By Anna Sirmoglu
COVID-19 has had an impact on all aspects of life and the Turkish TV and film industry is no exception. Most networks suspended the production of their TV shows until further notice which resulted in re-runs to fill the gaps. Naturally, networks opted for fan favorites. Ask'i Memnu and Kuzey Guney, starring Kivanc Tatlitug, one of Turkey’s biggest stars, are currently being re-aired with great success, both social media and ratings wise.
Very few Turkish actors have had the same level of impact, success and reach that Kivanc Tatlitug has had through his work. Let’s look back at his body of work, starting with Gumus, to find out just how much of an imprint some of these shows and films have left.
Gumus is the love story of Gumus (Songul Oden) and Mehmet (Kivanc Tatlitug). The relationship starts off as an arranged marriage but blossoms into a beautiful, long lasting love.
The hundred episode story follows them through their ups and downs and the viewers see them grow and mature both individually and as a couple.
The show was a big hit in Turkey for its duration (3 seasons) but its domestic success pales in comparison to the huge impact the show had in boosting the Turkish TV export industry through its popularity in the Middle East. The dizi debuted as “Noor” in Arabic on the Saudi owned channel MBC in 2008 (one of the first Turkish exports abroad) and became a phenomenon across the Arab world. The show’s final episode attracted 85 million Arab viewers. MBC even launched a pay TV channel dedicated to Noor that allowed viewers to watch episodes around the clock.
The show’s success was like no other in the Middle East and Kivanc became a huge idol. Young men mimicked his moves and hairstyle (even bleaching their hair to look more like him) and women idolized him. Divorce rates went up as women became dissatisfied with their real-life marriages. Maternity wards reported a significant rise in the names Noor and Mohannad and clothing stores reported huge sales of tops and dresses seen on the show. In short, the show created hysteria.
Crucially, what the show also created was a demand for Turkish content that turned Turkey into a major global player in TV exports. The export revenue obtained from Turkish TV series these days exceeds $500 million a year (2018 figures) compared to less than $10 million in 2008 and Turkish shows are taking the monopoly of prime time slots in many locations around the world through the Middle East, the Balkans, Latin America, Central Asia and southern Europe.
Gumus was instrumental in swiftly turning the tide for the Turkish TV export industry due to the show’s and Kivanc’s and Songul’s popularity in the Middle East. It also provided a boost to the Turkish tourist industry due to fans traveling to see locations where Gumus/Noor was filmed. The number of Middle East and North African visitors jumped 50% in just one year since the show debuted on MBC.
MENEKSE ILE HALIL (2007-2008)
Menekse ile Halil is Kivanc’s second dizi. It was a ratings success in Turkey, frequently topping the weekly charts while it aired. The show was also very popular amongst the Turkish diaspora in Germany, in the Middle East and in a number of Balkan countries. It was the story of Halil and Menekse, two young people and their journey to be together despite all the obstacles that life threw at them. The show tackled and helped encourage debates on burning societal issues around forced marriages and domestic violence. Even though the show was a ratings success in Turkey it ended after 36 episodes. Reason? Kivanc was chosen as the male lead of a new, ambitious Ay Yapim show that would make history at home and abroad.
ASK’I MEMNU/FORBIDDEN LOVE (2008-2010)
Ask’i Memnu tells the story of the forbidden love between Behlul (Kivanc Tatlitug) and Bihter (Beren Saat) who is married to Behlul’s older uncle. From start to finish we follow their evolving, passionate love story which goes through various tribulations.
Ask'i Memnu broke rating records in Turkey and is still one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ratings success story in the country. The streets in Turkey were empty for the show finale, which attracted 59% of the total viewership. The show, Kivanc and Beren won numerous awards and the show even generated a fashion craze with clothes, jewelry and perfumes worn by Bihter, Behlul and other main characters becoming sought after items in shops all over Turkey.
Even after all these years the show still tops a number of official surveys and polls in Turkey as one of the most successful series ever made while Bihter and Behlul continue to win most unforgettable on-screen couple surveys. The show re-airs in Turkey at least once a year and always achieves high ratings and significant social media attention, trending on twitter and elsewhere.
Ask'i Memnu was also a major hit abroad in a number of regions and continents. For instance, more than 90 million people tuned in for the finale in Pakistan and it was re-aired in the country several times. It remains one of the most sold Turkish dramas abroad and has even been re-adapted in a number of countries. It is safe to say that Ask'i has created a legacy that is hard to top while Behlul and Bihter are household names in Turkey and will continue to capture the hearts of Turkish audiences for years to come. The show has proven to be timeless.
Ezel starring Kenan Imirzalioglu, is one of the most successful and highly regarded Turkish T.V. shows. Kivanc was a guest star in Ezel for a total of 4 episodes. While Kivanc’s presence in the show was brief, his character’s impact was major. Sekiz, the tortured psychopath, is still one of the most memorable Ezel characters in the Turkish public’s psyche, despite his brief stint in the 71-episode show.
Sekiz opened season 2 of Ezel and the public was wowed by the evident physical and acting transformation in Kivanc from lover boy Behlul to dangerous, fierce, killing machine Sekiz.
