Egyptian fans of the US series Suits, a legal drama that premiered in June 2011 and ran for nine seasons until September 2019, responded with scepticism to the recent news that it would be remade in Arabic. “Nothing can compare to Gabriel Macht playing Harvey Specter, or Patrick J Adams playing Michael Ross,” one fan commented.
The original Suits, written by Aaron Korsh, is set in a fictional New York City law firm. It focuses on the two friends winning lawsuits and closing cases while hiding Mike’s secret of being a college dropout. It was produced by Universal Content Productions (UCP), which is part of Universal Studio Group, for USA Network. How might this premise be transported to Egypt?
But Tarek Al-Ganainy, the founder and CEO of TVision for Media Productions – which will be making the Arabic adaptation – is himself a fan. “I am always questioning whether I will like the outcome,” he says. “So far I’m very comfortable with what we have,” he said. But fans are not necessarily the audience he has in mind.
Because of language and access, out of some 350 million citizens in the Arab world, he estimates, fewer than two million will have seen Suits. His target is the much bigger number of viewers who have never seen the series and, presenting them with something new and solid, he is counting on the Arabic version being well received.
Al-Ganainy believes Suits can introduce a new style to Egyptian drama and present another side of Egypt, the life of sophisticated, well-dressed lawyers and corporate professionals. “We want viewers to aspire to this kind of life,” he says equivocally. Still, TVision for Media Productions is also the maker of Saturday Night Live Arabic (SNL Arabia), the Arab world’s edition of the long-running US TV show Saturday Night Live, which has been a great success.
The Arab world, and in particular Egypt, is full of new and innovative ideas, says Al- Ganainy: “We have many projects in the pipeline that involve local writers and local ideas.” With this project, “we simply wanted to experiment with something new and take on a new challenge.” The idea to take a famous US show and turn it into Arabic first struck Al-Ganainy while working on SNL Arabia. Looking at the catalogue of NBCUniversal Formats, a division of Universal Studio Group, Suits stood out.
“Foolishly enough I thought it would be an easy job. Little did I know that it would take me almost five years to adapt the show.” When his company obtained the rights it had not ended in the US, and this required special permission because the norm was that they should not licence the show until it had stopped airing. At first the writer literally translated the show, then they had another team of writers. “We wanted to make it an Arabic show.”
Al-Ganainy is aware of the scepticism around the making of the series. “It’s one thing to produce something that no one knows about from scratch. No one has expectations. It’s another thing when people are expecting greatness just by hearing about it… There is always much more pressure when show has been successful.” Nonetheless, while the work progresses, he is growing more confident of the outcome.
He believes viewers will fall in love with cast: Asser Yassin as Harvey, Ahmed Dawoud as Mike, Saba Mubarak as Jessica, Reem Mostafa as Donna, Tara Emad as Rachel, and Mohamed Shahin as Louis. “We are not copying the actors exactly. We have very capable actors in their own way.” Al-Ganainy believes he has the dream cast. “Everyone we wanted for the roles we got; we were thinking of the cast as a whole; we wanted them to fit them together.”
While Suits is categorised as a legal drama, Al-Ganainy says the reason behind its success is the way it tackles office relationships and the human side of the characters. Nonetheless, they are not taking the legal side lightly. He said they hired a reputable law firm as a consultant for the content of the legal cases. “We run the scripts by them, and they advise us how the cases should be tackled.”
This is TVision’s first adaptation according to Al-Ganainy. Before Suits, it had only adapted novels. He believes people had been adapting storylines for years, sometimes without giving credit; but nowadays because of the internet and increased openness people can no longer do that without being caught.
The new TV series, currently being filmed in Cairo, will have the same name in Arabic, to be written out in Arabic letters. “Regardless of what I do, people will still call it Suits; the name is too big for me to try and change it,” Al-Ganainy says. “It is easy on the tongue,” he explains, and Egyptians are used to having English words in their everyday lives anyway.
The first two seasons of 30 episodes will air in Ramadan. Al-Ganainy is hoping that Ramadan will be a chance not only for a large audience, but a more varied one. Throughout the year the audience of Arabic TV series tends to be female, but in Ramadan there are more male viewers which he says suits the series. But aside from that, it is clearly a family show, something that can be watched in groups without discomfort of any kind. “We are targeting people looking for something different; I am hoping everyone will love find something to love in the show.”
The Arabic version of Suits is the result of a cooperation between NBCUniversal Formats, TVision, OSN, and United Media Services (UMS).
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.