Wonwoo Park - Korea’s Entertainment Guru
BY Yako Molhov
Wonwoo Park is the creator of the worldwide smash hit format, The Masked Singer, and the CEO and Chief Creator at DiTurn which is specialized in format development. Wonwoo has been working on more than 200 TV shows since 1997 and continues to make a strong endeavor to globalize Korean formats. He is currently developing several shows for FOX under a first-look deal with FOX Alternative Entertainment.

Wonwoo talks with Yako Molhov about the success of The Masked Singer, work on new projects and the formats that will follow its footsteps in his opinion.
The Masked Singer
Wonwoo, you became famous as the creator of the hit entertainment format The Masked Singer. Do you remember how did you come up with the idea for the show? How excited were you to see it produced for the first time in Korea?
The start of The Masked Singer is unforgettable for me. While appearance might be paramount for celebrities, but for singers, musical ability holds greater significance.

However, having organized various audition shows, it was disheartening to see audiences voting based on appearance rather than skill. I believed that by concealing identities, we could eliminate such biases. That idea sparked the beginning of The Masked Singer.

We had just one month to prepare for the broadcast. Some might have deemed it impossible to pull off a show in such a short time, but I confidently asserted that we could make it happen. As long as we didn’t alter the rules or content, I was certain it was achievable. Our focus was on casting performers, rehearsals, set design, and selecting the judging panel. The reason behind our success within this short timeframe was the show’s incredibly clear and well-defined rules.

Our first recording lasted until 3 AM, and our initial viewership surpassed 16%. For nine years now, our pilot program became a regular show, and has aired every Sunday evening.

Biweekly visits to the studio still bring a rush of excitement to me even today.

In your opinion what makes The Masked Singer so successful?
The Masked Singer is like a captivating swamp that keeps viewers hooked until the very end.

Once, a high-school friend visited the studio during a recording. I suggested him to join the shooting, but despite saying he’d only listen to a few songs, he ended up staying until the end.

In Korea, The Masked Singer shoots two episodes in a single recording, featuring nine singers every two weeks from 3PM until midnight. Once the audience gets engrossed in the show during that time, they don’t leave their seats. Before the masks come off, even if there’s a strong conviction about who’s behind the mask, viewers can’t look away from the TV until the reveal.

During the developing phase, envisioning a 60-minute broadcast, I emphasized the thrill of revealing one singer’s identity every 10 minutes. I believe that the comedic movement and costumes worked as a likable factor for the audience. Also, because this show presents a new challenge to music enthusiasts by being the ‘music quiz show,’ I believe it succeeded by proposing a fresh angle to those who enjoy music shows.

You are also the creator of music entertainment show My Boyfriend is Better which CJ ENM distributes and that has been recently acquired by Globo in Brazil. Do you have other new deals for the format and do you expect it to repeat the success of The Masked Singer?
I love all the shows I create, and My Boyfriend is Better is one of my favorites. This show delves into the conflict between jealousy and greed within the human emotions. These emotions are universal, and everybody can feel it. I find immense joy in observing the conflicted expressions of girlfriends torn between money and love. Additionally, I believe that enchanting romantic songs have the power to captivate the hearts of female viewers. My Boyfriend is Better encompasses enough elements to achieve the same level of success as The Masked Singer. I also hope for success overseas, akin to the glory attained by The Masked Singer.

You are also the person behind other popular formats like Round Table, Love Maze, Mama, The Song Was Born, Million Seller, My Ranking. In a world where broadcasters and streamers prefer to play it safe and rely predominantly on established formats and reboots when it comes to entertainment, what are the biggest challenges for you in creating brand new shows and convincing them to invest into new ideas?
Various emerging video platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and others pose a threat as they continue to evolve. Who would have thought we’d be carrying TVs around to watch? Who could have predicted that editing technology would become this convenient? Ultimately, the challenge we’re facing now is that investors are turning their attention to those kinds of platforms.

