Chile’s largest television audience last year was captured not by the country’s World Cup match against Brazil but by a Turkish soap opera. The show, One Thousand and One Nights, follows a woman named Şehrazat, who sleeps with her boss for money only to have him fall in love with her. It debuted in March 2014, promptly sparking a craze for Turkish TV shows, some of which now have prime-time slots. When the Chilean ambassador in Ankara sat down with a Turkish reporter in January, he explained that, while the program is on the air, Chile’s streets are virtually empty.
In part, this is because Chileans have fallen for Turkish stars such as Halit Ergenç, who plays both Şehrazat’s employer and, in a show called The Magnificent Century, a darkly charming Ottoman ruler. He is, one Chilean reporter says, the “heartthrob of the moment.” (Sample fan tweet: “I want a sultan in my life.”) Another reporter flew to Istanbul to interview Ergenç’s neighbors.
Why, though, would Chile import a Turkish soap in the first place? The answer seems to involve an element of chance. Soap operas usually travel between regions that share a language, but sometimes, when a network is desperate, it places a wild-card import in a filler slot. And every so often, that wild card turns into a hit. Take Oshin, a Japanese drama that transfixed Iranians in the late 1980s.