As Fox Net­works Group airs its first orig­i­nal se­ries in the Mid­dle East, can tra­di­tional plat­forms find a place in to­day’s dis­rupted me­dia land­scape?



sea­son of The Open Road – Fox Net­work’s first orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in the Mid­dle East – pre­miered on Oc­to­ber 13 and is now show­ing across mul­ti­ple chan­nels in the Fox net­work. It fol­lows two women – Chan­tal from the UAE and Pamela from Le­banon – as they ex­plore Le­banon, the UAE and Jor­dan on Har­ley-David­sons. The travel se­ries breaks new ground for a re­gional TV show as the two hosts ex­plore un­fa­mil­iar facets of the Mid­dle East, and break so­cial and cul­tural bar­ri­ers along the way.

The story of its cre­ation goes back to Oc­to­ber 2017, when Gemma Wale and Saadi Moukad­dem, the two manag­ing part­ners of pro­duc­tion com­pany Elec­tric Films, pitched the idea to Alex El Chami, head of pro­duc­tion and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer at Fox Net­works Group.

El Chami says that Fox has ex­panded its con­tent over the last three years and he was look­ing for in­no­va­tive ideas for Fox Life life­style chan­nel which launched last Au­gust, and El Chami wanted it to stand out. “We didn’t want it to be your typ­i­cal chan­nel with stu­dio-based talk shows,” he tells Ara­bian Busi­ness sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion Dig­i­tal Stu­dio. “And that’s when we met Elec­tric films and they came to us with the con­cept for what be­came ‘The Open Road’. I don’t think I have seen some­thing like that on TV here. It’s dar­ing, it’s chal­leng­ing. A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to love or hate it. That’s fine, be­cause for us bad feed­back is also good feed­back.”

Fox be­lieve they have a win­ning con­cept in this show, ev­i­dent in the fact that it is air­ing across their ex­ten­sive TV net­work as well as on­line plat­forms. “We are do­ing what we call in the TV in­dus­try a road block. If a net­work has cer­tain amount of chan­nels, they will block a cer­tain time when all the chan­nels will broad­cast the show. Be­cause we are strong in that way. We run more than 10 chan­nels so we are ca­pa­ble of do­ing a road­block,” says El Chami.

Fox Orig­i­nals

The show rep­re­sents a new di­rec­tion for Fox’s con­tent strat­egy and is billed as the first Mid­dle East pro­duc­tion pro­duced un­der the ti­tle of Fox Orig­i­nals. “Fox Orig­i­nals is a ti­tle that’s been adopted by our of­fices glob­ally – you have Fox Orig­i­nals in Asia, China etc. So we are launch­ing the con­cept now in the Mid­dle East and this is pretty much the first foun­da­tion stone which we are go­ing to build on in fu­ture.”

El Chami says view­ers will soon see more pro­duc­tions un­der the Fox Orig­i­nals ti­tle. “We have a lot of stuff com­ing up. We are also go­ing to look at Sea­son Two of The Open Road. It’s go­ing to be a re­ally big show for peo­ple to fol­low,” he adds.

He adds that Fox’s con­tent will soon be seen on dig­i­tal plat­forms and the ser­vice is al­ready in the works: “There is an OTT [the term used to re­fer to con­tent providers that dis­trib­ute di­rectly to view­ers over the In­ter­net] platform we are launch­ing called Fox Plus that will host all of the

“The day be­fore we filmed in Pe­tra they had to evac­u­ate 8,000 tourists be­cause of bad weather. There were land­slides and floods and we just had to deal with it”

con­tent of Fox Net­works Group and the con­tent from our Na­tional Geo­graphic chan­nels. So it’s go­ing be a re­ally big en­tity to look out for.”

Fox Net­works Group and Elec­tric Films al­ready had a good re­la­tion­ship hav­ing worked on projects for Na­tional Geo­graphic in the past, which helped a lot while they worked on the show. “The re­la­tion­ship is more of a part­ner­ship,” says Gemma Wale. “Elec­tric Films and Fox were work­ing pretty co­he­sively al­ready, so that’s re­ally a good thing. We first thought of the for­mat be­cause there is noth­ing else like trav­el­ling by bike. There are so many things that you ex­pe­ri­ence n a mo­tor­cy­cle – it is just a whole dif­fer­ent sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Moukad­dem adds that they were driven by the de­sire to pro­duce some­thing not seen be­fore on re­gional TV and says it was thanks to the guid­ance from Fox that the idea to have women pre­sen­ters rid­ing the bikes came about: “There is a re­ally good tol­er­ance for women em­pow­er­ment at Fox. It’s some­thing that needs to have a light shin­ing on it. You don’t see a lot of TV chan­nels do­ing any­thing about bik­ers and about women go­ing and ex­plor­ing the Arab world. It’s break­ing stereo­types so we thought that would be a re­ally good idea.”

