English-lingo soaper headed into Asia

SYDNEY – When Firdaus Kharas conceived the idea of Asia’s first English-lingo, daily TV soap opera, he was told it couldn’t be done. As managing director of multinational production house UTV Intl., Kharas had the means to turn his vision into reality, and production is under way on “City of the Rich.”

Broadcasters throughout Asia will get the chance to see how it looks onscreen today, when UTV shows excerpts at the Mip Asia market in Hong Kong.

The rags-to-riches story of a fictitious Malaysian businessman set in Kuala Lumpur, the series will preem on Malaysia’s RTM in January. Facing competition from new direct-to-home satellite broadcaster Astro, RTM was quick to come aboard what it sees as a high-quality local production, Kharas said. RTM has commissioned 200 one-hour episodes.

The concept was created by English producer Mike Gibbon, whose credits include the popular U.K. soap “Eastenders.” Two other novel aspects of the program are the ethnically diverse scriptwriting team, and the method of writing. Head writer Martin Holland (another “Eastenders” alumni) recruited writers in Malaysia, India, Ireland and the U.K. They send their scripts to K.L.-based producer Antah-UTV (a co-venture between UTV and Malay conglom Antah Holdings) via electronic mail on the Internet. According to Kharas, who’s based in Singapore, the writing has gone smoothly.

Two U.K. directors are in charge for the first six months of production, and they will train Malay directors. The cast is a mixture of well-known and new Malay actors.

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