Oprah is alive and well - in Arabia! And complete with Arabic sub-titles, no less!
One day when we went up to the rooftop of our building to have a look at the surrounding cityscape, I noticed that there are dozens of satellite dishes on top of each and every building. More than likely some of these dishes are old and non-functional, but I'm sure most of them are in working order, providing a link for millions to the outside world of violence, immorality, sex, and profanity - and of course, Oprah! We even get Dr. Phil, too.
Our own TV reception is not by dish but through the internet - when it works. This can be very frustrating because our service has been out for more than a week at a time on several occasions, and keep in mind that I have only been here in this country for five months! When it's working, we get over 20 Showtime channels (Comedy, Series, Kids, Sports and Movies) and I must admit, I am surprised at the number of fairly recent shows and movies we get. I just saw the Good Shepard for the first time, and I have gotten to see many of my favorite movies as well.
Sometimes curse words, kissing, and of course sexual scenes are cut out, but on other channels, it's full steam ahead, baby! I am shocked by the fact that we also get the racy Nip/Tuck and the violent The Sopranos, and I am thrilled that we get favorites of mine like the Daily Show, Seinfeld, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and House! Mainstream news shows are also available - the evening news shows that air in the US at 6:30pm on CBS and NBC are on here at 4:00am, which is within an hour or two after the original broadcast in the states.
We also get Discovery, Disney, History, and channels like that - except we don't get one of my favorites yet which is HGTV!
Of course not everyone here has the Showtime subscription. Before we got it, our viewing pleasure was much more limited. There are some Arabic channels with English language programming. I try hard to watch sometimes, but when I watch TV, I really like being entertained, and well, I guess I just don't find the Arabic shows that entertaining. I even try watching the dignified Arabic language programming too, but alas - it is VERY difficult for me to get into it when I don't understand a word being said, and it is REALLY dry. When we are over at Tata's, I sit and watch the Arabic shows for an hour or so with her, but that is about all I can take. She does watch some English language shows too though. Her favorites are Tom and Jerry cartoons and the food channel, which is called "Fatafeat" here (meaning "Crumbs" in Arabic) and airs shows like Emeril.
There are also Middle Eastern game shows, which are probably made in Dubai or Syria or such ... certainly NOT in Saudi Arabia. There is even a Middle East version of The Biggest Loser - some of the women contestants cover their hair and some don't. Call in shows are very popular here, ranging in topics from religion, to health, to music, and so on.
Arabic commercials are just as bad as American commercials. You've got your seriously grave, sterile, intellectually health conscious commercials, where the narrator's voice sounds like an overly exaggerated, seriously boring Keanu Reeves. You know what I mean, don't you? McDonald's commercials are so serious here! And then there's the overtly goofy group of obnoxiously super happy young adults who take great joy in performing this ritualistic dance as they swirl a bottle of soda in a circular motion around their whole heads and then pass it on. Oh, and I can't forget the kindergartner dressed up as a daisy performing on stage with his class who interrupts the whole show to call to his duly embarrassed mom in the audience, telling her something about cream cheese that the whole audience hears. I am by no means saying that commercials in the states are any better at all. I just wish that they would aspire to be a little more original, with higher standards, than imitating the poor characterizations on American TV. Ugh!
One thing that I do like about TV here is that the sheer number of commercials is way less than in America. Oftentimes the show fades out like there will be a commercial break, and instead, it immediately continues with the next scene of the show. But just like in America, the commercials are run over and over, again and again, and the repetitiveness drives me crazy.
Another thing that drives me crazy is that they run a show series here for about a month solid and then suddenly it's off the air and another show is on. This happens all the time. Plus there is no online programming guide here - or a printed one for that matter - so I always end up missing shows here and there that I would have liked to have watched. Imagine at the top of the hour or on the half hour, having to flip through all the channels just to see what is on. By the time you figure out what you want to watch, you've missed half the show. We probably get just about every American TV show imaginable but just don’t know it. Also on many channels, if you miss a show, you can catch it 4-5 hours later when it is repeated again.
All in all, for English speaking viewers, the TV viewing choices are not all that bad...and you do get used to the Arabic subtitles after a while! And as long as we've got Oprah ...