Turkish TV Travels Far As Craze For Dramas Goes Global The Turkish television industry is booming. Audience numbers spike at the end of Ramadan, when viewers around the world tune in in massive numbers — but there's year-round enthusiasm, too.

Turkish TV Travels Far As Craze For Dramas Goes Global

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The television industry in Turkey is booming. The country produces popular religious programs, but it's their high production value dramas and soap operas that Middle Eastern audiences really love. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports that viewer numbers spike at this religiously significant time of year.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Muslims around the world turn to Turkish television while fasting for Ramadan, says Pinar Tremblay, a columnist for the online newspaper al-monitor.com.

PINAR TREMBLAY: During sunset, everybody sits around the dinner table waiting. Everybody turns on the television. It is the captive audience. Ratings go up. The ratings are very high during Ramadan.


DEL BARCO: Throughout the holy month, Turkish TV features special programming.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

DEL BARCO: Live prime time talk shows like this feature hosts answering questions from viewers, says Tremblay.

TREMBLAY: Some of them turn it into a sort of a "Jerry Springer" in a different way, you know. People ask questions like, oh, I slept with my brother-in-law. Well, what do I need to do now? If I chew gum, would my fast be affected?

DEL BARCO: Cooking shows, music programs and kids' shows are also very popular. But throughout the year, it's the secular Turkish dramas that stand out.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Foreign language spoken).

DEL BARCO: One of this summer's hits is a typical soap opera about forbidden love. Another current drama depicts the founding of the Ottoman Empire. Selin Arat directs international operations at Tims Productions, responsible for some of Turkey's most successful TV series.

SELIN ARAT: Here, your show can get canceled after three or four episodes if it's not getting the ratings that it's supposed to get. So it's very competitive.

DEL BARCO: Arat says the boom began about 10 years ago, when Turkish studios like hers began making dramas with high production values.

ARAT: Now Turkey is the second exporter of TV series in the world, after the U.S. So that's a big deal. And being able to sell to 60 or 70 countries is a huge success.

DEL BARCO: Iranian-American businesswoman Goli Ameri, who's served as a diplomat, says the Turkish dramas are popular throughout the Middle East.

GOLI AMERI: Because these sort of show that you can be Muslim but, at the same time, modern. And, you know, Turks basically look like everyone.

DEL BARCO: Ameri points to one recent Turkish series that captivated viewers on both sides of the Gaza Strip.

AMERI: At 3 or 4 p.m., when the series was running, the fighting would stop. And people would watch the series. I mean, it had sort of that kind of an impact.

DEL BARCO: The craze for Turkish TV dramas has spread to Latin America, where telenovelas rule. In the U.S., they proved extremely popular on Mundo Fox, which is airing the highly rated series, "Magnificent Century," also set during the Ottoman Empire.


DEL BARCO: The big-budget series with lavish costumes and sets was compared to the "Game Of Thrones" series. It was sold from Tims Productions to 60 countries and boasted more than 200 million viewers. The series was directed by Durul Taylan and his brother Yagmur. They have been described as the Turkish Coen Brothers.

DURUL TAYLAN: The writer of the show, Meral Okay, told the story totally from the perspective of the slaves.

DEL BARCO: "Magnificent Century" ended last year and has inspired imitators and spinoffs. Now the Taylan brothers, who split their time between Istanbul and Malibu, are working on a feature film in the U.S. and a television drama about Turkey's TV industry. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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