Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower
During the holy month of Ramadan in Egypt, TV series are one of the main modern customs practiced by families all over the country every year.
Ever since the launch of satellite TV channels, the number of TV series produced for Ramadan have increased exponentially every year. Up until the early 21st century, families gathered in front of television sets to watch the two or three TV series that were produced yearly, starring either Yosra, Laila Elwy, Yehia ElFakharany or even the late Nour El Sherif. The fight between production companies was always over whether their TV series were to be shown at 8 pm on Channel 1 or at 10 pm on Channel 2. Series that secured airing on either of these two channels were the clear winners of the industry.
This limited competition was simple for those who had a big name in Egyptian Hollywood, but as years passed by, the quality of production didn’t keep up with modern technology and saw a decline in viewers who opted for Syrian TV series instead. The lesson was quickly learned and Egyptians shows were back to their best shortly after, in 2013. Producers improved quality and the scripts were more adventurous. Most directors and filmmakers turned to television instead of cinema, which has both a broader audience and larger revenues due to the countless commercials sponsoring productions.
In 2017, the number of TV series in Ramadan produced were over 33. However, some producers and filmmakers thought outside the box and started to produce TV series outside of the month of Ramadan. They wanted to move away from the traffic of series during the holy month and to expand the market, instead of it being only seasonal.
Mohamed Hefzy, an Egyptian screenwriter and producer known for his work in Sheikh Jackson, Hepta and Eshtebak among many other titles, was one of those who thought out of the box, and co-produced two series that has people buzzing all over Egypt’s governorates: “سابع جار” and “انا شهيرة، انا الخائن”. I was able to briefly interview him and below is our Q&A:
Q: You’ve produced TV programs before, but in 2017 you produced your first TV drama series with “سابع جار” and “انا شهيرة، انا الخائن”. What attracted you in making something different?
Hefzy: The step had been on my mind for some time. I co-produced TV series before but this time I took a slightly bigger role. Nonetheless I have to say these two series were aired purely due to the effort and responsibility of Hani Ossama, who was the lead producer on both stories, and who worked with talented directors to make these dramas come to life.
Q: Why did you decide to take the risk of airing these two series even though it wasn’t Ramadan?
H: There is a growing need for out-of-Ramadan drama and CBC was very keen on both projects. MBC was also very interested in airing “انا شهيرة” from the very start. Once we were able to sell, we didn’t hold back on the decision to air the shows. I also believe that if these series had aired in Ramadan they would not have had the same level of success as they did off-season. There is an over saturation of drama series and shows during Ramadan and very high competition for viewers attention.
Q: Does that have to do with the recent limitations and restrictions put on the production of Ramadan TV series in terms of budget and number of shows produced?
H: No that’s not related because the recent restrictions came into place after we began production of both series.
Q: What kind of shows, which genres, do you think would be appealing to a TV audience off Ramadan?
H: I believe very much in the future of TV in the Arab world and that it will bring more diversity not just in genres, but also in airing patterns. So the weekly episodic dramas will soon start to appear on screens, changing viewing habits and raising the bar for quality. All of that will depend on the quality of writing and production.
Q: Would these off season series affect the number of series produced in Ramadan?
H: I believe that the overall number of productions will not rise greatly, but that the quality will improve.
Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower