The Qosbi Show

Foreign Policy In Focus received this response from an executive producer in Hollywood to a proposal we recently submitted.

Dear FPIF:

Thank you for your proposal for a new TV show about "a warm-hearted, middle-class Egyptian family named the Qosbis." It's an intriguing idea.

Of course, we were thrilled by Katie Couric's suggestion of addressing Islamophobia by creating a Muslim version of The Cosby Show. I believe, however, that she had in mind a Muslim-American show, not a drama about an Egyptian family. Like you, we've been closely following the events in Egypt. Millions of Americans were glued to their TVs to watch the revolution oust the dictator. But I'm not sure that this fascination with Egypt will endure. People were similarly excited about the fall of Ceausescu, but that didn't translate into a willingness to watch a sitcom set in Bucharest. Even now, Americans have been drawn away from the events in Egypt to other pressing issues, like the Chris Lee sex scandal and the Grammys.

It's true, as you point out, that few people would have expected that shows about a family of undertakers or an amiable serial killer would be hits. But however quirky these shows are, they take place in America. Even that Israeli show about a psychiatrist and his patients was repurposed for an American audience, with Gabriel Byrne as the shrink and the East Coast for the location.

Yes, hundreds of millions of people around the world watch House and old episodes of Baywatch. But it's not a reciprocal relationship. The United States is the celebrity of countries: everyone wants to know what goes on here. Egypt is only enjoying its requisite 15 minutes of fame.

That said, your show has some promising elements. I particularly like the dynamic among the three sons -- one in the army, one in the Muslim Brotherhood, and one at the National Bank of Egypt. I like the family crisis over the declaration of martial law. The son working in the bank and his search for the missing billions of dollars that the dictator and his family stole from the nation -- that's certainly promising. Americans love a heist caper. And the romance between the son in the army and the Christian Coptic girl next door -- that has some Romeo and Juliet potential.

I'm not sure, however, whether Americans are ready for a character in the Muslim Brotherhood. He's got some good jokes in the opening episode. But even quasi-liberals like Richard Cohen talk about nightmare scenarios involving the Muslim Brotherhood taking charge. I understand your counterarguments that the Brotherhood is a force for moderation and democracy in Egypt. But the bottom line is: the Brotherhood is not ready for prime time. We're willing to be out in front of the American public on gay/lesbian issues -- The L Word definitely broke new ground -- but political Islam's still a pretty touchy issue.

If we're going to cover Islam, it has to be our kind of Islam: Golden Arches Islam, American Idol Islam. I know, I know, your Muslim Brotherhood character is totally modern, a software entrepreneur. But to be honest, that kind of Muslim is probably more frightening to the average American viewer. There are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims, and it makes us uncomfortable to mix the two. I ask you: were there ever any gangster rappers on The Cosby Show?

It was a good move to make the father, Mohamed Qosbi, a salesman. That way, as you point out, he can visit different countries in the region experiencing unrest. And the mother's job as a nurse could provide some good ER tension. But frankly, as characters, they're a little boring. They talk too much about democracy and human rights. I agree that it's important to dispel the stereotype that Muslims don't care about such things. What makes for a good revolution on the news, however, doesn't make for good television in prime time.

I think ultimately that the problem with your characters is that they're too...Egyptian. The Cosby Show was about African-Americans, but it rarely talked about race issues. It was a show that white people could watch and not feel guilty or defensive. The characters on your show make references to U.S. military support of the Egyptian dictatorship, to the wars that the United States is fighting in Muslim countries, to all the anti-Islamic sentiment around the world. That doesn't fall into the "can't we all just get along" category.

How about this: the Qosbis move to America and settle down in Los Angeles. Fish out of water: now that's good TV. The parents could keep their jobs. And let's make the boys a little younger, a little more American. The oldest is in JROTC. The middle boy is a stock market whiz kid. And the youngest, the Muslim Brotherhood type, let's make him a Scientologist -- that's a religion that fits right into the LA lifestyle.

Here's why The Qosbi Show could work in a U.S. locale. I hear from the marketing department that the level of household income of Muslim-Americans is equal to or even a little better than average, and their acquisition of college degrees is twice the national average. Fantastic niche market! Throw in some product placements and you'll have a viable program.

Of course, it's always cheaper to do a reality show. I know it's a stretch, but maybe the cast of Jersey Shore would be willing to go to Egypt. Amazing beaches. Great place to get a tan. You'd have a predictable reduction of political content. But wouldn't it be cool to throw The Situation into a real situation?

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