Craze for telenovelas grips Ivory Coast
With names like "Caribbean Flower" and "Love in Manhattan", international TV soaps aimed at women have been taking African screens by storm.
In Ivory Coast, 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, all my worries disappear," says 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 chuckles.
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 8:00 am it's Indian telenovelas," Monnier said. "And at 1:00 pm and at 6:00 pm, 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 percent of market share, according to an Africascope audience survey.
And US Spanish-language giant Telemundo launched an African channel in 2013, showing Latino telenovelas around the clock.
- Escapism -
For Yao Yao, a professor at Abidjan's Felix Houphouet-Boigny university, soap-mania is to be expected in Ivory Coast, where cultural activities such as concerts are often expensive.
"People are more likely to watch television in developing countries -- it's a means of entertainment and escape," he adds.
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," says security guard Sery Tiane.
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," says producer Narcisse Kouassi, who is working on an ambitious 100-episode adaptation of personal stories sent in by magazine readers.
- A growing male audience -
Damiano Malchiodi of the A+ channel, a pan-African subsidiary of France's Canal+ group, says the public is "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 says.
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.
RTI, for its part, says it wants to encourage the production of more local telenovelas.
"We are looking to enhance local productions, but we don't get many offers -- even if it's true that we're starting to get more and more," says Monnier.
"We hope this will continue because it's a market that's gaining ground."
The channels don't just have women to thank for that, but a growing legion of male telenovela addicts too, like 27-year-old janitor Adamo.
"What happens in these series applies to all of us, whether you're a man or a woman," he said.