1890s until the 1950s, the inventors of television thought of
it as a means for disseminating information in a fashion similar
to print, radio, and film. By the early '60s, media use and
consumption emerged as a cultural concern in the debates on
the "consumer society." The '70s saw the emergence
of a debate on the one-way program flow; causing much resistance
to media liberalization in the '80s. In the '90s, television
became an industry that is international, prolific, and deregulated.
of the twenty-first century is a challenging time for trying
to understand television programming strategies, practices,
and exchange. This paper is an exploration of a particular aspect
of program exchange as seen on satellite stations broadcasting
from the Middle East. After providing an overview of the theories
and definitions governing program exchange as practiced by programmers,
this study will focus on three main aspects of that process:
(a) television plagiarism as witnessed on Lebanese Television;
(b) licensed productions, as represented by game shows of international
appeal such as Ya Leyl Ya Ayn and Who Wants To Be
A Millionaire? and (c) programs that "pay homage"
to Western productions such as Waznak Dahab (Your Weight
of Program Export
study of program exchange is still influenced by the traditions
of cultural imperialism. As early as the 1960s, Schiller and
others argued that transnational communication was dominated
by the United States and a few other industrialized countries.
This domination leads to imposing economic, cultural, and political
values on the developing countries. Schiller's thesis was controversial
when it appeared and it fueled much of the debate that led,
eventually, to the McBride Commission. This UNESCO-appointed
commission concluded with insisting that developing countries
had the right to place "nation building" as an objective
of their media activities. Of course, these and other issues
caused a much heated debate within the US and other Western
countries. The main focus of these theorists was on the programs
exported by the countries of the North and imported by the countries
of the South.(2)
aspect of program exchange that has escaped scrutiny is that
of "format adaptation." This has been a "constantly
recurring feature of international television."(3) In 1998,
Albert Moran coined the term "copycat television"
and tried to study this practice that goes back to radio, "the
mother of many television formats."(4) Format, according
to Moran, is a "cultural technology which governs the flow
of ideas across time and space."(5) This study adopts Moran's
definition in trying to explore program format adaptation in
the Arab world. Specifically, this study is interested in the
case of game shows: a "reality" type of television
programming which has witnessed an international resurgence
over the past five years and where format adaptation is worthy
of close scrutiny.(6)
program format transfer occurs when the basic idea or ingredient
of a program is used to produce a new version of the program.
One of the rules that guide the work of television program directors
is the belief that if a formula worked in the past it is most
likely to work well in the future. While success has not always
been the case, program re-makes have "occurred historically
inside particular national television systems."(7) This
is a phenomenon that has grown in scope and significance over
the last few years as television programs are re-made in the
television industry of another nation. In the Arab world, some
of these programs are taking the audience by storm, locking
them in their houses glued to their sets and causing them to
desert the streets.(8)
the practice of television programming suggests the existence
of a programming department divided into three broad work areas-acquisitions,
production, and scheduling.(9) In the case of satellite stations
covering the Middle East, programs produced in the West and
bought by these channels fall under the prerogatives of the
acquisitions department. This study is interested in a more
subtle, indirect, and highly significant type of program exchange,
whereby formats are created in the West and are bought for,
adapted by, or inspire the work of, the production department
in the non-West. Scheduling is the practice of putting both
acquired and produced programs into a programming grid.
programmer and they will tell you that unless they are expected
to generate money, most programs will not be produced. As Turrow
suggests, programmers are guided by their relationship with
two clients--audience and advertisers. On one hand, they try
to achieve high ratings. This translates into a greater number
of viewers or a first client satisfaction. On the other hand,
they try to deliver that audience to a second client, the advertisers.(10)
This is an important practice in the case of stations that rely
on advertising revenue as a means of survival. In the Middle
East, satellite channels rely either on advertising revenue
or government subsidy for financial revenue. While the financial
structure of television channels is beyond the scope of this
paper, it is important to note that our discussion will focus
on the practices of some of the fully commercial TV channels
such as MBC, LBCI, Abu Dhabi Television and others.
that "there is a tendency to assume that adaptations are
[a] mechanical repetition of the initial format."(11) The
process of nationalizing a television program involves various
activities such as adapting, amending, improvising-even creating-elements,
with the original format as a guide. This is "undoubtedly
(a) more subtle and complex than some commentary would have
made believe."(12) Consequently, this study adapts the
acknowledgement or not of the original format as a basis of
suspicion of plagiarism. My interest is not in accusing the
players but in mapping out a practice and drawing conclusions.
