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To producer, seven-year-old 'Running Man' is like 'coming-of-age drama'

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Updated : May 14 2018

Marking the 400th episode of the popular variety show "Running Man," main director Jung Chul-min compared his seven years with the program to watching a coming-of-age drama.

The producer, 35, joined the team on the program's 17th episode as an assistant producer and has taken the main producer's role since April last year. On Sunday, the variety game show, which premiered on SBS in July 2010, aired its 400th episode.

"Looking back, it feels like watching a coming-of-age drama. Cast members feel like comrades who've aged together," he said during a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

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This photo provided by SBS shows "Running Man" main producer Jung Chul-min. (Yonhap)
"It's been a difficult year. One time we hugged each other and broke down. I talked with Jae-suk a lot," he said, referring to the popular comedian and show host Yoo Jae-suk, who plays a central role on the show.

For the past seven years, the show has had its ups and downs. It encountered its biggest crisis in December 2016 when the network decided to close the show amid botched communication between production and cast members. The decision later was reversed after facing strong opposition and criticism from fans in and out of the country.

After the casting brouhaha, the program suffered a dip in viewership ratings. As part of efforts to turn the falling ratings around, the production team cast two new members in April last year -- comedian Yang Se-chan and actress Jeon So-min.

"It was my first day as the main producer when the two joined the team as a regular. It was a really difficult time. The previous episode hit a record-low rating."

He recalled the members telling him that they would do whatever the producer wanted them to do to push up the sagging ratings. Since the two joined, the numbers have improved.

"Jeon So-min is naturally crazy. What she looks like during the show is her real self. Yang is unimposing, but his absence is felt immediately. Since he joined, the existing members have become more stable."

According to Jung, Yoo is a perfectionist. Kim Jong-kook always trusts him, and Haha is the most mature among the members. Lee Kwang-soo is like a really nice little brother, Song Ji-hyo always gives him supportive words and Ji Seok-jin tries to make him comfortable.

"I talk to Yoo Jae-suk a lot. Once we talk on the phone, it lasts for three to four hours. Sometimes he just calls up to suggest an item and a guest member," he said. "I don't think there is anyone more serious about the program's ratings and content than Yoo."

The show is enjoying popularity beyond Asia. It has taken off in South America as well.

"The show doesn't need a deep understanding of Korean culture because the basic concept is taking off the name tag on each other's backs to win. Also it is rare to see a program where celebrities run around, sweating profusely."

Now the producer is considering a change in format.

"Recently we've increasingly put more focus on solving tasks through reasoning than on physical activities. Members have gotten older to keep running around to take off the name tags."

He also acknowledged that he's been agonizing over whether to recycle popular items or try to do something new.

"I hope I can produce 'Running Man' as long as viewers find it interesting," he said, "My goal is to show more human sides of the cast as much as I can." (Yonhap)

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