Shore” with Asian people.”
But there are certainly some similarities.
“K-Town” features eight young Korean-Americans and contains many of the same ingredients as its reality show predecessors: drama, silliness, romance, scandal and skin, all of it often ratcheted up by alcohol. Choi does concede that there isn’t as much bad behavior in “K-Town” as there is in “Jersey Shore.”
Choi said the show will also shed light on some lesser known aspects of Korean-American culture. One example he gave was the Korean nightclub scene where customers, in order to get in, must know the cell phone number of one of the waiters. The waiter, in turn, will make a reservation for a group of men or a group of women.
“Once you get in, the waiter has guy tables and girl tables and plays matchmaker,” he said. “That whole practice came from Korea where it’s socially taboo just to go up to a woman. K-Town is the intersection of Korea and the U.S.”
Choi said he pitched the show to some cable channels and even got some offers, but at the end of the day, YouTube's LOUD channel
made the most sense.
“I think it is a pretty good medium for Asian-Americans,” he said. “I think a lot of people think it’s a setback, but I’m really excited about being a part of YouTube. I really believe YouTube is the next cable TV.”
Alexander Cho, a PhD in Media Studies at the University of Texas Department of Radio-Television-Film said shows like “K-Town” combat stereotypes by offering multiple representations of a group by showing people who are totally contradictory to the stereotype or challenge it.
He said the trick will be representing diverse images of the Korean-American community without making it look horrible the way many Italian-Americans felt Jersey Shore did to them.
“I’m not sure how great it would be to have a Korean-American Snooki,” said Cho, referring to the most famous cast member of Jersey Shore who developed a reputation as an airheaded partier and is possibly most well-known for getting punched on TV.
Cho said he’s not surprised “K-Town” is on YouTube.
“It’s a place where people who don’t fit the traditional mold of what a leading man should look like and and what a pop star should look like can find a place,” he said.
Based on YouTube comments, it would appear the reception for K-Town is mixed. One commenter called the show “embarrassing” to Asian-Americans, while another wrote they were glad to see a portrayal of Asian-Americans that was not as a “a social hermit” who studies all day and night and plays computer games.”
Choi says reaction in the Korean-American community has been “very mixed, and very extreme.”
“Now that the first episode is out I think the reaction has generally been a little bit more positive,” he said.”Before the negative comments were them being afraid it'd be too wild, and now some of the negative comments have been episode one hasn't been wild enough. I guess you just can't win sometimes!”