I will concentrate in tracing a pattern in Lebanese television
as the Lebanese channels are important players in the Arab media
scene. A careful examination shows two patterns of practice
the Broadcasting Act of 1994, the Lebanese television scene
witnessed a clear and defiant infringement of international
copyright. Series, TV movies, news programs, music videos, and
game shows were re-transmitted by the fifty-four or so television
stations that ruled the airwaves between 1991 and 1994. At least
two cases emerged as direct plagiarism of international game
shows: Tele-Liban, Lebanon's now government-owned station, made
an exact Arabic translation of Wheel of Fortune, producing
Dulab al Hazz. Due to lack of sponsorship interest the
show was short lived. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation
produced an Arabic copy of Win, Loose, or Draw under
the name Meen Qaddak.
pattern emerged in the body of work of the producer/director
Simon Asmar. Classic hits of Lebanese television like Iftah
ya Simsim (Open Sesame), Laylat Hazz (Night of Fortune)
can be traced to French and Turkish formats. Two of Asmar's
early successes were Laqta 'al Hawa (Live Snapshot) and
Qalbi Dalili (My Heart Is My Guide). Their genesis can
be found in The Dating Game and Matchmaker respectively.
The genius of Asmar remains his ability to pick up the basis
of a format and re-formulate it, making the end product almost
unrecognizable to the uncritical viewer.
In the post
Broadcasting Act era, such plagiarism is being challenged. First,
the Middle East and North Africa are falling under close scrutiny
by copyright enforcement bodies.(13) This has lead to several
Arab countries ratifying their intellectual property laws. Moreover,
one of the implications of the new economy of pan-Arab television
is that programs are produced to be broadcast for the whole
region. Consequently, any similarities are easily noted by viewers
and critics alike.
stage, it is still too early to predict when and if this practice
will stop completely. This process of "inspiration"--as
program producers like to call it--has turned to less visible
channels for adaptation sources. Producers are learning Spanish
and Italian and are carefully monitoring the multitude of channels
currently available at their disposal in these languages.
successful attempt to license a program to the Middle East was
in 1997 with the program Family Feud. Produced in Lebanon
by Murr Television (MTV), Kel Mayleh Ayleh, was
aired five days a week for over four years. The success of that
particular game show paved the way for other shows to be produced
by the same channel (and others) over the years. To name a few,
MTV produced the Quiz Show; LBC produced Greed
and Fort Boyard; and Future TV produced The Weakest
Link and The Trap.(14)
By any standard,
game show formats have proven themselves the best adapted to
crossing cultures. Game shows like Jeopardy have been
produced in more than seventy countries worldwide. Yet it was
not until the mid-nineties that this production approach caught
on in the Middle East. Game shows help programmers fill their
24-hour schedules with relatively cheap productions while achieving
a maximum audience by assuring a pan-Arab viewership, either
via call-ins or through actual participation.
took a world wide phenomenon like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
to encourage Middle East producers to catch on and buy/license
to Be a Millionaire, developed by Celador, made its British
ITV debut in 1998. It instantly became a worldwide phenomenon,
licensed to more than seventy countries. In 2000, the Middle
East Broadcasting Center (MBC), at the time based in London,
bought the license to produce the show. Interestingly, the license
was granted for the Middle East and North Africa area, consisting
entirely, with the exception of Greece and Cyprus, of Arabic-speaking
territories. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was first
broadcast to this audience in November 2000. Originally produced
by the same British crew and in the same British studio as the
original version; only three non-British employees worked on
the show--the host, the producer, and question writer. Due to
operational difficulties and in the hope of reducing the production
budget, the show moved from the UK to France in June 2001. This
attempt helped increase the size of the Arabic-speaking crew
in the hope for a full transfer of the production to Egypt.
This transfer came as part of a repatriation of MBC to the Arab
world-including its main headquarters to Dubai--and a division
of major productions between the Beirut and Cairo offices in
February 2002. In summary, the licensed show started with a
British crew and transferred to an Arab crew, yet the concept
and format of the show remained largely the same. Decisions
concerning the look of the show, the talent and the participants,
were also determined by the licensees.
there has been a solid move towards a more liberal adaptation
of a format. When licensors allowed it, local programmers were
encouraged to capitalize on an Arab appeal for their shows.
Ya Ayn was a variety game show broadcast on LBCI since 1999.
