The battle for viewers during the Ramadan TV race
CAIRO: Social dramas dominated the small screen this Ramadan, marking the return of many stars who had failed to impress in last season s TV race.
Whether it was Nour El-Sherif as the middle-class father struggling to uphold his ethics, Yehia El-Fakharany as the opposition politician with his own personal battles or newcomer Syrian actor Gamal Soliman as the village villain, this year s TV stories got many viewers hooked throughout the holy month.
The quality of this month s productions is better than previous years, says TV critic Atef Soliman.
He said El-Sherif s serial Hadret El-Motaham Abi (The Respected Suspect, My Father), El-Fakharany s Seket El-Helaly (El-Helaly s Road), and Gamal Soliman s Hadaaeq El-Shaytan (The Devil s Gardens) were particularly noteworthy and ranked as viewers’ favorites in numerous TV and newspaper polls.
Critic Soliman says the scripts and the stellar performances of the actors contributed to their successes.
While some scripts seemed to make the production, others failed to live up to the promise of the idea. This year saw the failure of the much anticipated biographical TV serials. Productions following the lives of iconic singer Abdel Halim Hafez and actress Soad Hosny failed to receive the same popularity the acclaimed Om Kalthoum TV series received a few years ago.
“It s all about the papers, the papers, the papers, says Soliman, referring to the weak scripts of biographical serials El-Andalib (The Nightingale) and El-Cinderella.
The exception, in Soliman s opinion, was actor Hassan Youssef s El-Maraghy, which follows the life of late Azhar Sheikh Mohamed El-Maraghy, and Jordanian director Mohamed Aziziya s Khaled Bin El-Waleed.
Adding to the drama associated with Ramadan TV, there were the legal entanglements to follow as well.
Families of Abdel Halim and Soad Hosny were unhappy with the small screen adaptations and in some cases threatened to sue production companies for what they said were historical inaccuracies and exaggeration.
Khaled Bin El-Waleed also drew critics who didn t approve of the onscreen portrayal of certain figures from Islamic history.
This, however, didn t affect the airing of these serials.
The problems weren t limited to biographical serials; Laila Elwi s Nour El-Sabah (The Light of Day) left the Tourist Guides Union complaining and threatening to sue. The union said Elwi s portrayal of female tour guides was unreal and defamatory.
Gamal Soliman also faced heavy criticism, but this time from his Egyptian counterparts. Some complained that casting a Syrian actor as a man from Upper Egypt, requiring the mastering of a southern accent, undermined Egyptian actors.
But the success that Soliman s serial enjoyed was sufficient response to this wave of criticism. Gamal s participation added a special flavor to the serial, says Atef Soliman. Art doesn t know regionalism or geography.
Aside from the waves of criticism and the potential legal problems, another battle took place on the screens. With the increasing number of satellite TV stations, more serials found airing outlets and in the process battled for viewers attention.
Each satellite station got an exclusive deal on a TV serial featuring a major star, especially the veiled actresses who couldn t find a place on Egyptian national TV. These included Hanan Turk, Suheir Ramzy and Suheir El-Bably.
It s an artistic return accompanied by a commercial return, says Soliman of the veiled actresses who have been out of the limelight for some years. He says producers had told him they wouldn t have put their money in productions starring these actresses if it weren t for the guaranteed revenue.
The viewers find the serial they like, follow it and relate to it, notes Soliman.
Continuing a tradition from the past few years, non-Egyptian serials also found popularity. Khaled Bin El-Waleed is a distinguished production, says Soliman.
All in all, TV serials have surpassed the popularity of talk shows and other similar programs, he adds. He points, however, to Hussein Fahmy s program El Nas We Ana (The People and I) as an exception and a remarkable production.