OYA DOĞAN* firstname.lastname@example.org
Türkiye’s top export is not grain, not textiles, not boron! Türkiye’s top export is TV series! Türkiye is the second largest exporter of TV series in the world after America. Broadcast in 150 countries, watched by more than 800 million people and expected to generate export worth $1 billion in 2023 Turkish TV series show that everyone will watch a Turkish TV series one day!
A country that has chosen to be governed as a republic by burying the empire of its past in history… A country that has turned its face to the modern world since the day it was founded and has always tried to integrate with the world…
I am talking about Türkiye, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its foundation this year. I am talking about a country that has a strategic importance between Europe and the Middle East, a country that carries the complexity of being in the middle but can reflect the richness of bridging the worlds apart, in its rich stories…
Türkiye is now taking the world by storm. And it is doing so with soft power; with TV series. From Spain to Tanzania, from Japan to Russia, from Chile to Bangladesh, from Italy to America, from Vietnam to Korea, from Brazil to India, Turkish TV series are broadcast in 150 countries on 6 continents. Did you know that the history of Turkish TV series goes only 49 years back. Today, they enchant and inspire viewers, mobilize women and are banned in some countries for doing so.
Aşk-ı Memnu was the first
The very first TV series appeared in the Turkish small screen was Kaynanalar which started to be broadcast in 1974. One of the very first sit-coms of the world Kaynanalar continued for 32 years! But there was no doubt that drama would be the magic that would take hold of Türkiye and open it up to the global audience.
The first drama of Türkiye, Aşk-ı Memnu was broadcast in 1975. People would clear streets and were glued to the screen during the hours when the drama was broadcast for the series featured characters in love with the forbidden. After all, Aşk-ı Memnu is old Turkish for “forbidden love”. This story dripping with jealousy, intrigue, revenge and wealth was sold to France in 1981. It was the first TV series that Türkiye sold to the world but only a small number of French people could watch it in those years… But 34 years later, when it was remade with different actors, it turned into a phenomenon.
On Thursdays when the series starring Beren Saat and Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ was aired, breaths were held, the streets were silent, and life almost stopped. Everyone was caught up in Bihter and Behlül’s forbidden love and ratings were soaring. The success of Forbidden Love turned the eyes to Turkish television in all around the world. Starting in 2011, it was broadcast in dozens of countries, and then adaptations produced in many countries which bought the royalties. The adaptation of Forbidden Love-Pasion Prohibida was broadcast on the Spanish-language Telemundo in the US, was even nominated for an Emmy in the category of “American Primetime Broadcasts in a Foreign Language”.
Gümüş: Rages through Middle East
Between 1981-2001, no Turkish TV series could be sold to the world. In those years, no one thought that a Turkish TV series would be watched anywhere else. Every project was prepared with the Turkish audience in mind. In 2001, Kazakhstan became a suitor for the series Deli Yürek, starring Kenan İmirzalıoğlu and told the heroic story of Yusuf Miroğlu, who set out to stop terrorism in Türkiye. They bought 113 episodes at 30 dollars per episode. The series was very cheap even at that time, but at some point, it was essential to open the door to a world adventure for Turkish TV series.
Unfortunately, no one opened the door for another seven years up until 2008 when a Turkish series broke a leg. In that year, Gümüş, starring Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Songül Öden, which tells the story of arranged marriage, patriarchal order and the woman who becomes stronger in this system, was sold to the Middle East. Broadcast in Egyptian Arabic, the series did not do well in the ratings at first. Then a broadcaster came up with a completely different idea that turned out to be great. He had Gümüş dubbed into Syrian Arabic and broadcast it.
Turkish TV series’ global journey
That was the beginning of the global journey of Turkish TV series which would spread first to a few countries and then to continents. In all Arabic-speaking countries, Gümüş brought life to a standstill and Gümüş and Mehmet’s tough love had a hypnotic effect on people. Gümüş’s arranged marriage, her platonic love for her husband Mehmet, Mehmet’s still being in love with his dead ex-girlfriend, the oppression of the patriarchal system’s representative grandfather in this marriage, Mehmet’s falling in love with Gümüş, Gümüş’s standing on her own feet, her refusal to submit to Mehmet and her struggle to become an independent individual inspired other women.
When Gümüş, with whom the women of the Arab world identified, asked her husband Mehmet for a divorce, the Middle East was in an uproar. As Muslim women, divorce, which they had not even dared to use in a sentence until that moment, was quite normal in Turkiye, another Muslim country. Women could claim their rights, work, and divorce if they were unhappy in a marriage.
A new era was beginning in the Middle East. Women were now saying “I have a name too”. The number of divorces increased day by day. Of course, this situation caused Turkish TV series to be banned in some countries. But the bans did not stop the audience from watching the series.
Kilometers of long queue for Onur and Şehrazat
Through the door opened by Gümüş, 1001 Nights follows. Şehrazat has to raise $150,000 in a few hours for her sick child’s operation. When she asks her boss Onur for the money, he replies, “I will give you $150,000, but you have to spend the night with me.” Desperate, Şehrazat accepts Onur’s offer and saves her son’s life. But this night takes their lives to very different places. Caught between love and hate, they finally confess their love for each other.