The opening episode ranked first amongst the top 100 programs watched, while both Sekiz and Kivanc ranked first on Twitter’s trending worldwide list.
The final Sekiz episode performed even stronger ratings and social media wise. His departure upset millions who campaigned for Sekiz to come back. Later in the season, when Ezel ratings were somewhat faltering, fans further campaigned for his return – at that point, Kivanc had other plans which included the creation of a new T.V. character that would steal Turkish people’s hearts and minds.
KUZEY GUNEY (2011-2013)
Kuzey Guney is the story of two brothers, Kuzey (Kivanc Tatlitug) and Guney (Bugra Gulsoy), who much like their names (North and South) are diametric opposites. They are also in love with the same girl. The show’s unique and thrilling plot captured the hearts of the Turkish public and to these days the show is described as "efsanevi" (legendary) while Kuzey Tekinoglu (Kivanc’s character) is one of the most memorable T.V. characters featured on the small screen, largely thanks to Kivanc’s unique talent and hard work.
Kivanc’s physical transformation for the role was spectacular. He underwent heavy military-style training, daily 2-hour boxing sessions for over four months and a strict nutrition regime which helped him lose 11 kilos in two months without losing any muscle mass.
Kuzey Guney’s first episode took the 1st place in the Rating list and it continued to perform well ratings wise till the end. After two long seasons and a total of 80 episodes Kuzey Guney came to an end on 26 June 2013. Both Kivanc and the show received a long list of awards and critical acclaim. The show was also popular abroad and has sold in a substantial number of countries. It was one of the first Turkish dizis to air in India and became one of the top-rated shows breaking viewing records in the country.
The success and legacy of the show is evident through the continued, strong presence of Kuzey Tekinoglu and Kuzey Guney on social media. Fans of all ages still create videos impersonating Kuzey while, when Kanal D announced that they would re-air the show, fans enthusiastically stormed social media with tweets such as the following: “We spent all our high school years trying to unsuccessfully copy Kuzey and mimic his mannerisms trying to hold the phone the way he did and always dropping it. It is such a pleasure for TV channels to re-air popular shows during the quarantine”.
KELEBEGIN RUYASI/THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM (2013)
The Butterfly’s Dream, directed by Yilmaz Erdogan, is the story of two young tuberculous poets in the 1940s (played by Kivanc Tatlitug and Mert Firat) trying to survive while vying for the affection of a young woman through their poems. This was Kivanc’s first major big screen endeavor and what an endeavor it was! The film was the most expensive Turkish film made to date (but also a highly grossing one both in Turkey and around the world) and Turkey’s official nominee in the category of “Best Foreign Film” for the 2014 Oscar Academy Awards.
The film received great acclaim from the public and critics in Turkey and abroad and an array of domestic and international awards. Kivanc won several awards for his portrayal of the poet Muzaffer, including the prestigious Sadri Alisik Cinema and Theatre Award and the Siyad Turkish Cinema Award. International reviewers were highly complementary of the film and Kivanc’s acting. “Acting is solid from top to bottom and it is the subtle and soulful work of Tatlitug, a model-turned-actor, that impressed the most, and not only because he becomes the de facto lead in the film’s second half” wrote Boyd Van Hoeij from the Hollywood Reporter.
KURT SEYIT VE SURA (2014)
Kurt Seyit ve Sura is an intense drama about love and betrayal set in the Russian revolution. It tells the story of a Kurt Seyit (Kivanc Tatlitug), a Turkish solider in the Tsar’s army and Alexandra/Sura (Farah Zeynep Abdullah), a beautiful Russian nobleman’s daughter who fall in love and are forced to leave their lives behind and escape to Istanbul.
Right from the outset Ay Yapim promoted the show as an epic, high budget production of international standards (which it very much was) and the promotion was also geared towards international audiences. Seyit ve Sura was the first Ay Yapim show entrusted to Eccho Rights, one of the biggest worldwide distributors. This was also the first time the show premiered simultaneously in Turkey (on Star TV) and in the Middle East (on MBC) over two geographical areas covering 500 million people.
While the show opened up with high ratings in Turkey, by episode 3 the ratings had fallen significantly and was cut short after 21 episodes. On the contrary, it was a huge ratings success in over 18 countries in the Middle East and performed brilliantly in a number of other countries across the world, including the Balkans, Russia and Eastern Europe. Kivanc’s and Farah’s popularity on the IMDB.com starmeter also skyrocketed due to the show’s success and popularity abroad.
Kurt Seyit ve Sura was also one of the first shows to become available on Netflix (December 2016) which introduced Kivanc and Turkish drama to an entirely new audience – North American audiences and other audiences where Turkish dramas had not yet spread their wings. Had it not been for Kurt Seyit ve Sura and a few other Turkish dramas on Netflix, thousands of North American and European fans would have not discovered Kivanc or Turkish drama for that matter. So, while the show was not a ratings success back home it still left a very important legacy and it was many people’s introduction to the magic of Turkish dizis.
