Sheikh takes on script for ‘Sand’

Telepic will premiere September for Ramadan

LONDON As if overseeing the development of a booming metropolis isn’t enough, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid is trying his hand at another skill: scriptwriting.

Lensing has wrapped on “Struggle on the Sand,” a $6 million 30-episode skein closely based on Sheikh Mohammed’s poetry.

The historical epic, the biggest budget yet for an Arab TV skein, is set in the 18th century and follows feuding Bedouin tribes during the Ottoman empire’s occupation of the Arabian peninsula.

Syrian helmer Hatem Ali is taking the reins on the skein. Ali scored one of Arab TV’s biggest hits last year with biopic “King Farouk” about Egypt’s last monarch, who was deposed in a 1952 coup led by future prexy Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Scribe Hani al-Saadi adapted Sheikh Mohammed’s poetry in writing the script for “Struggle on the Sand.”

“Sheikh Mohammed not only brought about a miracle by transforming the desert into an urban destination, but also initiated a cultural and artistic giant leap in the region,” Ali says.

Lensing took place in Syria, Morocco and across the United Arab Emirates, with a supporting cast of 1,000 extras to fill out the battle scenes.

“Struggle on the Sand,” co-produced by government TV company Dubai Media and Ali’s shingle Picture for Media Prods., will form the lynchpin of Dubai TV’s sked during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins in September.

Ramadan is traditionally the busiest and most lucrative season for Arab TV execs, akin to the sweeps in the U.S., when Arab satcasters roll out big-budget skeins as families across the region gather around the TV every evening after breaking their daily fast.

High among Arab TV execs’ priorities is attracting ad coin in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, which can account for 30%-40% of a channel’s ad revenues for the year.

Dubai TV execs are hoping Gulf auds’ fondness for their Bedouin origins will make “Struggle on the Sand” a hit.

“This is all about love and war in the time of the Bedouins,” says Dubai Media managing editor Ali Jaber. “We think it will be popular and maybe even steal the show this Ramadan. It has the branding of Sheikh Mohammed all over it, which adds substantial value to the show across the region.”

Dubai TV already has started promoting “Struggle on the Sand” on-air, an indication of its confidence in it. But the pressure is on execs to make sure they deliver a hit for the boss — Dubai Media is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s ruling Al Maktoum family.

“Failure is not an option,” quips Jaber.

The competition for Ramadan ratings is increasing each year.

Dubai TV also has a legal drama with popular Egyptian star Yousra in the pipeline and is in negotiations to acquire a biopic about President Nasser, who drew regional adoration for espousing pan-Arab nationalism throughout the 1960s before falling from grace after the defeat of Egypt and other Arab states in the 1967 war against Israel.

Leading pan-Arab satcaster MBC has a sequel to last year’s breakout Syrian skein “Bab Al-Harra” in the works as well as a biopic of its own, “Asmahan,” about the beautiful singer who died mysteriously in 1944 amid conspiracy theories that she was a British spy.

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