“We thought of the for­mat be­cause trav­el­ing by bike, there is noth­ing else like it. It is just a whole dif­fer­ent sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence”

Hit­ting the Road

Get­ting the right fe­male pre­sen­ters to host the show was crit­i­cal to make the show work and also to the pro­duc­tion of the se­ries. Wale says they didn’t want TV per­son­al­i­ties or pre­sen­ters. “We wanted women that were re­lat­able; peo­ple you just want to hang out with. Pamela and Chantel were friends al­ready so that helped. They are from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, Le­banon and the UAE, and that helped.”

El Chami re­minds us that the un­scripted na­ture of the show ruled out cast­ing pro­fes­sional ac­tors. “Just keep in mind that this is a non-scripted re­al­ity show so it’s very im­por­tant for the char­ac­ters to be real. With pro­fes­sional ac­tors you are go­ing to lose out a lot on the feel­ing and emo­tions.”

Moukad­dem says that us­ing real bik­ers also helped them dur­ing the film­ing. “One day be­fore we filmed in Pe­tra they lit­er­ally evac­u­ated 8,000 tourists due to a storm. There was like land­slides and floods and we just had to deal with it. The adapt­abil­ity of the girls was im­por­tant be­cause they are real bik­ers who have passed through dif­fer­ent ter­rains. This al­lowed us to be able to shoot ev­ery­thing and just go with it.”

As se­nior pro­ducer for Elec­tric Films, Wale was re­spon­si­ble for of all as­pects of or­gan­is­ing the sched­ule across three coun­tries. “We ba­si­cally spent a week in each coun­try, go­ing from Am­man all the way down to Pe­tra in Jor­dan and then Iran and the UAE. That gave us enough time to do all the film­ing. We are fol­low­ing the ac­tion and it’s not scripted so while we have a few sug­ges­tions, we’re lit­er­ally just sort of fol­low­ing where the bik­ers were tak­ing us.”

She adds that get­ting the bal­ance be­tween hav­ing a small crew on the road, but enough to man­age the pro­duc­tion was cru­cial. “You need to have a small enough crew to feel the ac­tion but also enough peo­ple to make sure you have the sup­port you need.”

Total crew num­bers var­ied from coun­try to coun­try, but mainly con­sisted of the direc­tor, pro­ducer, sound en­gi­neers, se­ries pro­ducer and cam­era­man along with a sup­port crew of about six peo­ple. “We were hov­er­ing around 11 or 12 peo­ple. You need to make sure ev­ery­thing is con­tained and you don’t miss the shot, as you only get one chance.”

“We are very proud of the high en­ter­tain­ment value and qual­ity of this se­ries. It also car­ries on the time­less tra­di­tion of sto­ry­telling which is deeply rooted in the re­gion”

“This is a non-scripted re­al­ity show. With pro­fes­sional ac­tors you are go­ing to lose out on a lot of the feel­ing and emo­tions”

In terms of equip­ment used on the shoot, Moukad­dem says they were us­ing Sony FS7 cam­eras and sta­bilis­ers for the road shots. “We also in­vested in a time-coded au­dio sync sys­tem. Be­cause there were also lots of cam­eras record­ing at the same time, so it al­lowed us to match the au­dio with all the sep­a­rate im­ages which are recorded on the bikes. That was very im­por­tant, be­cause that’s what we want the viewer to ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence – the drive on the road.”

Drones were also em­ployed to cap­ture the footage. Moukad­dem says of these shots: “There is some paraglid­ing in episode two and it’s very im­por­tant to cap­ture the beau­ti­ful land­scape be­cause in so many of the lo­ca­tions we went to the na­ture is just stun­ning.”

Fox’s fu­ture

El Chami says Fox is proud of the show and is al­ready talk­ing about Sea­son Two, with plans to take it to other re­gions out­side the Mid­dle East. “It’s a very free for­mat so we can take it any­where, which makes it in­ter­est­ing.”

He adds: “There isn’t enough con­tent to the stan­dard we re­quire. Hav­ing said that, we are also look­ing at build­ing the pro­duc­tion platform for such con­tent which doesn’t ex­ist here. You find there are re­ally not enough peo­ple who can do this in the re­gion – to build an in­dus­try in a sense.”

Of the fu­ture plans, he af­firms that Fox will con­tinue to in­vest in orig­i­nal con­tent that pushes the en­ve­lope. “But what we want to do is flip the coin of our orig­i­nal con­tent to a place where it starts match­ing the global scene. If you go to any ma­ture mar­ket, you will see very well ex­e­cuted re­al­ity shows and non-scripted dra­mas. As much as were learn­ing we also have a lot to give.”

“We are fol­low­ing the ac­tion. While we have a few sug­ges­tions, we’re lit­er­ally just sort of fol­low­ing where the bik­ers are tak­ing us”

Fox is ex­pected to soon un­veil more pro­duc­tions un­der the Fox Orig­i­nals ti­tle in the near fu­ture

Pro­ducer Gemma Wale poses with a biker group

The show fol­lows the two women as they travel across Le­banon, the UAE and Jor­dan

The show’s pro­duc­tion team was pur­posely kept small, at a total of 11 or 12 peo­ple

Starz­Play CEO Maaz Sheikh has said peo­ple still pre­fer to watch sports and news on lin­ear TV

The show’s pro­duc­ers spent a week in each coun­try while they filmed the seg­ments

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