The tortured romance between Sehrazat and Onur, the central drama of the Turkish soap Thousand and One Nights, is taking Chilean television by storm and reshaping prime time in Latin America, the land of the "telenovela".
In exchange for the money she desperately needs to treat her son’s leukaemia, Sehrazat, a widowed architect, reluctantly agrees to spend the night with Onur, her powerful boss, who falls hopelessly in love with her, setting off a torrid chain reaction that has captivated Chileans for months.
Dubbed in Spanish by Chilean actors, Thousand and One Nights has achieved an audience share not seen in years in the South American country, reversing the sinking fortunes of the channel broadcasting it.
The phenomenon has caused television executives across Latin America to start importing Turkish series to a region more used to exporting its own telenovelas – prime-time dramas such as Ugly Betty – around the world.
The Chilean channel Mega was a struggling network when it bought Thousand and One Nights, after the programme was turned down by Canal 13, one of the country's leading broadcasters.
The series began in March and soon became the most-viewed show of the year, pulling up the rest of Mega’s programming on its coattails.
The channel also now has the top news show and morning programme, and is the only Chilean network on track to turn a profit this year.
That success has sent other Chilean broadcasters scrambling to buy their own Turkish series, including Canal 13.
Meanwhile, Mega has signed up two more Turkish shows, What Is Fatmagul's Fault? and Ezel.
Other Latin American networks have taken note.
Sehrazat and Onur are now playing out their burning romance in Colombia and the show is set to screen in Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.
The series has also been sold in Argentina and Bolivia.
That represents a coup for Turkish television, whose soaps have faithful audiences in dozens of countries across Europe and the Middle East but had never cracked the Americas.
“We took a long time to break into the Latin American market,” said Izzet Pinto, the head of Turkish distributor Global Agency.
“But we managed to enter the region this year. We were lucky to have a lot of success in Chile and that opened up other markets,” he told the television industry website TodoTV News. Francisco Villanueva, the vice president at the Miami-based distributor Somos Distribution, said his firm had sold “about 10” Turkish series – either adaptation rights or complete productions – in five Latin American countries.
“Interest is growing and we’re getting a lot of business proposals,” said Villanueva. “Turkish soap operas are excellent from the point of view of the stories, narrative and artistic and technical elements.
“The casting is very much in sync with our region and very attractive, with exotic exteriors that place a high value on production and extraordinary directing and camera work.”
The Turkish soaps are classic melodramas with lots of romance and minimal sex.
“People like the old, traditional format, the classic script, the love triangle, where the baddies are really bad and the hero suffers throughout,” said Francisco Cortes, the head of telenovelas at the Chilean broadcaster TVN.
The sociologist Manuela Gumucio, the head of the Chilean media observatory, said Turkish soaps “have very traditional romantic elements, which are ultimately these universal formats that never get old”.
The Turkish invasion comes at a time when Latin America’s own soaps have turned towards erotically charged dramas and “narco-telenovelas” that revolve around drug trafficking.
The TV critic Rene Naranjo said Turkey’s soaps appealed to an audience weary of that trend.
“Latin American series have drifted towards more violent plots with a more visible sexual element, abandoning their main audience: women over 45,” he said.
In Chile, Mega’s success has forced other networks to overhaul their own programming.
Last week, Canal 13 debuted The Magnificent Century, a period drama starring Halit Ergenc, the actor who plays Onur in Thousand and One Nights – now a big celebrity in Chile.
Based on the life of the 16th-century Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the series was a smash hit in Turkey, where the fast-food chain Burger King even launched an “Ottoman” hamburger topped with hummus.
“There’s a seasonal effect in television. Whatever is successful sells,” said Naranjo. “And that creates a multiplier effect.”