Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

TV Dramas Should Be Watched When They Are First Aired

Aki Isoyama
(Drama Producer, 〔TV Production Division〕 Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. [TBS])

New Appreciation for What I Learned at Sophia's Department of Journalism

Aki Isoyama  Drama Producer,〔TV Production Division〕 Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. [TBS]

In high school, I won an award for a manga I created. I belonged to the Art Club at the school, and I thought I wanted to be an artist. But, even though I was young, I was concerned about security [laughs] and sought stability. I decided to enter a regular university rather than go freelance or attend an art university.

My grades in high school were not bad so I was able to apply to Sophia under the recommendation–based entrance exam system. I thought I was not suited to a "serious" field, like law or economics, so I studied at the Department of Journalism because I had the sense somehow that it would be interesting. At that time, though, I did not have mass media or television work in mind in particular.

Sophia is a cozy community, and I used to run into my friends all the time on campus. I think it was also good for me that Sophia had a spiritual grounding in Christianity as both my junior and senior high schools were Christian mission schools.

Television Production is the Sophia course that left the strongest impression on me. There was this equipment that was really hard for newbies to use [laughs], and each small group was to create about three videos, including a short one, like a commercial. I wrote the outline for the videos, and I remember getting angry with my group members and telling them to "do things properly!" Looking back on it now, I think the pieces we created were not interesting at all [laughs]!

In the other journalism courses, I felt dumbstruck, as if I were listening to someone describe some faraway world. Even after I had joined TBS, things did not really make sense. It is only recently that I have finally started to have a real understanding of what I had been taught in courses like Compliance or Human Behavior & Mass Media.

Even at the same TV station, the various departments have different characters. The Drama Production Department where I work differs substantially in business culture and spirit from the News Division , which is closer to the main focus of Sophia's Department of Journalism. And, in the days when I joined TBS, the TV station or whoever was releasing the news or information had the power. At that time, less emphasis was placed on the opinions and reactions of viewers than is today.

Nowadays there is immediately a buzz at the station if we get lots of critical feedback about a program. As a producer, I now attend meetings on how the station should respond to such feedback. Television stations have changed, and I, too, have changed. I can apply what I learned at Sophia now.

Many Sophia students are individualists or lone wolves by nature. I think that suited me. Even if we enter the working world, we do not flock together. Although Sophia is a great university with a fine reputation and we are proud to have graduated from it, we are not interested in wearing our academic background on our back. What's the big deal? we think. I like that about the university, but it might be rather unusual, come to think of it.

Chemistry with Kankuro Kudo?Something Not Captured in the Ratings

Aki Isoyama  Drama Producer,〔TV Production Division〕 Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. [TBS]

After entering university, I stopped creating manga. I seem to be the type who has to be dissatisfied with real life to do manga [laughs]! I started to create manga once again (Wanna Be a Producer, Kodansha, 2004), though, soon after joining TBS because my work as an assistant director was so tough. I had the idea that I could use the excuse of becoming a manga artist to quit the company [laughs]!

In the end, I did become a producer after overcoming many trials thanks to manga and other things. A producer has three main tasks: to get the airtime and budget through good planning, to put together the team-–the screenwriter, cast, and staff-–and to create the script.

Japan actually has way too few actors who can play lead roles, and all the television stations fight over them. In addition, the actors think about which program to take until right up to the wire. We have no choice but to move forward with just an 80 percent commitment from the potential lead. This causes me a lot of distress.

I put a lot of emphasis on the personality mix of the cast and staff. We will all essentially be living together for about four months so this means we need to have a fun group that gets along well.

Unlike what people outside the industry might imagine, outrageous incidents of the kind that used to make the showbiz headlines are rare today. I still often hear various legends about the types of things that used to happen, but I have never seen such things myself [laughs].

Kankuro Kudo has been the screenwriter for more than half of the dramas that I have produced. I work well with him; we have good chemistry.

He does not create bad guys just to make the protagonist stand out. He writes with compassion for each character he creates. Underlying that is Kudo's belief that each person is lovable for the way the personal truth that they live by has been twisted and distorted by life. I think that is why his dramas are so real and so deep.

Kudo's screenplays contain a lot information and instructions. You cannot fully appreciate his programs by just listening to the cast's lines. In fact, there are viewers who watch the programs on teletext broadcast in order to get the most out of them. Some things can only be understood after watching them again when they are re-aired or sold on DVD.

Kisarazu Cat's Eye did not have very good ratings when it was a weekly TV series even though we received positive feedback. If DVDs had not been released and if the films produced after the TV series had not been hits, I would not be a producer now.

Things changed greatly for us once we had confirmation that the sense that Kudo and I had that we were creating something special was not just wishful thinking. Kisarazu Cat's Eye was a special piece for us professionally.

That having been said, it is really hard when the ratings do not improve [laughs]!

The Difficulty of Creating Dramas That Manipulate Viewers' Emotions

Aki Isoyama  Drama Producer,〔TV Production Division〕 Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. [TBS]

Now that we are in the Internet era, we can receive viewers' responses immediately. If a certain character unexpectedly gains popularity, we can adjust the script and make the program more enjoyable for viewers. This is one of the best parts about producing weekly dramas. They have become easier to create in that respect.

On the other hand, the advancement of technology has brought some challenges, as well. With high-definition television, viewers can now read the titles of the books in a bookcase at the back of the set, for example. This means that we now have to make sure that even the books at the very rear of the set are of a content suitable for the scene.

Of course, the members of the cast, particularly the actresses, are increasingly concerned about how they are shown. Also, with the advancement of computer graphics, we can now correct all kinds of things. Frankly, it would be a tragedy for drama programs if television were to become any more high-resolution [laughs]!

In the case of commercial stations, the production costs for dramas are mainly covered by advertising. A drama, though, is a gamble; you do not really know how it will come out until after you create it. And yet, sponsors put up a huge amount in advertising fees before we produce the program. We, of course, have to value our sponsors.

For this reason as well, I think television dramas should be created with priority on terrestrial broadcast that is easy for everyone to access. This applies even in this era where media has diversified, and programs can be watched on DVD or Internet streaming. We have to think about what kind of added value to offer so that people watch the drama when it is first aired and the ratings go up. This is task number one for me.

Also, dramas intentionally try to move viewers emotionally. This means there is a kind of risk in creating dramas: There is a chance we will end up increasing people's anger or sorrow.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park had some violent scenes. In 2000 when the program was on TV, we received a telephone call from a viewer asking what we were going to do if the program had a negative impact on children. At the time, I responded by saying that we cannot communicate to viewers that violence cannot solve problems unless we portray violence. Today, though, there are some things that we cannot put on the air.

Does this mean that we should water everything down? I don't know the answer to that.

I want to produce dramas that leave people feeling uplifted and like they are ready to face tomorrow when they finish watching the drama. I feel a great responsibility here and am thinking about what to do to achieve that and how best to do it.

Aki Isoyama  Drama Producer,〔TV Production Division〕 Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. [TBS]
Aki Isoyama
Drama Producer, 〔TV Production Division〕Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc.

Born in Tokyo, Aki Isoyama joined Tokyo Broadcasting System Television after graduating in 1990 from the Department of Journalism of the Faculty of Humanities at Sophia University. She has produced many television dramas, including Ikebukuro West Gate Park (2000), Kisarazu Cat's Eye (2002), Tiger & Dragon (2005), Public Affairs Office in the Sky (2013), and Regret from My School Days (2014).

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