Tag Archives: TV

Milat’tan önce* Valley of the Wolves – Nationalist drama borrows heavily from predecessor

*”Milattan önce” is Turkish for “before Christ,” but here means “before Milat.”

2198762-Milat-bilboardTurkish national TV station TRT’s latest effort in a series of moves to rebrand the channel through a combination of big-budget projects and pro-government messages appeared on April 3rd in the form of the new international spy drama Milat. As with the channel’s biggest success to date, the pre-Ottoman costume drama Diriliş Ertuğrul, the new series borrows heavily from an already established program. But while Ertuğrul‘s homage to the globally popular Magnificent Century is primarily a question of inspiration,[1] Milat openly adopts the themes, characters, and plot of the 12-years-and running Valley of the Wolves franchise, tweaking the formula in only one respect: whereas Valley weaves open praise of the current AK-Party government throughout its plot, Milat is such overt propaganda that it threatens to destroy the willing suspension of disbelief so necessary for drama to work.

Both shows center on the actions of a central male figure who was orphaned as a child and comes into a national intelligence service. In the case of Valley it is Polat Alemdar (né Ali Candan) who joins the fictional KGT (Kamu Güvenlik Teşkilatı – Public Safety Organization); in Milat it is Hamza who joins the “real” MIT (Milli Istihbarat Teşkilatı – National Intelligence Organization). (In fact, the show’s name, “Milat,” is the Turkish for “the birth of Christ,” but the logo is designed to reveal the letters “MIT” in reference to the group.)

In both cases there is a father figure who represents traditional values and to whom our hero can turn in times of trouble. Valley’s Ömer Baba, Polat’s adoptive father, was known to viewers as a muezzin who played the ney and practiced ebru; Milat‘s Agah Bey appears to be a retired intelligence operative who practices Islamic calligraphy.

kurtlarvadisipusuAn action drama can’t take place without a love interest and Milat has taken a move from the Valley playbook in positioning Duru, an optimistic lawyer who wants to do good in the world, under the wing of a father who heads a large and corrupt holding company. This is Ender in Milat, the head of Ender Energy, and his Valley counterpart would be Davut Tataroğlu, the media magnate whose daughter Inci had a troubled relationship with Polat, at one point bearing his child.

Characters are not the only thing reprised by Milat, as actors Demir Karahan, Volkan Özgömeç, and Yasemin Öztürk all had roles in Valley as well. The stylistics of the show are also similar, particularly when it comes to action scenes. Milat may actually outdo Valley, however, in one of that show’s key claims to fame: the glorification of violence. The first episode contains an extremely graphic medium shot of the head of a militant being gunned down by one of the MIT team in Nigeria. (This also appears in the introductory sequence at the start of show. Of note, the militants in this attack are described as fake Islamists financed by the “west” to interrupt Turkish Airlines traffic to the region, thereby retaining “western” control of Africa. ) Images far more tame than this got Valley censured in its early years, but since Milat airs on TRT, it may have less to worry about from RTÜK, the state-run commission tasked with regulating TV.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of mimesis comes not through characters, cast, or style, but, rather, the overarching effort to create a world that straddles the line between fact and fiction. In only the first episode we are introduced to two corporate tycoons (the aforementioned Erdem and the ascot-garbed Yıldıray), who are clearly meant as references to some of the “old Turkey” magnates that have managed to weather the rise of the “new Turkey” (read AK-Party). Two of the prime candidates here would be Turkey’s enormously powerful Sabanci and Koç families and, in a reflexive turn that already has internet chat rooms buzzing and puzzling, multiple scenes involving Yıldıray are actually filmed at Istanbul’s well-known Koç Museum of Transport, Industry, and Communication.

Milat Koc museum
Scene from Milat featuring Yıldıray at the Koç Museum

A third candidate for these roles is Aydın Doğan, head of Turkey’s largest media empire, and this is where things get strange. In Valley, the aforementioned Tataroğlu was clearly meant to evoke Doğan, and depictions of him shifted depending on what channel happened to be airing the show at the time. In Milat it’s too early to tell yet what direction these characters will take, but by making such clear mimetic overtures, the producers have set up and uncanny echo-chamber for those familiar with Valley. Courting an audience already conditioned for games of reference, they seem to be trying to add yet another dimension to the field.

