Egypt Slows Down When Falcon Crest Is on TVDALIA BALIGH , Associated Press
Oct. 19, 1988 12:15 PM ET
CAIRO, EGYPT CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Life comes to a near standstill Monday nights as millions of Egyptians sit riveted before their television sets to watch Angela Channing's melodramatic malevolence on ''Falcon Crest.''
However, Jane Wyman's character and the others in the series have few counterparts in Egyptian society. Even the setting, a winery in a Napa Valley- like area of California, might have alienated many Egyptian Moslems taught by Islam's holy book, the Koran, to abstain from alcohol.
Yet the show is a fabulous hit.
Egypt has nothing similar to the Nielson ratings to gauge exactly how popular it is, but Sohair el-Etriby, head of Egyptian Television's second channel, which airs the series, has no doubts.
''Egyptians have become addicted to 'Falcon Crest,''' she said. ''They've become very attached to it.''
Whether rich and educated or poor peasants reading Arabic subtitles on the screen, ''Falcon Crest'' fanatics consider the characters a part of their extended families. Their fortunes and disasters are eagerly followed and discussed everywhere.
The American series also has proved lucrative for state-owned Egyptian Television. Channel Two buys an episode for around $1,000, and on a recent Monday sales of commercials brought in almost 20 times that.
Angela Channing, the scheming matriarch of the Falcon Crest brood; ruthless but charming Richard Channing; and dedicated and romantic, if somewhat naive, Maggie are among the main characters in the colorful series that depicts love, hate and events both foul and fair.
Early episodes of ''Falcon Crest'' began appearing on Egyptian screens several years ago. Because of finances, Egyptian Television bought only a few 26-episode seasons at a time, showing them daily and then stopping for months until money was found for succeeding episodes.
Despite the gaps in transmission, ''Falcon Crest'' fans remained true, and for two consecutive months last summer, the fifth and sixth seasons were aired every night from 9:15 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The show was so popular that all over Cairo appointments were made before or after ''Falcon Crest.'' TV parties with friends were common, and Cairo's congested streets emptied as each episode was shown.
At the end of August, el-Etreby changed the schedule, showing two episodes every Monday night. She said her office immediately was swamped with hundreds of calls and letters demanding that the series be shown daily again.
''I had only a few episodes from the seventh part, and the eighth is now running in the United States,'' she said in an interview. ''Either I could have stopped it for several months and then shown the seventh part in its entirety, or I could have shown it once a week like television in America and Europe do all the time.''
''Falcon Crest'' isn't the first American TV series to make a big splash with Egyptian viewers. In the 1960s and '70s, ''Peyton Place'' and ''Rich Man, Poor Man'' were favorites.
In 1982, Egyptian Television began showing ''Dallas,'' which quickly became almost as popular as ''Falcon Crest'' would become later. ''Dallas'' was stopped, however, after a member of parliament complained that it was corrupting the morals of Egyptian youth.
The morality of ''Falcon Crest'' would not seem to be much different, with Angela's scheming against her own son, and the characters' frequent exchanges of bed partners.
But the serial has escaped unscathed so far, except for Egyptian Television's routine censorship which unskillfully scissors about five minutes of what the censors consider passionate lovemaking from each 50-minute episode.
So ''Falcon Crest,'' giving Egyptians a glimpse of a completely different and glittering world, easily captures its audience.
Viewers have different reasons for appreciating the series.
''I like watching it because the men and women are so beautiful, wearing lovely clothes and living in beautiful houses,'' said Fawziya Ahmed, a peasant from a small village north of Cairo in the Nile Delta.
Christiane Latif, who helps run a family-owned marble factory, said: ''The characters are interesting and become like your family, and the plot makes you want to know what will happen next. I try not to miss any of the shows.''
Such sentiments aren't universal, however.
One government official, who declined to be identified, said he finds nothing special about Falcon Crest. He complained that his wife and 5-year-old daughter cannot be distracted from the screen when the show was on.
And some Americans worry that Egyptians might think all Americans are the glittery Hollywood types of ''Falcon Crest.''