CESUR VE GUZEL/BRAVE AND BEAUTIFUL (2016-2017)
The show tells the story of Cesur Alemdaroglu (Kivanc Tatlitug) who visits Kordulag, a small town outside Istanbul with a clear mission; to take revenge on Tahsin Korludag (Tamer Levent), his father’s murderer. His plans are somewhat disrupted when he falls in love with Suhan (Tuba Buyukustun), Tahsin Kordulag’s daughter.
Cesur ve Guzel was a ratings success in Turkey performing consistently well while on air but it also sold significantly abroad (totaling over 85 sales as at early 2019) opening up new markets previously not exposed to Turkish dizis. For instance, it was the first dizi to ever air in Spain performing really well. It also trumped its competitors in Chile premiering with double numbers than the second-best competitor. Not only did Cesur ve Guzel win numerous awards in Turkey for best show, acting and best couple but it also received international accolades.
It won the Silver Prize Award in the Seoul International Drama Awards (Kivanc was also a best actor nominee), Kivanc and Tuba won the best couple award in the Distinctive International Arab Festivals Awards, while the show was the second dizi after Kara Sevda to have received an International Emmy Awards nomination. Recently the show was also sold in Sweden, a relatively new territory for Turkish dizis.
HADI BE OGLUM (2018)
Hadi be Oglum is the story of Ali (Kivanc Tatlitug), a fisherman whose life is dedicated to his son Efe (Alihan Turkdemir) who is on the autistic spectrum. The film focuses on their mutual effort to communicate with each other and how they grow in the process. Its beautiful message portrayed subtly without essentializing and stereotyping disability is one of its biggest strengths. The film was praised by a number of educators in Turkey for its approach towards learning disability and Kivanc was commended for his acting excellence (also winning awards for his performance as Captain Ali). It also featured Feridun Duzagac, a very popular Turkish singer and songwriter.
While most Turkish films (including high end productions) fail to perform well on the big screen, Hadi (a low budget, independent little film) did exceptionally well considering its modest budget and promotion. The film also premiered in many European cities and who can’t remember Kivanc’s promotional tour in Stuttgart, Vienna and Rotterdam and the crowds’ warm, enthusiastic welcome. Yet another success story!
Kivanc’s latest dizi is about life that intersects with the collision of four cars. A thrilling, crime, action drama with a different flavor and strong performances, Carpisma rocked the social media world but was not a strong contender rating wise. Having said that, as per the Forbes Turkey official revenue figures, it was one of the most profitable Turkish shows (number 8) of the 2018/2019 season achieving higher revenue that most other (including highly rated) dizis. This goes to show that T.V. ratings are one amongst many factors that determine a show’s success.
The character of Kadir Adali was very much loved by the Turkish public with many impersonations of him all over social media even to this day while entire stadiums filled with thousands of spectators were chanting Kadir’s football anthem while the show aired. Carpisma earned Kivanc many university and other acting awards for his breath-taking performance as Kadir Adali. It also received the Silver Bird Prize in the Seoul International Drama Awards in 2019 (Kivanc once again was a best actor nominee). Notably, only five Turkish series have won a Seoul International Drama Award, 2 of which (Cesur and Carpisma) are Kivanc shows and one of which Kivanc has had a guest-starring role in (Ezel). As at September 2019, 60 countries had purchased Carpisma and sales news continued to emerge.
And a political success – MBC pulled all Turkish dramas off the air in 2018 as a result of the political tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This was a significant plight for Turkish TV exports in the Middle East. The ban was lifted in 2019 with Carpisma being the first show to air post ban!
Organize Isler2/Money Trap (2019)
Organize Isler (Money Trap) was the second edition of Yilmaz Erdogan’s comedy classic. This time round Kivanc Tatlitug appeared in his first comedy role as Sari Saruhan, an Adana mobster, and stole the show with his performance. The film was one of the highest grossing successes of the year (as expected) and the reviews were positive.
Once the film hit the screens the internet was flooded with overwhelmingly positive messages on Kivanc’s performance and this 25-minute appearance in the filmed earned him a series of prestigious awards, including the Sadri Alisik award for best cinema actor (second in his career, first being for The Butterfly’s Dream) and the Altin Objektif Odulleri best cinema actor award. Moreover, Money Trap was the most popular film on Netflix Turkey in 2019 after only airing on Netflix for a few weeks. Way to go Kivanc!
We don’t yet know what his next project will be (though prior to the Coronavirus crisis he announced that he has digital series and film plans). Needless to say we’re looking forward to Kivanc’s next big adventure (whatever that is) and we’re positive that he will produce another success that will break the mould and help showcase his tremendous talent.
All but one of Kivanc's shows are amongst the top 30 most sold shows abroad. As this is a September 2018 list Carpisma was not included but given its sale-ability success it will be included in future lists.
*Special thanks to @chastitygrace1 for generously sharing her invaluable knowledge of the Turkish TV industry and Kivanc Tatlitug.
Originally from Greece, Anna has lived and worked in the United Kingdom for nearly 20 years. She has a research background (PhD in Political Science) and currently works in the field of equalities and inclusion. She is passionate about cinema and enjoys editing videos in her free time. She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and her two kids, 6 and 10.
Copyright by Kivanc Tatlitug North America and Anna Sirmoglu
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