Mideast: Amid political chaos, new stars are born

Across the Mideast, reality TV remains the biggest draw. Satcasters are quickly buying up formats to unleash on eager auds.

Lebanon’s LBCi has scored a huge success with its third season of “Star Academy,” based on the “Fame Academy” format while Dubai TV is busy prepping “Gulf Star,” a reworking of “Nashville Star.” Battle-weary Iraq auds are also lapping up reality fare with both Al-Sharqiya’s “Home and Labor,” inspired by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and Al-Sumaria’s “Iraq Star,” similar to “Pop Star.”

“Formats are the big thing for one simple reason. You can’t afford to fail anymore. If a format has succeeded in one country, it will probably succeed in another. The name of the game is globalization,” says Ali Jaber, head of Dubai TV.

Execs are also manipulating skeds to attract female viewers. Dubai-based MBC revamped MBC 4 at the end of last year as a femme-skewing channel, with “Oprah” its centerpiece program. To counter the move, local rival Dubai TV has developed “Nashwa,” an “Oprah”-style chat show starring popular Egyptian actress Nashwa Ruweini.

Drama has also made a strong comeback, with political sudsers drawing in surprisingly high ratings. MBC’s “The Beautiful Maidens,” looking at the rise of Al-Qaeda, and LBC’s current “March Dreams” — about the tumultuous events in Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country — have proved smash hits with local auds.

A more unexpected turn of events has been the growing popularity of religious programming.

Egyptian tele-Islamist Amr Khaled has seen his following increase across the region, while mainstream broadcasters have also had to catch up. MBC, Future TV and Dubai TV have all added regular series about Islam to their skeds.

MBC scored a big hit with “Yalla Ya Shabab,” a youth-oriented show about Islam, while even Christian-owned LBC invited Amr Khaled to the satcaster during the holy month of Ramadan.