Comedians Welcomed for Industry Rejuvenation Amid Matsumoto Hitoshi Shock | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Comedians Welcomed for Industry Rejuvenation Amid Matsumoto Hitoshi Shock

The staff saw it! Behind the Scenes of Weekly TV

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Matsumoto has seven regular programs. Although some of the names have been changed, none of the programs have experienced a significant drop in viewer ratings, and in some cases, the numbers have even improved.

On March 28, the first hearing will be held in the defamation lawsuit filed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, 60, against Bungei Shunju, publisher of the weekly magazine “Bungei Bunshun,” which reported allegations of sexual assault, and others, in which he is seeking 550 million yen in damages.

“Speed ​​Wagon member Kazutaka Ozawa (50), who was reported to have arranged women for Matsumoto, has also been forced to suspend his activities. If, as reported by Bunshun, the system of providing women to veteran comedians like Matsumoto has been institutionalized, it is unavoidable that they will come under intense scrutiny from society. To avoid risks, the television industry and sponsors are said to be promoting leaving Yoshimoto,” according to an advertising agency source.

However, a key network producer asserts that only a few comedians will be affected.

“Because there are many popular comedians with high name recognition, no program can be successful without Yoshimoto comedians on any network. It is unthinkable for comedians affiliated with Yoshimoto, even those with high likability like Akira Kawashima (45) from ‘Kirin,’ to be blacklisted just because they are associated with Yoshimoto. If there is any impact, it would be limited to younger comedians who were close to Matsumoto or those with a bad reputation for their relationships with women.”

Matsumoto suspended his activities to focus on the lawsuit, but there are voices of welcome in some parts of the television industry.

“It’s a fact that Matsumoto has had a tremendous influence on the comedy world, but it’s becoming clear that just the name ‘Matsumoto Hitoshi’ alone isn’t enough to pull in viewers anymore. Some programs with high talent fees and mismatched ratings may want to end them now… that’s the real sentiment within the networks. With the push to cut ties with veteran comedians involved in Matsumoto’s sexual misconduct scandal, there’s also a movement to shift towards clean and reasonably-priced mid-level comedians. Yoshimoto’s rival agencies see this as an opportunity, and indeed, comedians like ‘Harai-chi’ are being heavily promoted,” says a production company director.

According to a television writer, “it looks like the program staff will also see rejuvenation.”

“Freelance producers and television writers who were getting work just because they were liked by Downtown may be swept away by this incident. It’s a plus for the industry when talented young staff get opportunities,” they add.

Regarding this sexual misconduct scandal, the same production company director says, “there has been an increase in ‘off-limits’ topics.”

“The once staple womanizing jokes by comedians are now off-limits until the scandal settles. Even the luxurious suites at high-end hotels, which Matsumoto and others used for drinking parties, are off-limits for a while due to the reminder of the scandal,” they explain.

The staff of variety shows featuring comedians who lived extravagantly like Matsumoto, now in their 50s, are reportedly feeling nervous about when old stories might resurface.

“Local variety shows in Nagoya are being viewed as risky. Despite being a major city, the media’s attention doesn’t reach there as easily, and there are quite a few comedians who have been living large. There’s more than one comedian trembling at the thought of ‘if Nagoya’s attending comedians start talking, I’m done.’ The Matsumoto incident happened nearly 10 years ago. ‘It’s an old story’ won’t be an excuse anymore,” concludes the television writer.

The days when program staff can sleep soundly seem distant for now.

From the March 15, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Yasuko Sakaguchi

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