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Mark N.

Orzech
Inside Arab Reality Television Response
Not having much prior experience with reality television, this study was
interesting to me in that it helped me understand reality television as a
phenomenon as well as how it has manifested in the Arab world. Throughout
the article, the author is explicit in making the point that, while the majority
of Arab reality programming is adapted from western models, the current
popularity of the genre in the Arab world is not only due to its current
success in the West, but is the result of a long process of development and
experimentation. I was aware of the long history of copycat TV in the Arab
world, though I had no idea about the logistics of converting western
programs to Arabic or the years of studying trends to buy the formats of
shows that would assure success based on their popularity in the West. It
was also interesting to see the attempt of producers (with varying degrees of
success) to make the subsequent adaptations not only maximally acceptable
to Islamic sensibilities but also to appeal to a pan-Arab audience.
As opposed to western reality shows which are often focused on one
segment of American society and are generally limited to American
participants, the reality shows produced by Arab media are, out of necessity,
targeted at an multi-national Arab audience, which creates some very
interesting dynamics in shows such as Superstar, where Arab viewers from
many countries are all sharing the experience together, though are often

divided along national lines in their preferences and voting for the winner.
This is a very interesting way of at once acknowledging pan-Arab identity
and preserving (or perhaps promoting) pride in ones own country. I wonder if
there are any reality programs that have become popular within a specific
country, targeting a national (rather than ethnic) audience. The authors
discussion of the period of experimentation in the Arab world with reality TV
was very interesting to me as well, particularly the evolution of the very
beginnings of a reality style of programs in the real drama shows of the
50s and 60s, to the massive popularity of Candid Camera in the 80s, to
Lebanons Zen TV in the early 2000s which served as an incubator of both
ideas and Arab television producers as they experimented with different
varieties of shows and how to produce them.
The vast majority of Arab reality programs are produced in Lebanon
(the largest company being LBC) and those made elsewhere often have a
Lebanese crew and producers, which is no surprise considering Lebanons
reputation as the most liberal of the Arab states in terms of pushing the
boundaries of social acceptability and addressing potentially taboo subjects,
though they still must keep in mind the sensibilities of the more conservative
gulf states, who are a large and (generally) wealthy consumer audience. Of
course, competitors try to get in on the massive popularity generated by
shows such as Star Academy, thus the attempts by Gulf-operated MBC to
get into the reality television market. It is the difference between these two
major networks that is interesting, and reflects the societies of their home

countries. While LBC combines a regular primetime television spot with a


special 24/7 broadcasting channel, the gulf network, following a perceived
threat to Islamic values posed by their adaptation of the show Big Brother,
is stricter in controlling what actually makes it to the viewers through editing
in an attempt to reduce unpredictability. The great power of the gulf
countries to sway Lebanese programing is intriguing, and I would like to look
more into the nuances of these relationships.
It was mentioned in the article that, with the exception of Candid
Camera, there are no reality specials during Ramadan, despite the large
viewer turnout during this month. I know that there is a focus on religious
programming at this time, but I wonder what makes Candid Camera
different from other imported shows.