Iran’s copycat version of US comedy Modern Family angers conservatives

A debate has erupted in Iran over the TV show Haft Sang, which appears to be a nearly frame by frame copy of US show Modern Family.

Haft Sang (left) is a near-perfect recreation of Modern Family, (right) shot frame for frame with the same stage directions, props and sight gags. Photos/Youtube

TEHRAN // The controversy over an Iranian reproduction of the hit United States TV comedy Modern Family offers a rare glimpse into the Islamic Republic's domestic entertainment industry.

Iranians can download Modern Family or buy it from illegal video vendors. But this Ramadan they can also watch an Iranian version of the show, called Haft Sang, from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the country's main state-owned channel.

Haft Sang, which means "seven stones", is the name of a popular Iranian game played between two teams, one trying to protect a stone tower and the other attempting to destroy it.

The show, which premiered on June 29, is one of several recently released TV series that have been produced with what authorities would call moral and ethical content.

Yet, according to some Iranians who have watched Modern Family and also the first few episodes of Haft Sang, the show has copied the US version almost frame by frame, depicting the lives of three related families with one glaring exception: a gay couple central to the story is replaced with a straight one in the Iranian version.

The producers of the show also altered a few other aspects of Modern Family to conform with both Islamic and Iranian social values.

For instance, some characters have had their gender changed so that they can socialise with each other despite not being married or related by blood. And, of course, all female characters wear the obligatory hijab.

The debate over the merits of the show and the quality of the reproduction is raging on social media and in the local press.

The Iranian news website called the content too “shallow and irrelevant” for the spiritual month of Ramadan.

Kayhan Newspaper, a hardline daily on Monday questioned the intention of Haft Sang. "The point that we should focus on is that it is a copy of a TV series that promotes homosexuality."

Yet, so far, officials and programming directors at the conservative IRIB have been silent.

On Sunday, Ali Taheri, spokesman for the culture committee at Iran’s parliament, said IRIB officials would be required to appear before legislators for questioning over the programme’s originality.

“The council will attentively review the content of the show and will report about the result of their review,” said Ramazan Shojaei Kiasari, a MP and deputy head of the council that supervises IRIB, on July 5.

Still, due to Iran’s lack of copyright laws, it is unlikely that there will be any legal repercussions for copying the show without permission.

According to Mr Shojaei Kiasari, the US-based company that produces the show would have to make a formal complaint of plagiarism for action to be taken. So far that has not happened.

Meanwhile, the cast and crew of Haft Sang have denied the show is a copy of Modern Family. Director Alireza Bazrafshan claims he merely "borrowed the main structure" from the US show.

"I didn't watch the foreign version of the show and wasn't aware of the similarities," said Behnam Tashakor, one of the Iranian actors, who plays Rouzbeh in Haft Sang, the equilivant of Mitchel Pritchett in the US version of the show.

But others say the cast and crew were aware of the similarities with the original show.

According to Iran Newspaper, Elham Pavehnejad, who plays the Iranian version of Colombian actress Sofia Vergara's character Gloria, wrote on her Facebook page on July 1 that the "director and screenwriters earlier spoke about making an adaptation from a TV series called Modern Family".

According to Ms Pavehnejad, the IRIB and the supervising council, which is composed of officials from all government branches, forbade the cast and crew from mentioning that the show is an adaptation of a US series, not wanting to acknowledge the fact that many Iranians already watch the original version.

Iran Newspaper, a daily considered connected to the office of Hassan Rouhani, said: "If the producers say that the show is an adaptation, at least they respect morals" by admitting the reproduction.

"You can feel that it is not an Iranian film. Even jokes are not Iranicised to be compatible to our everyday life," said Jafar, a 55-year-old Iranian man who watched the first several episodes of Haft Sang.

Modern Family is not the first and probably won't be the last foreign show to be copied without permission in Iran.

Versions of 50 First Dates, We're No Angels, Two Much, Prison Break and Lost have all been produced in the Islamic Republic.