For those of you who don't know Gummimochi is the recap writer for Running Man over at Dramabeans & lets just say she's an expert.
Gummimochi :: Ha! If hours of watching variety = expert. The thing with a lot of variety shows in general, is that for most of them, you can jump right in (with a lot of talk shows) but don't expect them to explain the premise like they do in American shows. Then there are others which I'd highly suggest watching from the beginning (like Running Man, 1N2D, and certain couples of WGM) so you know how the relationships have evolved and get the nuances in their interactions. But many people have enjoyed just dropping in on certain episodes and finding it just as fun!
Q: What's the basic set up for Running Man? From what I read online I'm thinking a show along the lines of Fear Factor (maybe not that extreme) or The Amazing Race (tho not as long)?
Gummimochi :: Running Man at present, is very different than what it started as, but the basic premise is the same: set up your teams, give them missions and games to work at, and receive a Running Ball or a prize. In the beginning, the staff stuck to the skeletal format of this setup and invited celebrity guests. When it gained a foothold over some time, they swapped some games (like Hide-and-Seek, and Tea Time) and introduced "specials" or themes. They took notice of its huge international fanbase and also sent them abroad several times (like Thailand, or quite recently, Hong Kong). There was some outcry from fans who said that Running Man mirrors 1N2D (1 Night 2 Days), but I think that the format has changed so much by now, that Running Man can stand on its own two feet.
Is it always just guys that do the missions/games?
Gummimochi :: Do you mean if they are the "heroes"/ "spies" of the week? If so, then definitely not! You've got Song Ji-hyo as a regular cast member. She's commonly known as the "Ace" - she's totally awesome whenever she has to deceive her other cast members or complete a mission. She's the strategist, just as quick as her male counterparts, and knows when to turn on her charm. There are certain members who have been the "spies" more than once, and it's usually Yoo Jae-suk, Kim Jong-kook, and Haha (and the consequence of this is that the others get very suspicious of them).
If you mean if it's just guys who participate in the missions/games, then I'd say no to that too - everyone, including the guests participate in the missions!
Who is Running Man's target audience? Men/Women? Young/Old?
Gummimochi :: Running Man's target audience would probably range within the teens to the adult generation, although there are both kids and older adults alike who also enjoy and know of Running Man. The reason for this is the casts' age (I believe most of the younger generation know of these celebrities more than the older population, apart from Yoo Jae-suk, who everyone knows) and because the games are constantly changing, I think that appeals to a younger demographic. I also think that it appeals to both men and women alike (although I believe the SNSD special probably drew in a bigger fanboy audience).
If I wanted to start watching where would you recommend I start? At the very beginning? Or just pick it up with the current episode?
Gummimochi :: I don't think it really matters when you start watching Running Man, which is the beauty of it. If you'd like to start in the beginning, I would personally recommend watching from Episode 2, because the pilot episode was both long (2 hours) and quite confusing. This is the episode where they tried out a basic format and it stayed the same for some time before they incorporated new elements - so starting here will help them get used to the show, and know our cast members in depth. There are, however, many people who just pick up random episodes or watch the most current one, because it seemed hilarious!
Any other key things to know about Running Man?
Gummimochi :: The cast members have adopted a pseudo-persona and nicknames, which can be confusing for someone who's just starting out on Running Man. For instance, why is Ji Suk-jin referred to as "Big Nose Hyung"? The easy answer is that Suk-jin has a large schnoz. Others, like the Monday Couple (Gary and Ji-hyo), aren't so obvious. The answer to that is because Running Man commonly shoots on Mondays, and this loveline/pairing was semi-created early in the show when they first joked around they were only a couple whenever Running Man shoots. I've got a list of Running Man Nicknames on my wordpress, so you can refer to that for more info.
Hope these helped - enjoy your Running Man experience! You can always read current Running Man recaps over at Dramabeans every Sunday :)