Turkish television dramas (Turkish: televizyon dizileri) are wildly popular in Turkey and are among the country’s most vital exports, both in terms of profit and public relations. The television drama industry has played a pivotal role in enhancing Turkey's popularity in 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 dramas feature relatively high production values, with 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 TV, Star TV, and ATV. 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. This explains the high-quality of its products, and consequently 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.
The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has publicly attacked the series Muhteşem Yüzyıl over its portrayal of the life of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The show nonetheless proved popular in both Turkey and the Middle East, being broadcast in 43 countries and watched by 200 million people.
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 has emerged as a social phenomenon attracting the attention of commentators.
Balkans and South Eastern Europe
Turkish TV shows are widely successful all over the Balkan Region. The most watched show in Bosnia and Herzegovina was “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 third according to data by Index Kosova. In Serbia, research from January 2013 indicates that the top two Turkish shows in TV were “Magnificent Century,” which ranked fourth, and “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki (As Time Goes By),” which came seventh. Serbian sociologist Ratko Bozovic 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 Yaradir" ("Memories Still Hurt”) also ranked in the top 15. In fact, Turkish shows are so successful in Macedonia, that the government 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 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 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, 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", “Eshq al Mamnou (Forbidden Love)”, Shamim Ishq and Nek wa bad. 
The Soap operas have had a refreshing effect on Afghans who have very limited domestic television programming. A look at life through a different ethnicity has really opened the eyes of many Afghans and is helping the country modernize from harmful traditions such as stoning to death and wife beating. Watching Turkish women act freely has really made Afghan women fight for their freedoms and seeing women with freedom on TV has generalized this viewpoint.
Soap Operas are not going to change a culture that holds fast onto their old age beliefs but its a good start.
Turkish series are also popular in Pakistan. Aşk-ı Memnu, which aired on the television channel Urdu 1, has topped ratings. The spread of Turkish series was met by controversy: Pakistan’s entertainment industry complained that the airing of Turkish and other foreign soaps is diverting funding from local productions. A Senate committee that oversees information and broadcasting has condemned such shows for their "vulgar content".
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