Over the years the show owed much of its popularity to its presenters,
participants, and guests, but the primary reason behind its
success was the basic format idea. A closer look at the show's
ingredients and structure reveals its kinship with the French
program La Fureur. The format is simple: dance, play,
sing and "set the world on fire" as the show's promotions
claim! In fact, between 1999 and 2002, the show featured 3000
songs, 500 dances, 150 artists, 800 participants, and more than
US$ 2,500,000 in gifts.
years and due to its pan-Arab success, the show developed some
major variations, independent of the original format, which
nevertheless remained a source of inspiration. The basic games
of La Fureur remained: the rhythm game, guess the tune,
video clues, tricks, and the signals. However, the show differed
from the original format in that it played on the battle of
the sexes, guys vs. girls. For many, the show's appeal is due
in part to the sexual tension that is played out throughout
be noted that one of the more successful ventures of the program
was its relocation to Egypt for a series of episodes. This temporary
move was justified on three levels: (1) higher ratings would
be achievable as it now reached an Egyptian audience of 60 million;
(2) it could attract the best of Egyptian celebrities; and (3)
it was more economical to fly the crew home and be a guest of
Egypt's Media City.
with producers suggest that (1) when budget permits, the show
will be produced in the country of origin to guarantee full
adherence to the format; and (2) the production staff-primarily
the director, producer, and host-are trained by the original
format staff. The Arabic version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
is a show that made the full transition, while the Arabic versions
of Family Feud, Weakest Link, Greed, and others benefited
from an exchange of expertise in the form of technical and creative
assistance from the original format creators. The case of the
show Fort Boyard, dubbed Hella we Htalla, is unique
as it is produced by a French team with Lebanese hosts and Arab
of buying the license to produce a format are numerous. It is
a tried and tested show. First, programmers cut down on the
stresses of development both in creative effort and time spent
testing concepts. The challenges on creativity have become acute
since the Middle Eastern viewer has become exposed to more and
better programming through access to satellite channels (homegrown
and foreign). Consequently, the time spent on pre-production
and production design is cut dramatically since the licensors
supply both their know-how and expertise to the production staff.
Scripts, production sheets, computer software, set designs,
etc., are all part of the material exchanged between the licensors
a licensed production provides the programmers with a pre-sold
program. On the one hand, advertisers are familiar with the
success of the show in its native country. Consequently, it
becomes easier to commit to a media plan that estimates a considerable
viewership. On another hand, the viewers are may already be
familiar with the show's success, may have seen the original
"foreign" production, or are subject to a targeted
promotional campaign to raise awareness of the program's appeal.
Promotion producers attempt to use a combination of clips from
the original show and the locally produced one using visuals
and copy to entice viewers to "share the pleasure with
millions of viewers around the world."
or "Cloned" Productions
on the point that "a license fee has had to be modest for
otherwise the format will tend to be copied without permission".
Moreover licensors, producers, and advisors do not emphasize
strict cloning for, as Moran points out, all cases involve considerable
rearrangement of the elements such as sets, costumes, story-lines,
music, etc. Unless they are a major player on the Middle East
broadcasting scene, programmers are unlikely to be able to afford
to buy regional rights. In this situation, programmers tap into
the local talent to clone the original format. In a region where
copyright laws and practices are virtually nonexistent, cloning
has become a creative as well as an economic practice. The cloning
of programs can be traced back to the 1950s with the birth of
national TV systems in the Middle East. News, talk shows, drama,
and other genres were copying Western programming and program
ideas-understandably, given that television practitioners were
taught and trained by the West and their media systems were
molded on Western ones.
of satellite broadcasting was no different. As most of these
channels were based in Europe, and even employed Westerners
or Arab expatriates, their productions came to reflect these
backgrounds. In the new world of satellite broadcasting the
issue of copyright is of major concern. Consequently, programmers
were challenged to find creative ways for their cloning. In
so doing, programmers manage to achieve two objectives. On one
hand they provide a unique opportunity for their first and second
clients. On the other hand, their risks are minimal because
cloning resembles the original idea which has been tried and
seems not to take into consideration the copyright liabilities
that might limit the show's success, some programmers have been
successful in being inspired by the international success of
certain shows, especially game shows. Like an architect who
finds the best land to build a dream house, the programmers
seize the opportunity of a proven success--that of the recycling
of game shows--to structure their program.
