Monday, September 1, 2008

Arab TV Series During Ramadan

Today while fasting on the first day of this year’s Ramadan, I noticed a female colleague of mine who was enquiring about the timing of the TV Arab serials, Bab il Hara 3 and Freej. This is what Ramadan is about for a lot of people. Most of the time, it takes me a couple of days before I settle on my own TV series to regularly watch and sometimes it is vastly different than the most common one.

For my non-Arab audience, I need to give a little bit of background. Besides the spiritual element of Ramadan, it is a time for the Arab TV channels and producers to showcase themselves. The family gathering around the TV after breaking their fast and staying up late in the night is a common phenomenon. Thus, many channels and media houses salivate over the opportunity to target all Arabs from the ages of 15 to 60 male and female at the same time.

During the initial beginning, it was Noor El Shareef’s Al Haj Mutwali that grabbed the spotlight. In it, he married 4 times with each different wife having a different personality and they lived in the same building, thus making their interaction lively and interesting. Other social themes were expressed within it and its ramifications were tremendous (talk shows, family discussions, etc…).

Last year, it was the Syrian series Bab Il Hara which received the kudos. It glamorized the traditional conservative theme of masculinity and honor. I wonder which TV series will emerge as the champion of Ramadan 2008 especially as Bab Il Hara will have the 3rd edition while there will be a historical series about the tribe of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace Be Upon Him); Bani Hashim.

I can understand why a lot of TV channels try and purchase the top Ramadan series and have exclusive rights to it. However, I do believe that it has been taken a little bit too far. There are so many choices for people now that it would take a person staying up 18 hours per day just to stay on top of all of the series. It has been taken a step too far. Each Arab TV channel tries to compete in all the segments including cartoon animation (after the success of Freej in the UAE), general entertainment (similar to Bab il Hara), historical serials, and Bedouin series.

Two problems emerge; 1) there are way too many choices for a person to choose so they either have to spend Ramadan watching TV and forgetting about the spiritual meaning of getting closer to God via worship, and 2) when a format works, then it get blindly replicated by TV channels. For example, The first Freej was excellent, but Freej 2 was OK. Will Freej 3 boom or bust? Bab il Hara won hands down last year, but there are other competitors now who have just changed the setting from middle-class shop owners in a Damascus neighborhood to fishermen on a coastal city. Is this really innovation or imitation? Will it work or not?

Time will only tell. Have a good time viewing!

No comments: