Is 72 years long enough for this TV tradition?

Every New Year’s Eve, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK airs a musical extravaganza titled Kohaku Uta Gassen, which translates to Red & White Song Battle. This is where two teams whose rosters are filled with top-selling artists both past and present, perform songs while viewers vote for their favorites. The winners don’t really get anything as far as I know, but I guess it’s more about the journey than the destination. In that way, it’s not really so much a competition as it is a showcase of the biggest songs of the year mixed in with some timeless classics.

▼ Judy & Mary performing “Sobakasu” in 1996

However, the 72nd instalment in the competition has run into snags recently. First, there was a lot of talk that the show was struggling because there wasn’t really a definitive hit song of 2021. Also, about a week ago Kohaku announced that they would include a special tribute to anime and video game music for the first time ever with a medley from Evangelion, Dragon Quest, and Demon Slayer.

▼ They were undoubtedly inspired by the success such music had at the Olympic opening ceremony

Prior to that, it was also learned that the show’s hosts would not be divided by gender as they always had been. In Kohaku the white team is made up of male artists and the red team is female and they had always been introduced by a male and female host respectively. This year the gender divide will remain among musicians but the hosts will not be bound by it. The show said that the change was an effort towards move diversity in the program, indicated in part with this year’s theme of “colorful,” implying that everything isn’t just red and white anymore.

However, these changes may prove too little too late if gossip reported by Shukan Bunshun has any weight to it. According to their source, NHK’s president Terunobu Maeda told another executive that he would end Kohaku. Though he’s made no official declaration, the news comes days after NHK Vice President Satoru Masagaki announced a sweeping review of all programs, with an emphasis on long-running shows that they feel have become stale.

▼ To give you a sense of how fresh Kohaku can be at times, here’s the show from 2000 with Donald Duck dressed like a greaser and dancing to a song from 1936

The official plan will be announced next February but it is believed that Gatten!, Variety Sekatsu Shohyakka, and News Fuji 5:00 are on the chopping block. President Maeda is said to have been the driving force of reforms in NHK broadcast ever since he assumed the position in January, 2020. When a reporter asked him specifically about Kohaku, he replied; “I haven’t said it will be stopped this year, but I can’t say what will happen next year. It’s not unusual to re-evaluate any long-running program.”

While Kohaku‘s demise is still far from certain, it does appear to be on shaky ground, and some people couldn’t be happier according to online comments.

“If they do that then I will totally buy a TV and pay the license fee!”
“They should cancel all those crappy dramas too.”
“I agree with ending it. It’s been 72 years and to say it’s in a rut is an understatement.”
“If the Downtown ‘don’t laugh’ specials were ended, then Kohaku should totally end.”
“How about ending NHK, while they’re at it?”
“Music has become too diluted now. There are no more songs that a whole family would know.”
“The whole gender thing is incredibly outdated. Just pick team leaders and hold a draft. That would be way more exciting.”

Granted, netizens like these probably aren’t the core target market for Kohaku anyway, so we probably should take their individual opinions with a grain of salt. Still, that draft idea actually sounds really good, especially if rather than just performing their own music, the teams collaborate more on performances. This would also help solve the problem of diluted music that the other comment brought up by having cross-over acts that could potentially broaden everyone’s musical horizons, young and old.

▼ I’m thinking something along the lines of Marty Friedman and Sayuri Ishikawa

It would also appease the NHK brass who according to their comments, seem intent on phasing out anything that feels stodgy. I have nothing against Kohaku personally, but if I had to come up with an example of a stodgy TV show off the top of my head, that’d probably be it.

Source: @Nifty News, My Game News Flash
Top image: Pakutaso
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