Life, Once Again! - Chapter 878
The breath he inhaled was cold. Maru opened his eyes and looked for his phone with his hand. It was 8 a.m. He had turned off the alarm that was set to ring at 6 every morning. Gaeul had very sensitive ears, so she tended to open her eyes after a single beep. She was always stubborn about following him out to jog even if she was tired. She said that she liked running with him. While breathing the fresh early morning air while exercising together was definitely tempting, what she needed today was not getting her heart rate up and sweating, but sleeping without a care in the world. Today was one of the rare days when she could sleep in after all.
He slowly put down the duvet so that Gaeul didn’t wake up. When he sat up, he saw that she had flung away the duvet and was lying on her side. It was one of her sleeping habits. Even during the winter, she would often leave half of her body out in the open and end up sniffling in the morning. He grabbed the duvet and covered her. She seemed to like the warmth of the duvet as she curled up and buried her face in the duvet.
He pulled the blind curtains tight to block off all the light before leaving the room. He opened the refrigerator and drank a sip of cold green tea before opening the cupboard to take out the dog food he had portioned out into a plastic bowl. Only then did he realize that the girl who would usually be hopping around at his feet wanting food was not here this morning. He put the dog food back in the cupboard. Habits were scary things.
He turned on the heater and sat in the living room to watch last week’s episode of ‘Chatterbox.’ There were five fixed people in the cast, and the guests would change every week. Just like its name, the program was mainly a talk show. The order of progression began with talking about the guests’ latest news, then the stories that the guests prepared, then followed by the questions from the viewers. Sometimes, there would be a simple game or a display of skills.
-Save Love for the Farewell, sung by Yoo Chaejin.
Last week, the guests were sports stars. A young athlete who won the gold medal in fencing sang a song with a shaky voice. She wasn’t that good, but it was good to see her do her best. The responses from the internet were good as well, saying that she was cute for having a flaw to her. She wasn’t that good at talking either, so the conversation would cut off awkwardly whenever one of the hosts asked her a question, but her answers were genuine and the program didn’t feel like it was too loose.
Meanwhile, in contrast to the fencing athlete, the archery athlete had good skills to show off and was good at talking, but he didn’t have that much screen time. The excessive interruptions and his way of speaking that undermined others made it so that his portions were mostly edited out. The comments under most of the clips of that episode that went online mostly talked about his bad way of speaking as well.
Dongwook once said that the internet masses were like a cheap buffet, and there was nothing to eat when looked at from up close. He also added that eating something was better than starving to death. The internet opinion couldn’t be entirely trusted, but nor could it be entirely ignored. If the masses were criticizing someone, there would be a reason to have a close look at it.
Keeping in mind the difference between the fencing athlete and the archery athlete, Maru played the episode before that. He skipped past the opening commentary and the display of skills at 4x speed, and he focused mainly on the stories that the guests had prepared. In particular, what kind of talk would get a response from the main hosts and would make the story section longer.
He also had a close look at the subtitles when people spoke. Subtitles had long since become a device to portray the minds of the producer and the program writer. Before, a member of the staff appearing on TV would be a production accident, but now, even they were treated like a part of the program. There were cases where some producers, directors, and writers were more famous than most celebrities. The era had changed from one where the staff members would meticulously hide themselves and put subtitles that explained the situation on the screen, to one where they actively expressed their own opinions, so observing the subtitles closely was equivalent to reading the mind of the one behind the program.
The phone he placed on the sofa started vibrating. When he picked up, he heard Byungchan’s voice.
“Yes, hyung. But what made you call me so early in the morning?”
-I totally forgot to tell you about something last night. Check your email. There should be a list of questions the writer of Chatterbox sent to you beforehand. Have a look at it and send it over to me. I had a look first, and there were no strong questions. I think it’ll be okay to allow them to ask everything.
“They don’t know anything about me, so they can’t ask strong questions. I’ve never gotten into trouble either. I’ll check on it and give you a message. Also, are you driving right now?”
-Yes. I’m driving Sooil to his shoot. It’s tiring to grab the wheel after all this time.
“What happened for you to be driving yourself?”
-I can’t help it. Our company is composed of a small group of elites, including the managers. There’s Taeho hyung-nim, Geunsoo-hyung, Ganghwan-hyung, Miss Suyeon, and Sooil. All the people below me have things to do, so I’ve gone back to being road manager for now.
“If you feel tired, you can have Sooil drive for you.”
-I’ll pass on that since my life will be doomed if something happens. Oh wait, Sooil wants to talk to you.
He heard a rustling sound. Maru looked at the TV screen and changed it to 4x speed. The greetings of the hosts went by in a flash.
-Did you practice?
Sooil had spoken all of a sudden. Gaeul’s excited voice last night overlapped with his.
“Did you two set this up or what?”
-What are you talking about?
“Nothing. Even if you didn’t mention that, I’m watching the previous episodes and getting ready for it. I do have some confidence in talking, but talking interestingly is something different.”
-Don’t get pressured by other people and do your best, not that you’re the type to receive pressure from others. But you might end up dazing out if you sit in front of the camera for hours.
“I heard that all night yesterday from Gaeul: I have to get myself together, I can’t zone out, I have to smile if I don’t have anything to say, et cetera. I can still feel her words echoing in my ears.”
-I guess there’s nothing to worry about with your queen beside you. If you feel like it’s not going well during the shoot, you can use my name. I pick up my phone quite a lot.
