'Green Light': Arab Reality TV for Islamic Charity

Green Light, a reality television show produced in Dubai, aims to highlight Islamic values. The program features four young Arabs who attempt to do good deeds, one of the cornerstones of the Islamic faith, with no money and a limited amount of time. The show has earned a loyal following in Arab communities throughout the world.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, there's a new CD out from the British band Morcheeba, and if you haven't heard of them, let me just tell you they are so hip they don't even care what you think about this new piece.

Mr. ROSS GODFREY (Morcheeba): If we worry about what people think, then we're never going to do anything different than when we started, you know. And we were very experimental when we started, so if we'd have listened to people's advice, we never would have got anywhere in the first place.

CHADWICK: The British band Morcheeba; more from them in a moment.

First, you know that Muslim cultures complain about the trashy values of Western media. Nonetheless, reality TV has become a big hit in the Arab world. Here's NPR's Eric Weiner with a story of one innovative show produced in Dubai for Arab viewers.

ERIC WEINER reporting:

It's called "Green Light," and it's different from your typical American reality TV. No one is voted off of "Green Light" or fired or publicly humiliated. No, "Green Light" is what you might call do-gooders TV.

(Soundbite of "Green Light")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) There's something evolving.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

WEINER: Four contestants, two men and two women, try to do a bit of good in the world, the Arab world. They identify a problem and then try to solve it, in five days, with zero budget. All of this takes place in the Middle Eastern city Dubai, better known for its lavish shopping malls than its philanthropic spirit. One of the contestants, 24-year-old Abdel Raman Sharif(ph), is from Saudi Arabia.

Mr. ABDEL RAMAN SHARIF ("Green Light" Contestant): I feel lucky and that sometimes I feel scared because you have challenge, you know. You're feeling--inside, inside you say to yourself `I can do it, I can do it.' But you don't know; you're scared.

WEINER: Sharif explains how for the past 12 weeks he and his fellow contestants have managed to ship school supplies to Iraqi children, collect leftover food in Dubai and help a stranded Moroccan woman named Rashida(ph) find a job. Abdel Amata(ph), another contestant, is from the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. ABDEL AMATA ("Green Light" Contestant): She was basically with no shelter, no food, no clothes, no nothing. And she's basically left in the street and she called us, and we have to secure Rashida a future.

WEINER: The "Green Light" contestants use wasta, connections, and more than a little persuasion to get the job done. Here they are trying to convince a computer company to donate 15 PCs to a school for deaf children.

(Soundbite of "Green Light")

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

WEINER: All of this happens without all of the usual manufactured drama common to American reality TV. Fayrude Sithal(ph) is "Green Light's" executive producer.

Ms. FAYRUDE SITHAL ("Green Light's" Executive Producer): We don't have to cry. We don't have to do a slow motion. And it's just positive energy.

WEINER: There is just one problem with positive energy. It's boring, or at least more boring than negative energy. And on "Green Light," there are no late-night liaisons among contestants, no kissing, not even the occasional flirtation. That sort of thing led to the recent cancellation of the Arab version of "Big Brother." Abdel Amata says what's acceptable on American reality TV simply won't fly in the Middle East.

Mr. AMATA: I used to watch "The Osbournes" on MTV, and it's very different. It's very different.

Unidentified Man #4: It's very different, yeah.

Mr. AMATA: And they swear a lot.

WEINER: Instead, "Green Light" producers try to create drama through the pressure of a deadline: Can they complete the good deed before the week is over?

(Soundbite of "Green Light")

Unidentified Man #5: (Foreign language spoken)

WEINER: On this day, the Green Lighters are organizing a concert given by a group of Palestinian musicians. Again, they've only had five days to pull this off, and a few hours before the curtain goes up, some of the contestants are clearly nervous. I asked Fayrude about this.

Abdel was concerned that one company bought about half the tickets and people may not show up.

Ms. SITHALL: No, it's not true. He's one of those people who's tense all the time, but no, people are coming. I think we're gonna have lots of audience.

WEINER: There is a last-minute snag at a security check.

Unidentified Woman #2: What is not allowed? This is all clothes.

Unidentified Man #6: (Foreign language spoken)

WEINER: But sure enough, the seats are full and the concert is a success.

(Soundbite of music; applause)

WEINER: But they don't get credit for that. "Green Light" contestants are not famous. The show has only modest ratings. But this is television, after all, and the promise of fame is never far away. Here are two Jordanian contestants, Yasmine Bazian(ph) and Aya Mallah(ph).

Unidentified Woman #3: If I was working in a normal job, I would need 10 years to get this kind of experience, you know.

WEINER: But are you famous now in the Arab world?

Unidentified Woman #3: We're not.

Unidentified Woman #4: Not yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WEINER: Hmm. Perhaps Arab and American reality TV are not so different after all. Eric Weiner, NPR News.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY continues in a moment.

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