The story took the world by storm. From the Middle East to the Balkans, from America to Africa, the series was broadcast in hundreds of countries. Bergüzar Korel and Halit Ergenç became celebrities all over the world. It created a fan base that queued up for kilometers when they visited the countries where the series was broadcast. It allowed them to appear in commercials in the Middle East and the Balkans.
When the show ended, it started all over again. People couldn’t get enough of watching Şehrazat and Onur. Turkish people had grown up with Brazilian TV series. A few years ago, Turkish television returned the favor and 1001 Nights was also broadcast in Brazil. In Argentina, in response to women’s love for Onur, the music group Los Pugliese even made a song called “We are sick tired of you, Onur” (El Cuarteto de Onur). But there was no escape, this time the Turks conquered Latin America.
Fatmagül: You will never walk alone
Through the door opened by 1001 Nights and Forbidden Love, such a new series entered that it actually exploded Turkish series in Latin America. This story was actually the triumph of an executive’s sense of curiosity!
A Chilean television executive bought a CD from a booth at the MIPCOM fair. The CD contained the Turkish series Fatmagül. Not understanding anything about the series, but liking the production quality and the acting, the executive went to the Turkish Consulate in Chile and asked, “What is this series about?” and had it translated. When he saw that ethical issues were an obstacle to love, balancing intimacy and distance, and the struggle of a woman who had been raped, he bought the rights to the series and began broadcasting it on his channel.
When the series broke ratings records, he set his sights on all Turkish TV series and knocked on producers’ doors. The ratings continue to rise. As other Latin American countries began to take notice, Turkish TV series began to work their magic in South America. Fatmagül is one of the most watched Turkish series in the world. Especially in the last episode, one of the unforgettable scenes of the series was when women’s organizations supported Fatmagül in her trial against her rapists.
Today, Alba, the Spanish adaptation of Fatmagül, which is available on Netflix, has reached 150 million hours of viewing. Because no matter where you go in the world, a woman feels alone when she is raped. Fatmagül’s message to all women is clear: “You will never walk alone.”
Sultan Suleyman conquered 140 countries!
“Make way for His Majesty Sultan Suleyman”. This short line in the first teaser of Magnificient Century in Türkiye would soon be echoed around the world. And indeed it did. Today, Magnificient Century is the most exported Turkish TV series in the world! It has been broadcast in 140 countries. It has topped the ratings in every country.
After its finale was aired in one country, it was restarted in another. It has stopped most of the local productions. Even in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the TV series and film industries demanded a ban on Magnificient Century, claiming that it caused unemployment. The series, starring Halit Ergenç and Meryem Uzerli, faced different reactions in each country on its long journey from Russia to Mexico.
The story of Suleyman the Magnificent, who ruled the world but fell helplessly in love with Hürrem, has swept women off their feet and Hürrem associations have sprung up all over the world. Being “the” woman behind the strong man satisfied millions of women, and Meryem Uzerli was one of the few celebrities that reached such a fame with a TV drama. Both in Türkiye and around the world, Magnificient Century has raised the profile of period drama.
If women become addicted to Turkish TV series, will men stop? Turkish TV credits like Valley of the Wolves, Grand Family, Resurrection Ertugrul, The Last Emperor, The Ottoman, The Great Seljuks: Guardian of Justice, The Great Seljuks: Alparslan, The Pit still continues to take South America, Middle East, Balkans, Africa and Central Asia by storm. In fact, the Venezuelan President visited the set in Türkiye after sharing the moments of watching Resurrection Ertugrul on his social media account.
Europe seeks romance
After selling its first series to France, the Turkish TV series industry waited a long time for its dream to expand to Europe. In 2007, the Turks entered Greece with The Foreign Groom, which aired its finale in 2007, and the rise of the Turks came with romance. Cherry Season, starring Özge Gürel and Serkan Çayoğlu, was the first TV series sold to Italy and broke ratings records in the country.
Bitter Sweet, starring Özge Gürel and Can Yaman, was aired in Italy just as quickly. The Italians loved Can Yaman very much. When Yaman starred in Daydreamer with Demet Özdemir, he opened the door to Spain this time. Love is in the Air, starring Kerem Bursin and Hande Erçel, created a completely different storm in Spain. So much so that today there is a channel in Spain that broadcasts Turkish series almost all day!
From A Woman Scorned to The Girl Named Feriha, from Hayat to Time Goes By, from Hercai to Bitter Lands, from Broken Pieces to Sıla, from Family Secrets to For My Family, the list goes on. Endless Love even managed to win an IEMMY! It was the first Turkish TV series to receive this award.
Why do they watch it?
According to Eurodata, 25 percent of all fiction productions imported by all countries are of Turkish origin. The majority of those who watch Turkish TV series in the world are educated women over the age of 30. They say they like the pace of the narration, the music, the production quality, mysterious endings, strong dramatic crescendos, and impossible love based on ethical reasons. As for the actors, they look first at their looks and then at their talent.
Today, Turkish TV series are broadcast in 150 countries, but it seems that the world is more interested in strong women challenging the system, men, even the Sultan, helpless in the face of love, intrigue, heroic stories, and the good guys always winning in the end. One day, the whole world will be watching a Turkish series!