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TV Fans Suffer Withdrawal Pangs After Marathon Soap Opera Runs

September 26, 1989

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Just as American television viewers are beginning a new season of J.R. Ewing intrigues and Angela Channing plots, their fans here are suffering the pain of soap opera withdrawal.

It’s a hard comedown for viewers who for the past few months have enjoyed an almost nonstop run of ″Dallas,″ ″Dynasty,″ ″Knots Landing″ and ″Falcon Crest.″

Channel 55, Bahrain’s government-run English-language television network, presents the shows nightly instead of once a week, as in the United States. This means an entire season’s 30 installments are shown in one month.

Hamad Al-Mutlak, director of foreign programming, said this has enabled the network to catch up with the series in the States, whereas they previously lagged as much as two seasons behind. ″Falcon Crest″ ended this month with Angela Channing’s claim on the Tuscany Valley vineyard again in doubt and her son Richard headed for jail. Because the shows must be sent off for subtitling in Arabic, it will be sometime next summer before local viewers find out what happens next.

While dedicated fans may look in vain for acceptable substitutes, the end of the American soaps does not mean television in this desert region has become a wasteland.

The TV fare in the Persian Gulf, in fact, might be considered couch potato heaven, with perhaps more to choose from than in most countries, including the United States.

Top documentaries and educational programs - from American public television’s ″Smithsonian World″ to Britain’s ″All the World’s A Stage″ - run in prime time, along with BBC Shakespearan dramas, ″Sixty Minutes,″ sitcoms, cop shows, wildlife programs, movies and mini-series from the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.

Foreign TV addicts might find the periodic ″prayer intermissions″ on gulf networks a bit disruptive, and they might be annoyed by the odd transitions that result from Moslem censors excising scenes of kissing and what one local TV producer called ″the passionate stuff between the sheets.″

On the other hand, there’s hardly more than a hint of advertising.

Ads on Bahrain TV run in two-minute commercial breaks once or twice an evening.

Viewers here may also watch TV from Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia - even from Iran, depending on their antennae and the region’s freakish atmospheric conditions.

The other Arabic countries also have a wide range of programming for foreign as well as local viewers.

Saudi Arabia’s Aramco station, which basically serves the oil company’s foreign employees, brings top sports events from abroad. It is currently showing this year’s National Basketball Association finals.

The Saudi channels offer news in Arabic, English and French, and last week gave their late night audiences the videotaped confessions, with English voiceover, of 16 Kuwaitis convicted of terrorist bombings in Mecca - just hours after they were all beheaded.

Americans make up a relatively small segment of the foreign audience. But since ″Dallas″ was first shown here in 1975, the U.S. soaps, with their fast-paced plots and lively characters in luxurious settings, are the most popular programs, Mutlak said.

By contrast, one local TV critic complained of being bored by the Australian soap ″Sons and Daughters″ because ″all the action seems to take place in somebody’s kitchen.″ Mutlak said many viewers agreed, and it won’t be renewed.

When on the tube, the American soaps are even bad news for Bahrain’s video shops - accounting for a 25 percent drop in rentals, according to Ahmed Rashid, manager of a local video distributor.

He said that after watching ″Knots Landing″ or ″Falcon Crest″ from 9 to 10 p.m., ″people are too tired to watch a video.″

4EDT

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