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Arab laffer follows U.S. sitcom strategy

'Rajol' filmed before live studio audience

LONDON — A new Arab sitcom is rewriting the rules of how laffers are made in the region.

“Rajol Wa Sit Settat” (A Man and Six Women) is the first Arab skein to be filmed in front of a live studio audience. Centering around a man and his femme relatives, the skein is produced by Lebanon’s Sabbah Media Corp. and Egypt’s Screen 2000 in collaboration with Egyptian Media Production City.

Producers were so confident they shot two 30-episode series back-to-back, which also cut the cost to $2.2 million. They’re prepping a third series and mulling a movie.

The skein is directed by Lebanese helmer Assad Fouladkar. He was the driving force behind the decision to shoot in front of an audience and also to employ a large team of writers.

“Assad told me he wanted to re-create the feeling of U.S. sitcoms in the 1980s when you would come home from work and watch an episode of your favorite show,” says Sadek Sabbah, CEO of Sabbah Media. “You can see the importance of the live audience in the actors’ reactions. We had 80 people from all ages in the audience, even for the rehearsals. The actors and the writers could check out which lines were funny.”

Fouladkar almost didn’t make it past the first episode when the Egyptian Filmmakers’ Syndicate refused to grant him a work permit for the Egypt-based production. Org backed down after the Lebanese threatened to retaliate.

Arab satcasters have already begun a bidding war for the skein ahead of Ramadan, which starts in mid-September, when nets wheel out their big guns.

Sabbah has inked deals with OTV in Egypt, Al-Sumariya in Iraq and ATV in Jordan for terrestrial rights. The exec is weighing rival offers from payboxes Showtime Arabia and Orbit, with offers from the largest free-to-air pan-Arab satcasters also on the table. In a reversal of standard practice, Sabbah favors selling territory by territory.

First series will air nightly during Ramadan. The second will air weekly.

“There are lots of comedies and heavy dramas during Ramadan but this is the only sitcom,” Sabbah says.

Fouladkar adds: “Politically it’s so depressing here, so that’s why we need comedy.”

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