TV's "On the Road" offers Arab view of U.S. life

Wed Jun 4, 2008 3:02pm EDT
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By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The next level of reality TV rolls onto U.S. small screens on Wednesday covering a topic far from the typical bug-eating and mate-finding: how Americans and Arabs can overcome clashing cultures.

"On the Road in America" follows four Arabs in their 20s across the United States, and while its images of fashionable kids on an open highway may have a free-wheeling MTV vibe, much of the show centers on topical debates about U.S. history, its ties to Israel and differences among Arab cultures.

The series will air on cable television's Sundance Channel and is backed by Layalina Productions, a Washington nonprofit group that wants to use television to foster better understanding between the two worlds.

When the series was shown by the Middle East Broadcasting Center in 2007, it attracted 4.5 million viewers an episode from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Algeria.

Egyptian cast member Ali Amr said that "On the Road" provided the Arab world a glimpse into the diversity of the United States' 300 million people that is vastly different from what they see at home.

"They think Americans are spoiled. They spend money for nothing. They are fat," he said. "After my experience, when I traveled in different places, no, I found the people different."

But what will Americans see in a show about what Arabs see in Americans?

Amr hopes Americans see a group of young Arabs who are not potential terrorists -- a sentiment that pops up in almost all 12 episodes, including when they are barred from Chicago's Sears Tower because of their nationalities: Egyptian, Saudi and Lebanese.   Continued...

<p>The cast of "On the Road in America" pose for a photo in Chicago's Millennium Park in an August 2006 photo. The series follows four Arabs in their 20s traveling across the United States, and is centered on topical debates about U.S. ties to Israel, differences among Arab cultures, and American history. REUTERS/Sundance Channel/Handout</p>