“Don’t forget to find us at 7 pm,” runs the widely recognized advertising slogan making waves in the Arab world as Lebanon’s MTV channel seeks to topple the domination of foreign soap operas with a new batch of homemade dramas.
Over the past few years, Arabic television has witnessed a foreign invasion, with a number of expensive and flashy Turkish and Latin American soap operas being dubbed into Arabic and broadcast widely across the region. These television dramas, dubbed into the Lebanese dialect of Arabic and usually broadcast on a daily basis, have found huge popularity across the Arab world, but now Lebanon’s television industry is hitting back.
MTV has produced Khtarab El-Hay (Neighborhood Breakdown) which is being broadcast at 7 pm five days a week. The series looks at the trials and tribulations of a group of Lebanese families living in the same neighborhood and is part of a wider MTV campaign to promote homegrown series.
MTV Lebanon Head of Programming Christian Gemayel told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This is a bold and unique step. Nobody in the Lebanese television industry has tried this before, while the process of producing a similar quality show [to the dubbed series] is expensive and time consuming.”
“We would not have taken up this challenge if we did not think we were up to it, and we have doubled the number of viewers between episode 1 and episode 14. We expect this number to continue to increase, particularly when you consider that we have a 180-episode run,” he added.
MTV has chosen to broadcast Khtarab El-Hay at the earlier time of 7 pm, a time slot that had been the near-exclusive domain of dubbed soap operas, whether second-tier South American telenovelas or re-runs of former primetime mainstays. But the homegrown Lebanese drama, telling the everyday story of Lebanese families, has attracted huge audiences, particularly from housewives and students just coming home from school.
The stories told in Khtarab El-Hay stand in sharp contrast to the foreign-language soaps. One of the most popular Arabic soap operas in the Arab world over the past few years has been Harem Al-Sultan (The Sultan’s Harem), more commonly known in English as The Magnificent Century. It is a soap based on the life of Ottoman Caliph Suleiman the Magnificent and Roxelana, the slave girl who became empress. But however attractive the set design or alluring the court intrigue, Arab audiences find little that is relevant to their lives in such dramas.
Even foreign soap operas set in contemporary times fail to meet this criterion. Gümüs or Nour, as it was known in Arabic—also met with widespread popularity across the Arab world. But because the show is set in Turkey’s more liberal society, characters are seen drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital relationships, which is outside the experience of most Arab viewers.
Khtarab El-Hay‘s major plot points focus on the more ordinary aspects of life in Lebanon: passing exams, getting married, or going out with friends. Christian Gemayel told Asharq Al-Awsat that the show is an explicit attempt to topple the domination of Turkish-language soaps. He said: “We say this frankly. That is our goal, and I believe that the rest of [Arabic-language] television will follow our path in the future. But we are the ones who are leading the way.”
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