At the end of October, Netflix announced that there would be a second season of Love Alarm, the Korean drama that asked if a love app might improve—or hamper—a person’s love life. While Love Alarm fans rejoiced, since the first season stopped mid-story after only eight episodes, some fans may wonder what’s up with the Netflix decision to air k-dramas in seasons.
In Korea, weekly dramas have traditionally aired in two hour or four half-hour segments each week and usually last between 16 and 20 episodes, thus spanning eight to ten weeks. Each drama is usually one season, with one storyline that has a defined arc and a resolution. Having one story with a defined arc makes the experience of watching a k-drama more like watching one long movie than watching a season—or two—of a U.S. TV show. That’s how many viewers came to know k-dramas on international streaming sites, drawn by the content as well as the format.
“One season is one of the things I like best about k-dramas,” said Lalya Gaye, a fan, who figures she has seen at least 40 k-dramas. “It keeps things compact and you’re getting a full story with a beginning and a proper ending—unlike U.S. shows that tend to fizzle out by season five when they’ve run out of ideas or get cancelled after a cliffhanger.”
In the last two years Netflix has expanded its offerings of Korean dramas, both by distributing more content produced in Korea and by producing original content there. In that time, a few dramas, both licensed and originally produced, were segmented, sometimes unexpectedly, into seasons.
The historical zombie drama Kingdom, starring Ju Ji-hoon and Kim Sung-kyu, was their first original Korean series. The first season ran for only six episodes in 2019, with the second season, expected to air in the spring of 2020.
Then the first eight episodes of the original drama First First Love, starring Ji Soo and Jung Chae-yeon, were released in April of 2019. Although the drama’s length was announced in advance, some fans were still surprised by the season’s abrupt ending. The second season, which might traditionally have been aired as the second half of the drama, was not released until July.
Arthdal Chronicles, starring Song Joong-ki and Jang Dong-gun, aired on tvN every Saturday and Sunday in Korea, starting from June 1, 2019. The first two “seasons” of this licensed content were released on Netflix in June and July, with the third “season” airing in September. The saga set at the dawn of civilization had a full 18 episodes. It ended with the forces of good and evil ready to fight, but no resolving battle. The less-than-satisfying end was not accompanied by the promise of a subsequent season. While ending a series season with a cliffhanger is nothing new to U.S. viewers, many k-drama fans were surprised. Discussions on whether to continue Arthdal Chronicles have reportedly not been finalized, leaving the drama’s characters and its fans in the lurch.
Another original drama production, Love Alarm, starring Kim So-hyun, Jung Ga-ram and Song Kang, premiered in the U.S. on Aug. 22, 2019, and ended mid-story at episode eight, leaving fans to wonder if a second season was coming. That second season has now been confirmed for 2020. Filming will have to wait until after Kim So-hyun finishes filming her current drama, Tales of Nokdu.
“Followers of Korean dramas are accustomed to being able to finish a storyline without waiting,” said Jean Libert, who began watching dramas to fine tune her language skills in 2012. “We expect some kind of conclusion and when it concludes, we generally don’t expect a season two, but rather feel the satisfaction of closing the book on one story and going into the next.”
For Libert a satisfying and timely conclusion is part of the enjoyment.
“Cutting into a continuous story—that wasn’t meant to be cut in that manner—breaks the momentum,” said Libert. “There’s a deep sense of annoyance and dissatisfaction that almost makes you not want to continue watching the story until it reaches it’s conclusion.”
Netflix representatives say they are trying out different formats to determine the best way to screen k-dramas for an international audience, since there’s more than one way to tell a story. One formula, employed on many of their productions, is to present several episodes at a time so they can be marathoned. The first season of Love Alarm, for example, was aired in its entirety. Yet, some k-drama fans may find that the ability to marathon what has traditionally been half a drama is not as satisfying as watching the entire drama in the more traditional format.
The concept of subsequent seasons for TV programs is also gaining momentum in Korea, where a few dramas have returned or are returning for a sequel. That has been the case with one of the highest rated cable dramas, Signal, which aired in 2016. The 16-episode time travel drama, starring Lee Je-hoon, Kim Hye-soo and Cho Jin-woong, ended on a hopeful but not entirely conclusive note. Signal 2, starring the original trio of stars, is expected to air in 2020. Still, in that case, Signal had a one-story season, with a defined arc and will have a second full-length season with its own storyline and conclusion.
When Netflix expanded into the Korean market, k-drama fans were pleased to have another viewing option, but more viewing data may be needed to determine whether fans are as happy with the various formats being employed. Much like the love app featured in Love Alarm, innovation may entice some, but estrange others.
This story was originally published on forbes.com.