Theatre critic, journalist
Shant TV's latest acquisition, a TV series titled Antsanoty ("The Stranger"), became the center of public attention and a topic of discussion for rather unexpected reasons — it wasn't the quality, message or artistic value of the show but its genealogy that caused such a stir.
In its plot, dialogue, and mise-en-scènes, the series is a carbon copy of a Turkish production, a series titled Ezel — even the characters' names and monikers are phonetically similar. People in Armenia became aware of this fact through online sources, and the news was shared on blogs and Facebook.
A video proving the mirror reflection of scenes in the two series was created and uploaded online (see below). The video was carefully edited, proving that its author(s) had invested a great amount of work and spent a lot of time viewing scenes in the two shows.
The similarity between the Armenian and Turkish productions couldn't have been simply a coincidence. Many asked why an Armenian TV broadcaster was using a Turkish series as a source. This question was posed not from a legal (plagiarism) or artistic (filming, acting and so on) perspective but from an emotional one ("How could we copy something from the Turks?").
The Armenian series copied from the Turkish production was branded scandalous and "censored" on social networks and later by online news media.
When it was no longer possible to ignore the similarities between Antsanoty and Ezel, and an attack with nationalist, patriotic overtones began against the series, Shant TV issued a statement on its Facebook page in which it denied buying the Turkish series, pointing out that the series is an international television format based on the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Shant TV explained that it purchased the rights to film the series from the Swedish company Sparks Network. According to the Armenian broadcaster, similarities between TV series that are based on the same format are common.
Of course, ideas, formats, ready-made projects and the rights to adapt them are constantly bought and sold in the TV industry. And in this sense, Shant TV is the station in Armenia that most adheres to acquiring international projects and localizing them. Shant TV's programs grab viewers' attention by their solid structure, while the station fills the lack of fresh ideas and scripts by acquiring other formats, which is proof of smart management (though the sort of genres these acquisitions are is another matter).
At the end of the day, Shant TV is a private TV company, which made a decision and released a product. However, like a product, a TV series should also note its producer, importer and official distributor. Otherwise, it's intentionally misleading the buyer (in this case, the viewer). It seems this is what happened with Antsanoty — nowhere did it say who owns the format or the type of participation the Swedish company has in the production (is it the author or the reseller?).
Of course, every TV company has its internal matters, all the details of which average viewers don't need to know. However, if you see in Antsanoty's credits that the scriptwriter is local Armenian Eduard Zorikyan, trusting the station, you might be deceived since, according to this entry, Ezel has an original script, and it's scenes from this script that have been copied in Antsanoty.
However, it's not the matter of plagiarizing or not plagiarizing that interests many in this issue but the matter of borrowing (or buying) from Turkey. And Shant TV, by not admitting the link between Ezel and Antsanoty, further strains the situation. Finally, the Turkish series is a very professional piece of work (much like other Turkish products — textiles, foodstuffs, a great many of which are imported into Armenia).
Actually, matters of purchasing, adapting and copyright of the show are interesting from not only a legal perspective, but also a public self-awareness one. Two observations:
1. The competition among such shows in Armenia's TV industry is overly strained, since according to TV ratings, these are the types of shows that are most watched. For this reason, the basis of the stations' (at least the three most watched — H1, Armenia TV and Shant TV) tactics is "snatching" viewers from one another through their own produced drama series. It's interesting to note that the competition among these shows has become more intense online; that is, in that domain that can be considered the exact opposite of such TV dramas.
Viewers of drama TV series, perhaps, are not those who are active online users; however, heated debates or critiques online can pique interest and prompt users to turn on the television, which might cause other station managers to get jealous.
2. In Armenia, the functions of different spheres have begun to overlap, the obscure and unclear boundaries of which can lead to serious problems. For example, an artistic piece of work is viewed according to the Criminal Code, while a judge's activity is viewed according to morality.
A TV drama series is examined not by comparing it with other drama TV series, but from the point of view of national pride or humiliation. Such a disorder of spheres creates quite an explosive situation in those societies where it is preached that the national is above the law.