In this case, the programmers know that an audience as well
as advertiser interest is available. Any success in this venture
relies on the ability to (1) identify the key elements of success
in the original program, and (2) build on the cultural and local
sensitivities and interests.
licensed and plagiarized productions take into consideration
these sensitivities, only the locally originating program can
adapt easily and answer those needs. Instead of an inductive
reasoning, producers in this category are guided by deductive
reasoning. Consequently, their productions should come to reflect
Western know-how applied to a local idea. In theory, this should
prove successful with the audience; yet this has not always
been the case. However, one success is worth studying, that
of Waznak Dahab (Your Weight in Gold) on Abu Dhabi TV
Dahab, in which contestants answer a series of general knowledge
questions leading up to the possibility of a grand prize of
winning their weight in gold, was launched by ADTV in 1999.
The show has almost the same ingredients as the Millionaire
show-the same host, pan-Arab contestants, the same layout and
Dahab capitalizes on a number of culturally important elements
that makes it a success. First, the title of the show is of
prime significance where the simple mention of gold lures the
imagination of the viewers. Arab mythology is full of stories
about princes giving away gold prizes amounting to the weight
of those who solve riddles, and this game show is nothing but
a modern version of these tales. The striking golden colors
of the set come to remind us of that aspect, coupled with the
modern-looking female guardians of gold (reminiscent of the
prince's harem). Second, the show's presenter is a famous actor
turned TV host, a common practice in the Arab world since male
presenters are a rare commodity.
Dahab's development was not entirely Arab. The show's basic
structure and look were entrusted to Larry Parker, an American
director with a good knowledge of Middle Eastern customs and
politics. The original assignment was to format a game show,
not copy or license, and this is what Larry and a team
of western educated Arabs managed to achieve.
two economies of television: the financial and the cultural.
Fiske acknowledges that to the producers, television programs
are products with material values. But the receivers of these
products have a cultural economy that is associated with deriving
pleasure and meaning. These two economies work simultaneously,
yet while the financial economy favors homogenization and incorporation,
the cultural economy calls for resistance and difference.
media landscape promises the future development of licensed
programs. Programmers in the Middle East are paying a closer
look at successful programs on international satellite networks
available in the Middle East. Will they translate this into
a balance between the need for resistance and difference and
homogenization and incorporation?
Khalil is an executive producer at CNBC Arabiya, and has
more than ten years of professional television experience with
MBC, MTV and Orbit. For seven years he was an instructor at
the Lebanese American University where his teaching and research
focused on transnational broadcasting, programming and production.
His writings have been presented at several conferences, and
he has consulted for various academic and professional organizations
on issues pertaining to media in the Middle East. He is a graduate
of the College of Communication at Ohio University, where he
presented a master's thesis on television in multicultural societies.
use of programs that have ceased to air is intentional on the
part of author. It was considered important to assess the historical
significance of a trend or in this case a show.
2. Williams in Didsbury, Jr. 1982, 107. Williams mentions that
the one-way flow of information and the unbalanced flow of information
were first considered and entered the vocabulary of modern communications
in the famous UNESCO meeting in Montreal, Canada, June 1969.
The interest of such an organization opened the way for important
research and the findings generated by the MacBride committee
were dramatic. These findings surprised "even the occidental
observers who could not understand how, in the name of international
legality, their governors reject today the same resolutions
they adopted yesterday."
3. Albert Moran, Copycat Television: Globalization, Program
Formats, and Cultural Identity. University of Luton Press, 1998.
6. A range of game shows invaded prime time Arab television
during the years 1999 to 2002. This paved the way for the current
wave of reality-based game shows and competitions.
7. Moran, 1998.
8. Or so one of the promotional clips for Who Wants to Be
a Millionaire humorously claimed during the show's final
days on MBC.
9. For more discussion on programming strategies consult Donald
M. Davis Electronic Media Programming Strategies and Decision
Making. New York: McGraw Hill, 1993 and Eastman, Susan Tyler,
et al. Broadcast Programming: Strategies for Winning Television
and Radio Audiences. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1989.
10. Joseph Turow Media Systems in Society: Understanding
Industries, Strategies and Power. Logman, 1992.
11. Ibid Moran, 1998.
12. Ibid Moran, 1998.
13. The year 2004 saw a clear alliance between governments and
program producers and distributors to make sure copyright laws
are abided by.
14. Currently LBCI is leading the way with reality-based game
15. For more information on the success of this show, see www.celador.co.uk
16. Moran, 1998.
17. John Fiske Television Culture. New York: Methuen,