As if overseeing the development of a booming metropolis isn’t enough, Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed is trying his hand at another skill: scriptwriting.
Lensing has wrapped on “Struggle on the Sand,” a $6 million 30-episode skein based on Sheik 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 occupation of the Arabian Peninsula by the Ottoman Empire.
Hatem Ali, the Syrian helmer who scored one of Arab TV’s biggest hits last year with historical biopic “King Farouk,” about Egypt’s last monarch who was deposed in a 1952 coup led by future prexy Gamal Abdel Nasser, is taking the reins on the skein.
It is believed to be the first time an Arab ruler has had such close involvement with a dramatic production in the region.
“Sheik 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,” says Ali.
Lensing took place in Syria, Morocco and across the United Arab Emirates, with a supporting cast of a thousand extras to fill out the battle scenes.
“Struggle on the Sand,” co-produced by governmental TV web Dubai Media Inc. and Ali’s shingle Picture for Media Prod s., will form the linchpin 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 tube every evening after breaking their daily fast.
High up on Arab TV execs’ priorities is attracting ad dollars out of the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, which can account for anywhere from 30%-40% of a channel’s ad revenues for the year. Dubai TV execs are hoping that Gulf auds’ fondness for their Bedouin origins will make their blockbusting show a hit.
“This is all about love and war in the time of the Bedouins,” says Dubai Media Inc. managing editor Ali Jaber. “We think it will be popular and maybe even steal the show this Ramadan. It has the branding of Sheik Mohammed all over it, which adds substantial value to the show across the region.”
Dubai TV has already started promoting “Struggle on the Sand” on-air, an indication of their confidence behind it, although the pressure is on to make sure they deliver the boss — Dubai Media Inc. is owned by the ruling Maktoum family — a hit.
“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 pipelines and is in negotiations to acquire a historical biopic about legendary Egyptian prexy Gamal Abdel Nasser, who drew regional adoration for his espousing of pan-Arab nationalism throughout the 1960s before falling from grace after the resounding 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 historical biopic of its own “Asmahan,” the tragic tale of the beautiful singer who died mysteriously in 1944 amid conspiracy theories she was a British spy during the second world war.