With Turkish drama already establishing a firm foothold with regional commercial broadcasters in the past decade, the genre is now set to receive the Netflix treatment. The streaming giant has launched its debut Turkish production, The Protector, with filming already under way in various parts of Istanbul.
A hero rises to the occasion
The series is a fantasy drama – with a release date still yet to be announced – and is set in the present day, as we follow the life of Hakan, a young shopkeeper who is shocked to discover that he is part of a secret and ancient order whose goal is to protect the city.
Stunned by the revelation, Hakan must not only come to terms with the weight of his responsibility, but also battle equally shadowy group the Immortals, whose aim is to wreak havoc in the cosmopolitan metropolis.
The Protector has already created a wave of expectation at home and among Turkish drama aficionados thanks to its strong cast. Starring as Hakan is Cagatay Ulusoy, one of the country's most promising young talents, known for his role in Medcezir (2013-2015), a Turkish version of the US youth drama The OC.
The 27-year-old will be joined by actress and fellow Medcezir cast member Hazar Erguclu, who plays his sidekick Zeynep, as well as seasoned actor Okan Yalabik, who plays the role of Hakan's mentor Faysal.
The Protector has an equally intriguing mix of talent behind the scenes: leading the crew is executive producer Alex Sutherland (who worked on successful Hollywood films Argo and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy) and half of the episodes are directed by acclaimed young Turkish indie filmmaker Can Evrenol.
A new dawn for Turkish production?
Speaking exclusively to The National from Istanbul, Sutherland admits that the eyes of the country's vibrant television industry are following the progress of The Protector very closely.
"There's a bit of a national expectation in Turkey," he says. "A lot of people are looking at us to create a high standard for the industry and hopefully be the beginning of a new dawn of production in Turkey. Most of the team come from a feature-film background, and the challenge is to do something new and convince people that it is possible."
The Protector is a departure from the standard television Turkish drama: the standard fare often comprises long and unwieldy affairs that stretch across 100 episodes, but the Netflix drama is positively lean by comparison, with the debut season capped at 10.
According to Sutherland, this necessitated a new approach to working, emphasising pace and tighter collaboration. "The feedback that I am getting, especially when it comes to post-production, is that our timeline is way superior to what they have seen before, and that other productions should change and work in this format, because it is more streamlined and more effective," he says.
“It is definitely a good shot in the arm [for the industry] in any circumstances. With Netflix coming here, it’s going to push the industry in a more positive way. This is why I wanted to be involved. I am excited at the chance of being part of a project that is the first of its kind, and where some sectors of the industry thought it couldn’t be done.”
The news of the Turkish production comes after Netflix announced its debut Arabic original series Jinn, a super-natural six-episode drama by rising Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya (Very Big Shot) and written by Bassel Ghandour, the Jordanian screenwriter behind the Oscar-nominated Theeb.
The Protector and Jinn join a growing list of non-English-
language Netflix Original series that includes Spain's La Casa de Papel, gritty French drama Marseille, Japanese Anime series Devilman Crybaby and Germany's Dark.