Turkey's Star TV recently aired the first episode of Med Cezir, a remake of the American drama The O.C. that it's making in partnership with Warner Bros. International Television Production. The O.C. is a great choice for such an adaptation because Turkish viewers tend to favor tragedy over comedy, and social conflict over farce. The series' likely success could give Warner Bros. access to a large Middle Eastern audience, while giving that audience a way to escape the turbulence of their everyday lives.
Turkish dramas are immensely popular in the Middle East, as well as in the Balkans and southeastern Europe. Millions of people tune in to watch series like Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki (As Time Goes By), which is set in 1960s Istanbul, or Muhtesem Yüzyil (Magnificent Century), a show based on the life of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, or the overwhelmingly popular Gumus (Silver), which follows the life of a young woman who marries into a wealthy Turkish family. The latter was initially unsuccessful in Turkey, but has become a mega-hit in countries from Slovenia to Pakistan. The shows lean heavily on melodrama; they often involve one or two deaths per episode, marital affairs, murder, devastation, and tears. They cost up to $100,000 per episode to produce, but Turkish production companies are guaranteed their money back when they sell their copyright to broadcasting companies in Turkey and elsewhere. The large budget is used to hire well-known actors, purchase extravagant costumes, and film episodes in exotic locations, wowing the largely female audience. Put simply, these shows are a combination of the a soap like All My Children with the budget, star power, and production value of shows like Grey's Anatomy or Scandal. So we can rest assured that Med Cezir’s unbelievably tragic characters are in safe hands.
Med Cezir is noteworthy because it is the first Turkish adaptation of a U.S. series. It will not be an exact retelling of the lives of the wealthy in Newport Beach, California, but the show offers a similar structure, and initial story line will be identical to that of the original O.C.: a delinquent teenager moves to a wealthy community, and changes people's lives forever. Med Cezir refers to the seaside town in Turkey where the main characters live, although it has been translated to Tide for English-speaking audiences. The show’s Western roots and local production should guarantee its popularity (Star TV's heavy promotion on Instagram and Twitter won't hurt, either), while bringing substantial revenue to Warner Bros.
After episodes air in Turkey, they are dubbed in Urdu, Arabic, and numerous other languages by local production companies, and broadcast on channels such as MBC in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, CBC in Egypt, and Tolo TV in Afghanistan. Demand for Turkish soaps continues to grow, and their popularity has even improved Turkey's reputation in neighboring countries. The soaps provide a look into and glamorization of Turkish contemporary culture, in the same way shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl fetishized Orange County, California, and New York City, respectively. To many viewers in neighboring states, these shows represent Turkey and Turkish policy. This summer, Egyptian TV channels, led by the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate and the Egyptian Creativity Front, launched a boycott on some Turkish dramas to protest Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks regarding former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's quick removal from power.
The current turbulence in the Middle East has only attracted more viewers to Turkish melodramas. My experience in Amman, Jordan, where many Syrians, Iraqis, and Palestinians have relocated, has been that families would rather watch a new episode of As Time Goes By than listen to more devastating news about their homeland. A Turkish adaptation of The O.C. will provide another opportunity to ignore reality, even just for two hours. It is unlikely that Med Cezir will play any part in improving the United States’ relationship with countries in the region, but it could bring about a new era of adaptations of American shows for Middle Eastern audiences.