With names like Caribbean Flower and Love in Manhattan, international TV soaps aimed at women have been taking African screens by storm.
In Cote d’Ivoire, Latin American telenovelas — melodramatic sagas focused on complicated romantic intrigues — have been gradually eating into TV schedules, dubbed into French along with similar offerings from India and across Africa.
And the viewers can’t get enough of them.
“When I watch a series, my worries disappear,” said Abe Mireille, a hairdresser in the economic capital Abidjan.
Traore Adama, a taxi driver in the southern city’s working-class Koumassi neighbourhood, goes so far as to joke that the craze could even pose a safety hazard.
“When the show starts, you’d better pray to God that nothing’s on the stove — because if there is, it’s going to burn,” he said.
Thick with plots about love affairs and betrayals, such shows tend to be scheduled during the daytime before husbands return home from work.
TV channels are aiming to hook not just housewives, but women who often have televisions in their workplaces — cleaners, hairdressers, seamstresses.
Ouya Monnier, head of programming at national television station RTI, said the broadcaster reserves three key slots for telenovela-style soaps.
“At 8am, it’s Indian telenovelas,” Monnier said. “And at 1pm and 6pm, it’s Brazilian soaps.”
In an indication of the genre’s massive African following, specialist channel Novelas TV is now the leading channel serving the continent in French, with more than 10 per cent of market share, according to an Africa scope audience survey.
And US Spanish-language giant Telemundo launched an African channel in 2013, showing Latino telenovelas around the clock.
For Yao Yao, a professor at Felix Houphouet-Boigny University, soap-mania is to be expected in Cote d’Ivoire, where cultural activities such as concerts are often expensive.
“People are more likely to watch TV in developing countries — it’s a means of entertainment and escape,” he said.
The easy-to-follow plots also make them accessible for people with busy lives.
“You get to grips with the characters quickly. There’s not too many of them,” said Sery Tiane, a security guard.
After watching Latin American TV studios score hits with serials shot on low-budget sets, African and European producers have rushed to follow their lead — while sometimes having bigger ambitions for production quality and plot sophistication.
“Africans today put more and more importance on sophisticated storylines, but also on the quality of the cinematography,” said producer Narcisse Kouassi, who is working on an ambitious 100-episode adaptation of personal stories sent in by magazine readers.
Damiano Malchiodi of the A+ channel, a pan-African subsidiary of France’s Canal+ group, said the public was “clamouring for big series from francophone Africa”.
“They’re already getting them from anglophone Africa, as well as Portuguese-speaking nations like Angola and Mozambique,” he said.
Though it declined to give figures, A+ has invested heavily in local productions, notably relaunching cult Ivorian series My Family under a new guise, My Big Family, which is due to screen from December.