'Behzat C' criticized for cohabitation, drugs; auds tune in

ISTANBUL — Turkish censors got a lesson in the rule that any publicity is good publicity when politicians who recently tried to rein in popular police drama “Behzat C” instead wound up likely boosting the show’s image.

“Behzat,” which airs on private channel Star TV, follows the title character, a tough police chief working in Turkey’s capital city, Ankara, who drinks, smokes and is often portrayed as being brutal with suspects — traits that make conservative politicians uneasy.

Some pols began criticizing the show, with one claiming it “put dynamite in the foundations of the Turkish family” for portraying an unwed couple living together.

Despite public apathy over the issue, Turkey’s Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc kept up the pressure, and the Supreme Council on Radio and Television, Turkey’s de-facto censorship board launched an investigation.

The show’s producers, in an apparent attempt to placate censors, had Behzat marry his long-time partner in April, while the investigation was ongoing. But when the June 7 verdict came down, the show was fined for its potential to “hamper the physical, mental, and moral development of young people” based on its glorification of substance abuse.

One week later, the series was included in the Supreme Council’s list of programs that encourage violence, but was still allowed to air.

All the publicity has generated interest in the show. In May, thousands of fans met in Ankara’s central square to watch a projection of the latest episode, and recent figures by media monitor SMG suggest that more were there in spirit; “Behzat C” was the runaway leader in social media reach among Turkish TV shows for March and April.

Less clear is how many viewers the series has.

Traditional ratings have been absent since a police raid of Nielsen in December brought measurements to a halt. The raid was part of an investigation into alleged leaking of participant lists. Nielsen’s competitor TNS was due to start ratings in May, but a similar investigation put those plans on hold.

Since then, channels and advertisers have cobbled together ad-hoc measures based on the prior year’s ratings, social media research, and a system developed by government broadcasters that left Nielsen in 2010.

All that said, in the recent series finale, producers seem to have exacted their measure of revenge against the censors: Behzat resigns from the police force, then witnesses the murder of his wife — leaving a title character that no longer represents police, and has neither a live-in girlfriend to garner complaints nor the wife that conservatives wanted to see by his side. That episode rated a modest 7.9 share on the government’s ratings system, but it made headlines in the major papers — and trended strongly on social media.

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