Turkish television dramas (Turkish: televizyon dizileri) are wildly popular both in Turkey and internationally, and place among the country's most well known economic and cultural exports. The television drama industry has played a pivotal role in increasing Turkey's popularity in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran and the Arab world. In a survey carried out in 16 Middle Eastern countries by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, three out of four of those surveyed said they had seen a Turkish television series. Turkish television shows are almost always available in multiple languages, dubbed or subtitled to fit the target country's language. The success of soap operas has boosted tourism as well, as visitors are keen to see the locations used for their favourite shows. The Turkish soap opera's immense international popularity has been widely commented on as a social phenomenon.
Turkish dramas feature relatively high production values, with average production costs of nearly $100,000 per hour for high quality series, compared to $35,000 to $40,000 for Arab productions. Since 2001, 65 Turkish television series have been sold abroad, bringing in over $50 million to the booming Turkish television industry. In 2012, Turkish soap opera exports were worth $130 million, up from just $1 million in 2007. Turkish series are mostly produced in Istanbul, as television companies chose to settle there after the wave of liberalization for private television in the 1990s.
Turkish television channels producing drama series include TRT, Kanal D, SHOW, STAR, ATV, FOX, tv8, Samanyolu and Kanal 7. The Turkish drama market is marked by stiff local competition: out of the 60 dramas produced every year in the country, almost 50% don't run for longer than 6 episodes due to the strong competition among the different local channels, resulting in the high-quality of the productions and contributing to their popularity. Some Turkish dramas are more appealing to women, while some action series attract male audiences, which helps attract different types of advertisers for different viewerships. Some series have political overtones, including Ayrılık, which depicts the daily life of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation. Despite this, Islamic conservatives in many Middle Eastern countries have condemned Turkish series as "vulgar" and "heretical" to Islam.
The conservative Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly attacked the series Muhteşem Yüzyıl, one of the most popular Turkish television dramas, over its portrayal of the life of Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The show has nonetheless proved to be highly popular both in Turkey and internationally, being broadcast in 43 countries and watched by over 200 million people.
Balkans and Southeastern Europe
Turkish TV shows are widely successful all over the Balkan Region. The most watched show in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century). In Kosovo, the most popular TV shows in December 2012 were Fatmagül'ün Suçu Ne? (What is Fatmagül's Fault?), which ranked top of all programmes and Aşk ve Ceza (Love and Punishment), which came in third according to data by Index Kosova. In Serbia, research from January 2013 indicates that the top two Turkish shows in TV were Muhteşem Yüzyıl, which ranked fourth, and Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki (As Time Goes By), which came in seventh. Serbian sociologist Ratko Božović explains this popularity by pointing at the traditional, patriarchal values of the Turkish shows, and the many cultural and linguistic similarities between Turkey and the Balkan countries: “The mentality depicted in those shows has to do with a traditional understanding of morality that people in Serbia remember at some level". According to him, all Balkan countries have seen dramatic changes in terms of family life, and the Turkish shows help them recall value systems that now seem lost.
In Macedonia, of nine Turkish shows on air, five were ranked in January 2013 among the top 15 in terms of viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki (As Time Goes By) and Asi came first and second in terms of viewers. Zavet (Pledge), Annem (Mother), and Mazi Kalbimde Yaradır (Memories Still Hurt) also ranked in the top 15. In fact, Turkish shows are so successful in Macedonia that the government has passed a bill to restrict broadcasts of Turkish series during the day and at prime time in order to reduce the Turkish impact on Macedonian society.
They are also widely watched by Bulgarian viewers. Nova Televizia broke the record for viewer numbers when it started broadcasting the Turkish soap opera Binbir Gece. The channel then decided to broadcast another Turkish show, Dudaktan Kalbe.
The series Binbir Gece (One Thousand and One Nights) became a primetime hit in Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia, as well as in Romania, Albania and Greece. It has increased the popularity of Istanbul as a tourist destination among Croatians, and led to a greater interest in learning Turkish.
Turkish soap operas are also popular in Greece. The Greek orthodox Bishop Anthimos has criticised Greek fans of Turkish soap operas. Yabancı Damat (The Foreign Bridesgroom) was one of the first Turkish series to become popular in Greece.
Turkish soap operas began to rise in popularity across the Arab world in 2008, when Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim began buying up Turkish dramas for his Middle East Broadcasting Center. Instead of dubbing the shows in classical Arabic, they were rendered in Syrian Arabic, a dialectal variant readily understood by ordinary viewers across the Middle East.
Led by Gümüş (known as Noor in the Arab market), a wave of Turkish melodramas made their way onto Arab televisions, wielding a kind of soft power. The show violated the local conservative cultural norms, showing some Muslim characters drinking wine with dinner and engaging in premarital sex. The Arabic-dubbed finale of the Turkish soap opera Gümüş (Silver), aired on August 30, 2008, was watched by 85 million viewers. In 2008, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh issued a fatwa against channels that broadcast Gümüş, saying anyone who broadcast it was "an enemy of God and his Prophet".
Turkish soap operas have become very popular in Afghanistan, ratings going higher than the traditional Indian Soap operas/Dramas that Afghans watched. TOLO, a TV station in Afghanistan, dubs Turkish shows such as Fatmagül'ün Suçu Ne? (What is Fatmagül's Fault?), Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki (As Time Goes By), Beni Affet (Forgive Me), Effet, and Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love).
Turkish series are also popular in Pakistan. Aşk-ı Memnu, which aired on the television channel Urdu 1, has topped ratings. The second most popular series is Adını Feriha Koydum (I named her Fariha) that aired on the same channel, the third best television series is Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century). The popularity of the Turkish serials was met by controversy: Pakistan's entertainment industry complained that the airing of Turkish and other foreign soaps diverts funding from local productions. Furthermore, religious conservatives in Pakistan have denounced the allegedly un-Islamic nature of the shows. A Senate committee that oversees information and broadcasting has condemned such shows for their allegedly "vulgar content" and contrary to the Pakistan's Muslim traditions. It was also reported that TV series Aşk-ı Memnu, and Adını Feriha Koydum Have aired once again after its ending due to immense popularity and major demands
An episode of a popular Turkish television drama from the 2010s is usually between 90 and 120 minutes in length (excluding advertisements), which is much longer than a typical episode of an American or Western European series. However, when shown in the Balkans and southeastern Europe, Turkish series are mostly cut into episodes not exceeding 60 minutes.
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