“You know I will if you tell me to, right?”
-Do it. I’ll pick up as long as I’m not in a shoot. But I’d like to remind you that I might stand out if you do and you might get pushed to the back.
“Sure, sure. You’re hugely popular. Is your shoot in the countryside?”
-Countryside… I guess you can call it that.
-Germany. It’s for a photo shoot, a commercial, and a drama. I’ve got tons of work in front of me right now.
“That explains why the team leader is driving you. Bring back presents when you come back. You know, stuff like schweinshaxe or salami.”
-Those things can’t be imported, so just make do with chocolate. Also, schweinshaxe is similar to Korean jokbal, so you can get that instead.
“What are friends for? You should smuggle some in for me.”
-I don’t want to be an actor who gets into controversy while trying to smuggle pig’s foot. Oh, I’m at the airport now. Good luck with the shoot, and call me if the atmosphere turns frosty. Also, the indie film we shot last time is on the cover of a movie magazine. If you don’t have anything to talk about, talk about that or something. It might not be interesting, but you have to do something.
“It’s me who’s supposed to be going on the show, but it’s everyone else who’s worried. I’ll do fine by myself, so just focus on going to Germany.”
The phone switched over to Byungchan again, and he told him to send a message after checking the email before hanging up. Maru checked his email on his phone. Just as Byungchan said, there weren’t any questions he would have a hard time answering. Since the theme was people who ‘suddenly became popular’, the writers of the program probably didn’t have enough time to research. There was a request to write things that the guests wanted the hosts to bring up, but Maru left it blank before writing up the replies. He could just come up with things on the spot depending on the atmosphere of the set.
The door to the bedroom opened. Gaeul walked out while yawning. Her bangs were draping down like octopus tentacles. When he picked up the teacup in front of him, Gaeul nodded. They didn’t need to talk to each other in the morning to communicate. Gaeul sat down where he used to sit. Maru boiled some water in the kitchen and brewed some barley tea for her. She sipped the tea with the teacup bowled in her hands.
“Did you study hard?”
“Enough not to stutter.”
“When did you say the shoot was?”
“So I’ll only be able to see it in December. Do well so that you don’t get edited out.”
“I think I heard that a dozen times yesterday.”
Maru shrugged and resumed the video that he had paused.
* * *
Choi Younghoon sighed the moment he heard of the theme for the episode. ‘Chatterbox’ was a program that was heavily dependent on the guests. It was a fundamental problem that couldn’t be fixed due to its nature as a talk show. If it was a show that was shot outside, they could have ordinary citizens participate in the show or expect laughs from unexpected environmental variables, but entertainment shows that happened indoors were solely dependent on the skills of the hosts and the guests for laughs. For the main hosts, there had been no changes in members for the past four years, so the only thing they could say at this point was the number of spoons they had at home. Thus, they had to rely on the guests to do the talking. The problem was that the theme this time was ‘people who suddenly became popular.’
What an unstable-sounding theme was that? He could already picture the guests staring holes at the camera and answering with single words due to turning stiff. This was something that he had experienced before. When the program underwent a change, a new producer who came to Chatterbox ambitiously scouted an ordinary citizen who became popular through a user created video. That producer then left the entertainment department for the documentary department.
The air time was an hour and 10 minutes. As for the shooting time, that mostly depended on the guests, but the average was about 5 hours. For five hours, about 9 people would have to sit in a set with three sides walled off, facing dozens of staff members, several cameras, as well as writers who would give instructions without rest. They would have to talk in front of such people for five whole hours to create a one-hour episode. Even the most veteran entertainers would find it hard to control their pace and end up just nodding towards the end of the shoot without saying anything, much less rookies who just started receiving attention.
The job of the hosts was to make the guests keep talking so that the atmosphere didn’t become loose. Younghoon prayed that the guests this time weren’t Buddha statues. There was nothing more terrifying than people who did nothing but smile on talk shows.
“Hyung-nim, looks like you’ll be trying hard today.”
A junior who hosted Chatterbox with him entered the waiting room. This guy was someone who used to be an athlete before becoming famous as an entertainer. He knew what questions to ask the guests at appropriate times, so hosting the show with him made things a lot easier.
“Looks like you’ll be having a hard time as well.”
“I just hope they don’t freak out. As long as they don’t freak out, we can cover the rest. I saw that all of them were actors, so thankfully, they won’t mumble.”
“You never know. Don’t you remember that actress from before? The audio engineer asked if the microphone was broken half way through the shoot. Her voice was so small.”
“Right, there was that woman.”
“If we get someone like her, forget the shoot becoming longer, we might not be able to salvage much from it. We’re already losing a lot of views because of what YBS started recently.”
“The trend is to do away with static talk shows now. These days, singing is the trend. I heard that this program is getting axed during the restructuring, and they will be starting an audition show or something.”
“Every single one of them is about singing. This is the problem with South Korea. If someone does well, everyone else follows suit. Since we’re at it, let me tell you now that singing auditions will become a boom but then soon die down. There will be another trend to take over.”
“But still, you have somewhere to go, hyung-nim. Tell me honestly, you got an offer already, haven’t you?”
Younghoon tapped on his junior’s shoulder and told him that he would bring him if he did go to another program.
“Looks like our guests are here today. I’ll go have a look at them.”
The junior stood up.