There’s undoubtedly difficulty in attracting investors. I’m persuading investors by suggesting our new concepts can be connected to other business opportunities. As one example, I proposed a show to our team’s current investors where the judges listen to the music and purchase the music from singer-songwriters. This could potentially evolve into another business related to copyrights. Building relationships with talented singer-songwriters could lead to another show and business opportunity.

I’m currently in the process of developing shows structured to generate revenue and explaining to investors the additional income streams these shows could bring in.

My Boyfriend is Better

What are the latest projects you have been working on and have you considered exploring genres other than entertainment, i.e. scripted?
Much of our focus is directed towards collaborating with FOX. It’s gratifying to lead new cultural initiatives from a small country like Korea, especially in the unscripted genres. Initially, creators in Korea always believed in launching in our own country first, but that’s not the case anymore. Securing broader audience interest by having overseas networks, who appreciate our ideas, premiere our content first would be a delight for us. FOX stands as a pivotal client in this regard. We’re eagerly awaiting the launch of the shows we’re preparing with them. Several shows are already in development, and we anticipate some exciting news soon.

Shows like My Boyfriend is Better, Roller Chorus, My Ranking, and Round Table - fresh creations from our team - are gearing up for the global launch. I believe audiences worldwide will laugh, be moved, and find joy in watching our shows.

Additionally, we’re working on a new venture - a scripted, drama in a completely innovative interactive format. We’re collaborating with seven writers for this show. After this project concludes, I’m considering exploring even more new stories.

Do you keep a closer eye on the local adaptations of your formats?
Honestly, I can’t watch everything, but occasionally I watch videos from overseas on YouTube. What never fails to impress me is the costumes. It’s so remarkable that even replicating it on the original channel like MBC seems challenging. I’m looking forward to the possibility of a global version of The Masked Singer where costumes from around the world come together for a singing showdown.

Being a busy producer do you take time off from work in order to focus on creating new formats? In other words, what is your creative routine?
To be honest, I don’t have much off-time. However, creating new ideas is incredibly enjoyable to me. Eventually, ideas for new shows stem from the previous work itself. The concept for The Masked Singer came from audition shows for selecting the best singers, which led to My Ranking. Through My Ranking, the idea for Blindfolded Audience (a.k.a Can You Keep Your Money) emerged, and ultimately, My Boyfriend is Better also sparked as a dating show. Constantly deriving new ideas from the work drives me to keep the momentum going rather than stopping work altogether.

What is your opinion on the hot topic of AI in the entertainment business? Have you used artificial intelligence in your formats? Do you see new opportunities in this sphere?
Lately, I’ve been exploring drawing webtoons using artificial intelligence (AI). Drawing isn’t my strong suit like a professional comic artist. That’s why I’m seeking someone’s help in drawing, using AI. I’m currently trying to build a new system to draw webtoons through AI.

I believe AI can offer creators new opportunities. Since AI ultimately learns from human-created data, and it extracts results from learning through the information we provide. Human creativity needs to evolve beyond its current state, and I believe AI can be a catalyst for creators who have felt stuck in their progress.

What do you like watching in your free time? Do you have favorite shows besides yours?
I mainly watch OTT series or movies at the theater. I enjoy exploring almost all series as if I’m on research. Among the recent movies, I found The Voyeurs from 2021 quite enjoyable. And as for recent shows, I found 007: The Road to a Millionaire to be entertaining.
Wonwoo Park is the CEO and Chief Creator of DiTurn. He is also a member of the Korean & Radio Writers Association (KTRWA) and a member of the Korea Music Copyright Association (KOMCA). Park has won numerous awards including the Korea TV & Radio Awards, Writer of the Year (2015); MBC Entertainment Awards, Best TV show writer (2015); Korea Content Awards, Award by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism (2016); etc.

His filmography includes productions for SBS, KBS, MBC, tvN, XTM, Mnet, TV Chosun; etc.
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