Whether this will prove to be too much for viewers remains to be seen. My own uneasy moments while watching came not from puzzling over who represented whom but, rather, trying to stomach the overt propaganda of the show. One example should suffice. Early on we’re introduced to a family in a shantytown who have had their natural gas cut off by Ender Energy. The daughter of this family writes a letter explaining the situation to the Minister of Energy and he promptly responds with a personal phone call to her house and an audit of the company. He takes these steps despite the fact that he’s also in the midst of intense negotiations for the country’s energy future which include, among other things, a trip abroad on which his associate, the head of MIT, is assassinated.

A bit much, perhaps. In a country where the government routinely expropriates residents from such shantytowns so that AK-Party affiliated construction and investment firms can make a killing on real estate. Where the real Minister of Energy, Taner Yıldız, has presided over the worst mining disaster in the country’s history and retains his position despite a troubling record of failures to enforce workplace safety. Where unexplained blackouts come at very strange times and where electricity rates have jumped not least due to a series of privatization and speculation measures put into effect by the AK-Party. Where anyone who has ever tried to hook up, alter, or discontinue a utility is well aware of the countless lines, repeat visits, myriad copies of multiple forms, in short the Kafka-esque bureaucracy that is unavoidable in such situations.

The question is whether audiences will gloss that over. Milat is delivered with the same dose of nationalist verve that Valley viewers have come to expect and, coupled with the high production values and, thus far, admirable acting, it is certainly a step up from many of TRT’s efforts of the past. But such blatant propaganda rarely goes unremarked, and this is all the more true when it flies in the face of personal experience.

Milat premiered at 5th in the ratings on the night of Friday, April 3rd. That’s not bad for a new program, much less one appearing on TRT. The norm in the Turkish sector is four to five weeks for a series to prove its mettle but, since TRT is not accountable to commercial interests, its shows often get a longer run regardless of ratings. In the case of Milat, I’m guessing we’ll see it through the first week of June, at least. Just long enough for a trial run in the alternate ratings system of parliamentary elections.

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This post published simultaneously on End Times Cafe.

[1] For an exploration of some of the other efforts to follow Century and their failures, see Carney (2014).

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5 Yorumsuz – 5 Without Comment – 2015-03-09

1 – Bianet – has released a summary report on the state of journalism in Turkey over the last three years.

The polarization of media and intolerance to different opinions in Turkey soared in the year of 2014 with the incidents of Local Elections on March 30, Presidential Elections on August 10, the resolution process with Kurds and operations against Fethullah Gülen Movement. What the polarizations meant was to choosing between self-censorship or layoffs for journalists, and violation to right to information for readers. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government prioritized in 2014 its “security-oriented” policies to state of law and basic rights and freedoms despite all criticism.

2 – Today’s Zaman, Radikal, and Zaytung (a satirical news site) – follow the ongoing interest in the Kabataş attack story from Gezi Park

Amid growing debate regarding a fabricated incident of harassment against a woman with a headscarf in Istanbul’s Kabataş neighborhood that apparently never took place, 14 columnists from five pro-government newspapers ran the same headline for their Thursday columns to back the government’s narrative without including any evidence but instead recounting the history of discrimination against the headscarf. During the Gezi Park protests that erupted during the summer of 2013, pro-government journalists reported that a headscarved woman named Zehra Develioğlu was attacked by Gezi protesters on a street in Kabataş on June 1. Although a large part of society was galvanized to turn against the Gezi protesters due to the incident — especially after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, said dozens of half-naked men had attacked the young woman and even urinated on her — footage from nearby security cameras discovered months later showed no evidence that such an attack had even taken place.

3 – Evrensel – notes that On the 4th of March, HDP co-president Selahattin Demirtaş was scheduled to appear on the Cüneyt Özdemir’s 5N1K program on Kanal D at 11:15pm, but the show was rescheduled at the last minute until 1:00am and didn’t actually air until 1:45am. Critics took to Twitter to suggest this was due to the AKP government’s intervention.

