Being in Turkey, one of the many things I hoped to get away from was the constant bombardment of reality television. Having worked in television and film for over 6 years, including MTV, I had come to the point where if I never saw another reality show again, I’d be ecstatic. Having said that, I continue to work with reality stars on a variety of productions, and in doing so, am obliged to watch the shows, being sucked into their realities and glued to find out what happens next. It’s a cycle of insanity!
Everyone has their opinions about reality TV, and when entertainment groups and programmers predicted that the genre would take over the industry, I didn’t really believe it. Unfortunately they were right, and fast forward to today, and you can’t find one channel that doesn’t have at least 2 or 3 reality-style TV shows.
In fact, the whole development behind them has scaled down production budgets immensely, cutting opportunities for many talented and aspiring writers and underpaying the show’s “stars”. Nevertheless, being optimistic of leaving the TV threshold and living in a foreign country, a country FOX News may deem as simply “Muslim” and “Middle Eastern”, you’ll soon find it’s anything but those simplistic generalizations. Turkey has a large market for reality shows, and unlike what I’m used to in the states, they have taken certain “realities” to a whole new level.
For example, take the show Yemekteyiz (We’re at dinner), which centers on several sort of ‘contestants’, who each take turns having a dinner over each of their respective contestant’s houses. The show starts off with the selected person announcing what they are going to cook, and shows the process of making their meal in the kitchen. Now, to anyone who has been to Turkey, you know that one of the few things to ever complain about is the food. Having lived here for a bit of time, intermixed with several trips I’ve taken to Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities, the food experience has always been a delight. However, these contestants do and say whatever they can to criticize their meal. Before the plate even hits the table, the other contestants are all ready ripping the chef apart, with stink faces so heavy, they’ve left some people crying and yelling like crazy. In the end, my heart is just broken, because I know how hard it is to make the cuisines, and being met with such rudeness for the sake of ratings just saddens me.
On a lighter note, but definitely strange, the game show Su gibi (Like Water), introduces a single man and woman on a panel in front of a live audience. Unlike the conventional date show, the objective is to get the couple to marry by the end of the program. The audience, as do I, watch the couple as they pose a series of questions, helping them come to a decision of whether to elope or not. The craze has spawned a variety of similar shows, some which feature actual weddings by the end of the episode!
One other reality show, that I’ve read about but have not seen yet, is Tövbekarlar yarisiyor (Penitents Compete), which centers around a priest, imam, rabbi, and Buddhist monk whose goal is to convert as many atheists (12) to their respective religion within eight weeks. I have to say, embarrassingly enough, that this is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve heard, partly because religion is such a heated discussion among the Judeo-Christian-Islamic circles, it would be interesting to see how it turns out, especially if a Buddhist wins! The winning convert wins an all expenses paid trip to their respective holy site (Jerusalem, Vatican, Mecca, Tibet).
In the end, reality TV has made an imprint on the pop culture of Turkey, and is nothing I can run away from. Having the NY production experience, it leaves me thinking whether to get involved with the Turkish productions or not. I think I have an idea about the new show too! A yabanci filmmaker comes to Turkey and has to learn the language, set up residence, and do whatever he can to get a work visa…wait, that is my life. But where are the cameras?