With such an indisputable impact, Netflix certainly was not about to miss out on that wave, jumping right into original Turkish productions in 2018 with genre-bending The Protector (Hakan: Muhafız).
Impressed by the incredible success of the aforementioned series as well as other Turkish originals since added to its repertoire, the likes of Atiye, Aşk 101, Netflix announced plans to invest even further in the future of Turkish filmmaking and the global streaming giant kept to its promise, making a big splash earlier this year about the platform's forthcoming Turkish originals: six brand new projects; three new original series that will launch in 2021, one unscripted programming, one branded original film, and one season renewal.
With The Protector series successfully wrapping its fourth and final season just last week and with COVID-19 restrictions eased in Turkey, production was just about to kick off for a brand new Netflix Turkish Original, Şimdiki Aklım Olsaydı ("If Only" as it was titled in English) –– that is, until the show abruptly canceled.
When we say "about to kick off," we mean the whole shebang –– the day of filming the first episode had arrived; casting was long completed, director/writers/other crew had been hired, etc.
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Now the question became, why would Netflix do such a thing after investing so much time and money in the project already? Well, to keep it short and simple – RTÜK and their continuous attempts to censor content that's published in Turkey!
RTÜK, for people who are unaware, is Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council and they are "in charge" of a lot of things but mostly infamous for television broadcast censorship. Well, you can make that online broadcast censorship too.
With shows that currently air on traditional TV in Turkey, enforcing their regulations is pretty much a piece of cake for RTÜK as they have a system in place: hand out warnings and/or fines to channels/producers who fail to meet their ever-changing standards and in the event of noncompliance, remove the broadcast from air altogether.
Matters were, however, a bit tricker for online streaming platforms like Netflix, which are privately owned and operated in countries outside of Turkey.
Just before 2019 ended, the Council had come up with a plan of action after being officially granted ample authority to regulate and monitor sound and visual broadcasting shared on the internet. This meant that in other for online streaming services like Netflix to keep running undisrupted in Turkey, they "were obliged to obtain broadcast licenses from RTÜK," as Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Netflix boasts subscribers in the millions in Turkey at press time, so it should come as no surprise that they were in fact amongst the 600+ license requests RTÜK claims to have received after putting the new restrictions in place.
It was all rainbows and sunshine, until the last couple of weeks, when reports of Netflix Turkey allegedly changing the sexual orientation of one of its series' characters started making rounds (rumors have suggested Aşk 101's Osman). A claim Netflix has vehemently denied as "it is against their principles" to make alterations to its shows to meet political demands or otherwise.
...Fast forward to July 17. News broke that Şimdiki Aklım Olsaydı, which was due to start filming before the pandemic happened, had been completed scrapped.
The series was to follow the story of Reyhan, a woman who was unhappy and disappointed in her marriage, until a miracle happened that let her time travel to a turning point in her life but as her much more mature and 30-year old self and per journalist Sina Koloğlu, the original script of the Ay Yapim production had a character simply mention being gay, and this in itself required new permissions to be obtained from RTÜK.
To speed things along, an interview with the show's creator/screenwriter, Ece Yörenç, revealed the writing team behind the series was more than willing to change the entire script to appeal to RTÜK but Netflix had refused, resulting in the cancellation of the series altogether, because where really does the censorship start and stop?
Appalled by the chain of events in the last couple of days, the creator Ece Yörenç stated: "bir gey karakter nedeniyle dizinin çekimlerine izin verilmediğini ve bunun ilerisi için çok korkutucu" (Filming was not permitted due to a gay character and this is scary for the future). The future is INDEED scary.
It is worth acknowledging that even with the cancellation of the series, Netflix made it a point to compensate the creator of the series as well as other cast and crew members who have been working tirelessly to make the series happen.
As many actors who have worked with Netflix have rightfully pointed out, the streaming service had created sort of a safe haven for both actors and crew members alike. For starters, the working conditions were so much better to get accustomed to as Netflix was not only mindful of its people and their time, the streaming giant also made it a point to prioritize work-life balance, a stark comparison to the current traditional Turkish TV culture, wherein cast and crew members sometimes work back-to-back 6-day weeks with many hours spent on set.
The internet is currently swamped with rumors of Netflix completely ceasing production of all-things Turkish but there have been no official confirmations to back up these claims as of right now. As a matter of fact, per TV100, production is slated to begin imminently for two other Netflix Turkish productions that were already in the works; Atiye (Season 3; Season 2 was already filmed), and dark comedy series 50M2, which was just days away from wrapping its first season before the pandemic happened.
Oh and one last major FYI...
Para ile üye olunarak izlenen bir tv kanalının yayınlarından rahatsız oluyorsanız, üye olmayın ?— Fırat Tanış (@firattanis) July 19, 2020
UPDATE (July 20): Netflix has released an official statement, debunking rumors of its departure from Turkey.
"At Netflix, we remain deeply committed to our members and creative community in Turkey. We are proud of the talented names we have worked with. We are very excited for our projects, which are currently under construction and will soon be shooting, and we look forward to sharing these stories with our members from all corners of the world.”