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Turkish soap operas turn Istanbul into Paris of the East

Veteran film journalist Esin Kucuktepepinar had just arrived back in Turkey after attending the Tokyo International Film Festival when she spoke by phone to Al-Monitor on Nov. 3 from the Istanbul airport. During the interview, she offered her impressions on the success of Turkish TV soap opera series.

Author Tulay Cetingulec

“Interest in Turkish series is growing everywhere,” said Kucuktepepinar, a member of the International Federation of Film Critics. “Foreigners recognize our serial stars — ones I don’t even know. Moreover, there is a lot of interest in the cities and locations where series are filmed.” Kucuktepepinar said Indonesian film critics had told her that the series are very popular in their country.

TV series, as an important part of popular culture, can contribute significantly to tourism revenues by providing publicity for countries the world over. TV viewers who follow such series represent potential tourists. For example, “Miami Vice,” which ran from 1984 to 1989 in the United States, became an international hit and is credited with greatly boosting tourism to Miami, according to “Effects of Films and Television Dramas on Destination Image,” a 2009 report by the Journal of Business Research.

Now, Turkey has followed suit, attracting tourists and increasing its income through the export of TV series. For a time, Brazilian series had Turks glued to their TV sets even though, according to Kucuktepepinar, they were repetitive and rarely distinguished between fact and fiction. These days, however, Brazilians are avid fans of Turkish series, she said.

Explaining the popularity of these shows, Kucuktepepinar cited the “gorgeous mansions with the latest-model cars where the rich and the poor mingle, allowing people to escape from their problems.” She added, “They show the rich and beautiful coping with mundane problems just like we do.”

A 2015 report by Turkey’s Touristic Hotels & Investors Association (TUROB) said the number of tourists visiting Turkey from South America, mainly from Brazil and Argentina, increased 70% during 2010-14. This unusually high growth rate came about despite the long distances involved and the economic hardships the populations in these countries faced.

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