Intersection: Is Turkey reaching a turning point?
Turkey has dominated the international drama scene in recent years without a breakout global hit. Could Intersection take the country’s scripted series to new heights?
While the explosion in Turkish drama’s popularity has seen it conquer audiences in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, viewers in the US, UK and Western Europe have yet to fall for the country’s storytelling charms.
That could be about to change, however, as the makers of Intersection believe their series could be the first drama to break out as a global Turkish hit.
Intersection, known locally as Kördüğüm, is described as a love story that examines contemporary relationships, the divide between rich and poor and the financial and moral commitments of love.
It follows married couple Naz and Umut Özer, whose marriage starts to break down when they meet wealthy businessman Ali Nejat Karasu and Umut’s ambitious streak begins to drive the couple apart.
Produced by Endemol Shine Turkey (EST) for Fox Turkey, the 13-part series stars İbrahim Çelikkol (Ali), Belçim Bilgin (Naz) and Alican Yücesoy (Umut), and is directed by Ömer Faruk Sorak.
“Turkish dramas have become hits everywhere they have been on air,” says Hakan Eren, chief commercial officer at EST. “Last year, even in Latin America, Turkish series ranked right after English-language series. There are very few territories left like US, UK and Western Europe (without Turkish dramas on air) and they have already started to adapt Turkish dramas. I hope Intersection will be the first to break out as a global hit.”
Looking for a new series that would appeal to both male and female viewers, Eren, EST MD Gökhan Tatarer and former head of drama Hülya Vural wanted to devise a story that showed the real Istanbul, a melting pot of cultures with opportunities, consequences and choices.
But what makes Intersection stand out from other Turkish dramas? Eren says there is a trend for suburban-set melodramas or series with oriental themes that reflect the eastern part of the country, “but what distinguishes us from other productions is that the stories and dilemmas reflected in our scripts are universal, creating bonds with human emotions and conditions on a global scale, not only with Turkish culture and tradition.”
He adds: “We also try to reflect the Western side of people’s lives in one of the most beautiful and characteristic cities in the world.”
Viewers will also be drawn to Intersection because “our protagonists are not always heroes, not always perfect,” Eren continues. “They have flaws, which make them human, and they are not represented as stereotypes.”
EST also demanded the highest quality in terms of production and cinematography. “From sound editing to casting, and even in location choices, we want every element of the production to help tell the story,” he explains. “We do not just rely on the cast or the script. That’s why when viewers first watch Intersection they get the feeling of watching a movie instead of a telenovela.”
To bring Intersection to life, Eren assembled a creative team including writer Yıldız Tunc (1001 Nights and Broken Pieces) and project designer and director Sorak alongside Tatarer and Vural.
A year-long story and script development process then got underway, with some early scripts going through 10 drafts before they were approved and production began. Intersection subsequently debuted on Fox Turkey in January.
Discussing the cast, Eren says: “Belçim has appeared in many feature films internationally and here in Turkey, and Intersection is the only drama series she has taken part in. She’s currently acting in US film Backstabbing for Beginners, in which she stars alongside Ben Kingsley.
“Ibrahim is one of the top leading men in Turkish drama, while we had the pleasure of working with Alican in another of our series, My Destiny. The entire cast is very well known in the Turkish drama market, which definitely added value to the production.”
Filming began in Como, Italy, where the producers called upon Endemol Shine Italy to provide ground support, before the production moved to Istanbul – which becomes a central character in the ensuing drama, despite the difficulties posed by shooting in the city.
“Filming in Istanbul is really challenging,” Eren says. “It is a big metropolis where more than 25 million people live. It’s also an unpredictable city. Weather can change in an hour, traffic always plays with your shooting schedule, locations are extremely expensive and it’s always crowded.
“However, at the same time, Istanbul is one of the leading characters in the series; it is unexpected but adventurous, crowded yet people feel alone. It’s so difficult to live and work there but also too beautiful to leave. Our characters face the same dilemma.”
Eren recalls countless sleepless nights when the series was in post-production as the team sought to make a “flawless” show: “Audiences these days are exposed to drama series on eight different channels in Turkey every day. We needed the production values of Intersection to be extremely high, as viewers can easily spot any differences in production quality, music or artistic design.”
Extra importance for Eren is added by the fact the show marks EST’s first link-up with its parent group’s distribution arm, Endemol Shine International.
“Our previous scripted series have been very powerful in many territories like the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but we believe that, combined with the distribution capabilities of Endemol Shine International (ESI) and our production quality and expertise, Intersection will open doors to Western Europe, the UK and the US for the first time. We also believe Intersection can travel not only as a ready-made show but also as a format to be adapted. That excites us at the utmost level.”
Eren’s confidence lies in his belief that Intersection is a story beyond cultural or religious boundaries: “Around the world, ambitions and desires shape who we are and they change us on a continual basis. Although we always look out for love and want to be loved by our partner, our parents and kids, we also look for self-realisation, satisfaction and empowerment. Most of the time, we find ourselves stuck between the choices we want to make and the choices we have to make. This story belongs to each one of us.”
In Turkey’s highly competitive market, where every mainstream network fills primetime with its own dramas, there is fierce competition, which means producers and writers are becoming more creative in their search for the next big hit.
The signs are good for Intersection, however, which was renewed for a second season in March after the series debuted in January with a peak audience of 3.2 million viewers, more than one million above Fox’s primetime average.
“Nowadays, the trend is either drama (romance, period or family oriented) or comedies (romantic comedies that mostly focus on 20-plus age group relationships),” he says. “At EST, although we try to follow the trends, we only produce the series we believe in. We want to grab the viewers’ full attention in all demo groups and focus on stories with an international appeal.”
That’s where ESI CEO Cathy Payne comes in. “The appeal of Turkish drama to date has predominantly been across Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS, Middle East and Latin America,” she says. “These markets have traditionally embraced the rich storytelling of serialised relationship drama, and Turkish scripted is delivering a fresh take on that genre.
“Long-running, relationship-based serialised drama has traditionally travelled less in Western Europe and English-speaking US. However, with the growing number of subscription services, there are new opportunities to explore. Turkish drama already has a very strong following in Germany on YouTube and we are looking forward to talking to television broadcasters about Intersection.”