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UAE-produced Saudi soap opera heralds new era for regional TV drama

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Watching soap operas is a cherished pastime in many Arab homes.

Almost none of the programmes, however, are original Arabic regional content, hailing instead from countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

The Middle East Broadcasting Center Group, known as MBC, says it has pioneered Saudi Arabia's first soap opera.

'Inheritance', or 'Al Mirath' in Arabic, is a melodramatic saga of feuding families in the kingdom.

New ground

MBC’s director of television says the conglomerate is looking to revamp the Arab TV industry, via original & relatable content, to attract a wider & potentially international audience.

“How families react to conflicts, how enemies start, and friendships start - these are human values that are available and found in every society,” says Ali Jaber of the media giant which currently broadcasts to 180 million weekly viewers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Investing in human capital is key to tapping broader markets, Jaber went on to say:

Ali Jaber speaks to Inspire Middle East

“We have to invest in a lot of training, to produce [soap operas] in a better way - with better quality and better storytelling techniques.”

People power

In partnership with UAE media companies TwoFour54 and Image Nation, MBC Studios trained producers and first-time soap actors in Abu Dhabi, ahead of Inheritance’s debut.

Saudi national and former HR consultant, Turki Alkuraydis, plays the role of Zaid.

The 35-year-old attributes the show’s well-formed characters to its popularity in his home country so far.

“This is maybe the first time to have this idea [explored],” he told Inspire Middle East’s Salim Essaid. “With members of a family, each family having their [own] issues, all under the bigger issue of an inheritance.”

Smart scripting

Abdullah Aljneibi directs on set

The soap opera premiered across the Middle East in March, when COVID-19 lockdown measures struck many regional countries.

This posed a challenge for producers given that continuous, regular filming was slated throughout the year.

As a precaution, the creative team adapted the scripts, says Emirati director Abdullah Aljneibi.

Changes included writers weaving real-life events into dialogue and some characters contracting COVID-19.

The team also took fan suggestions for plot developments into consideration, following a flood of feedback since the show first aired.

“There are fights breaking out on social media between fans,” says Aljneibi of the rapidly expanding fan base. “We are giving Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf, the next generation of actors.”

Filming of the second series of Inheritance is currently underway, to find out more, click here.