4 – Hürriyet Daily News and AlJazeera Turk

A court has ordered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to pay 10,000 Turkish Liras to the artist responsible for a sculpture in the northeastern province of Kars, which he had demanded the removal of and described as a “freak.” During a Jan. 8, 2011 visit to Kars, then Prime Minister Erdoğan slammed the city’s new 35-meter-tall “Monument to Humanity,” created by sculptor Mehmet Aksoy. An Istanbul court ruled on March 3 for Erdoğan to pay 10,000 liras in moral indemnities to Aksoy, partially accepting the 100,000 liras case Aksoy had filed against Erdoğan.

5 – Medyafaresi – reports that the Turkish dizi (TV series) Son (meaning “the end”), by production firm Ay Yapım, will become the first drama format from Turkey adapted for US television when shooting starts on 27 March in Chicago. The US version of the series will be called Runner.

Global Agency takes formats worldwide – profile on CEO Izzet Pinto – 21 March 2014

globalagency

[from 21 March 2014 interview as Global headed off to MIPTV]

Global Agency is known in its home town of Istanbul for hosting massive, Gatsbyesque parties trimmed with bands, dance shows, and performing waitstaff at DISCOP. But the firm is no slouch on the road either, as it hits MIPTV this week with a large booth and banners, a traveling crew of 18, handpicked from across the globe, and a wide range of content both fresh and proven.

For founder Izzet Pinto, the parties and the presence are all part of building the brand, and Global is clearly a brand to watch out for. It’s been dubbed the fastest growing distribution firm in the world and, whatever your measure, this is more than hot air.

Izzet Pinto_ 2014

Global has grown by between 100% and 300% every year since it started in 2006, with just two co-workers and a single TV show, Perfect Bride. Now employing 25, including US- and UK-based staff, Global represents nearly 100 products, among them the Ottoman costume drama Magnificent Century. Having been sold to over 50 territories, Century is one of the hottest tickets globally, reaching an audience of over 200M now and perhaps more than 300M when the show starts broadcasting on China’s CCTV this summer.

In no small part due to the success of Century, Global currently has about 75% of its deals in ready-made drama, but Pinto plans to level this out with formats and fact-based content in the near future. To that end he teamed with Century production firm TIMS in 2012 to buy Australian fact-based distributor Worldwide Entertainment. Their first venture under that name is Battle of the Restaurants.

Global’s top-selling formats include Perfect Bride, which is still going strong, and Shopping Monsters, introduced in 2011. Each has covered about 30 territories. Sometimes this success can lead to conflicts. In France last year Shopping Monsters was broadcast head-to-head against another Global product, Decor Monsters. Pinto was relieved when saw both shows doing well and earning nearly identical audience shares.

KYLS

Global’s latest venture is Pinto’s own brainchild, a cross-genre venture called Keep Your Light Shining. He describes it as a music game show, where 12 contestants start each episode and only one emerges at the end of the night. Noting that the audition stages of shows like The Voice were the most popular, Pinto aimed to create something fast-paced, with plenty of room for audience involvement. He’s currently working to license an app that allows viewers join in via second screens. Keep Your Light has been sold to 12 territories and is already in development in the US and Germany, with plans to air on ProSieben in May and CBS this fall.

Though he tends to favor non-scripted formats, Pinto will take on scripted content that he believes in. Global licensed the script for the popular Turkish drama Ask-i Memnu (Forbidden Love) to Telemundo, where it became Pasión Prohibida. In addition to Latin America, Pasión has traveled to France, Italy, and Pakistan. There’s currently an Armenian adaptation in production, and possibilities for Russian, Ukrainian, and Italian versions in the works.

Other scripted formats include Game of Silence, a drama about school mates drawn together after 20 years by a secret from their past, and The Last of the Magikyans, a Russian comedy about a patriarch’s difficulty adapting to his family’s modern ways.

Yes, Russia. While the majority (85%) of Global’s drama is Turkish, about 50% of its formats are from other countries, including Spain, Israel, Romania, France, and Germany. This two-way street works in part thanks to the company’s diverse staff hailing from every part of the globe. This year, as Pinto moves to drive formats sales up towards the level of drama, the name Global may fit better than ever.

Global’s Top-Sellers – with number of territories sold to

  • Drama Magnificent Century – 52
  • 1001 Nights – 49
  • Love And Punishment – 43
  • Iffet – 38
  • Dila – 32

Format

  • Shopping Monsters – 32
  • Perfect Bride – 25
  • Keep Your Light Shining – 12
  • Blind Taste – 9
  • Rivals In Law – 8