The many lives of Behzat Ç. —
the text’s transformation and
its contexts of production

by Şebnem Baran

The third episode of Çekiç ve Gül: Bir Behzat Ç. Hikayesi, released in December 2022, features a conversation between two characters, Memduh Başgan (Güven Kıraç) and Yücel Demirdelen (Mehmet Ali Nuroğlu). When Yücel, a shady businessman, offers to order a hit on Chief Inspector Behzat, Memduh vehemently warns Yücel against targeting the inspector:

He has nine lives. If he doesn’t die and survives, then he will cause us trouble.”

Memduh’s words about the lead character Behzat ring true about the fate of the Behzat Ç. franchise: It keeps coming back, and it cannot stay away from trouble. 

The Turkish detective series Behzat Ç. returned to the screen on December 6, 2022, when the Turkish streaming platform BluTV released a new season more than three years after the release of the fourth season and a public disagreement among the cast about the ending of the show. In addition, Erdal Beşikçioğlu, the lead actor portraying the titular character Behzat, had spoken against the streaming platform and the show’s creative team, crushing fans’ hopes for a new season.[1] [open notes in new window] However, Behzat Ç.’s unexpected return in 2022 was not the first time the show beat the odds and came back to life. Behzat Ç. had first appeared on the Turkish TV channel Star TV in 2010. Until its last episode in 2013, the show made it to the news multiple times: first with fans’ devotion trying to ensure the show’s survival and then its controversial but popular political critique that carried the show to Parliamentary debates. After six years of absence following the last episode in 2013, BluTV brought the show back to life for the first time in 2019 and then again in 2022.

It is not uncommon for canceled shows to return to the screen as new streaming platforms emerge, build a library, and seek content in Turkey and other markets worldwide. There are numerous examples. The Turkish absurdist comedy Leyla ile Mecnun similarly returned to the screen in 2021 on Exxen, another Turkish streaming platform, after being canceled in 2013. Netflix revived the FOX show Arrested Development in 2013—seven years after its finale on FOX. The CW/UPN show Veronica Mars returned to the screen first as a movie with the help of a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, then as a series on Hulu in 2019. In 2015, Kim Akass described AMC’s The Killing as “the show that refused to die” since this AMC adaptation of the Danish format Forbrydelsen faced cancellation twice before being brought back with the help of Netflix.[2]

Promotional posters for Veronica Mars and The Killing. Both shows moved to streaming platforms after their cancellations.

While over the past decade there are many examples of global and local streaming platforms giving TV shows another chance, the circumstances around this show’s ending of its first run on TV and its subsequent returns online make Behzat Ç. a more complex case. Unlike The Killing, for example, Behzat Ç. did die but was resurrected into new lives with each return in 2019 and 2022. These new lives were vividly different from each other.

In this paper, I will survey the differences between these lives. To do that, I will use textual analysis and compare the following series to explore the transformation of the franchise[3] as it moved from the broadcast television channel Star TV to the streaming platform BluTV:

The narrative and aesthetic transformation of the Behzat Ç. series reveals a struggle to maintain the political critique inscribed in the show’s brand within the changing context of media production in Turkey. After some experimentation during its initial transition to an online streaming platform in 2019, the show finally resorted to a highly stylized political critique in its last iteration in 2022–2023. The most recent Çekiç ve Gül version also integrates the detective’s perspective from the first two Behzat Ç. series as well as the criminal’s perspective from the spin-off Saygı. As a result, Çekiç ve Gül presents a dual perspective, switching between Chief Inspector Behzat and the serial killer Mürsel, also known as Ateş. These changes go hand in hand with a departure from realistic aesthetics moving into more stylistic depictions.

I will start my survey with the original series Behzat Ç.: Bir Ankara Polisiyesi to discuss how the narrative’s political criticism paved the way for the mainstream media’s and academia’s interest in the show. Next, I will briefly explain how Quality TV and Cult TV frameworks are useful references to explain the show’s difference from mainstream TV shows at that time. Then, I will discuss the changing political context and the increasing difficulty of maintaining the show’s brand as one associated with direct criticism of the government. The streaming platforms and the Internet first appeared as a potential refuge for the show but were soon threatened by censorship, making the show's Season 4 return—marketed as Behzat Ç.: Özel Yapım—on BluTV challenging. After discussing the targetless criticism within Season 4, I will explore the spin-off Saygı and show how it provided relief from the pressures by shifting the narrative perspective from Behzat to the killer Ercüment. Lastly, I will analyze the most recent Behzat Ç. series, Çekiç ve Gül, to demonstrate its solution to the political-critique problem before sharing my concluding thoughts about the transformation of the franchise.

Back to the beginning with Behzat Ç.:
Bir Ankara Polisiyesi
(2010–2013, Star TV)

Behzat Ç.: Bir Ankara Polisiyesi started its life on screen in 2010 as a TV show with a small but vocal fan-following. The show’s claim to fame stems from the specificity and contemporary nature of its political critique. Behzat Ç.: Bir Ankara Polisiyesi follows Chief Inspector Behzat Ç., whose last name is never revealed. Behzat leads a homicide department in the capital Ankara. The series begins as a familiar detective story. Behzat is a divorced cop who has a troubled relationship with his daughter Berna (Hazal Kaya) and a tendency to drink too much. Berna’s unexpected death causes Behzat to have a nervous breakdown, but he eventually goes back to the police force and keeps solving cases with his team—which includes Akbaba (Berkan Şal), Hayalet (İnanç Konukçu), Harun (Fatih Artman), Eda (Seda Bakan) and Selim (Hakan Hatipoğlu). Şule (Ayça Eren), a young girl Behzat met in the hospital, becomes his surrogate daughter before we later find out that she is his biological daughter whom he did not know about. Behzat’s brother, Cevdet (Ege Aydan), is the only other family member Behzat sees regularly. While Behzat’s old flame Bahar (Ayça Varlıer) appears in the beginning of the series, prosecutor Esra (Canan Ergüder) soon sparks Behzat’s romantic interest. Throughout the show’s three-season run on television, Behzat faces many problematic situations involving his loved ones. Nevertheless, he keeps chasing criminals. 

Despite early modest ratings, Behzat Ç.: Bir Ankara Polisiyesi became one of the most-talked-about TV shows before the end of its first season. The series, adapted from Emrah Serbes’s novel Her Temas İz Bırakır (2006), was first mentioned in the news after Star TV decided to change the broadcast day. The fans saw this as a sign of impending cancellation. As they protested, the fans of a soccer club, Gençlerbirliği, added its support since the lead character Behzat had lines to indicate he was a fan of the team.[4] Coverage of the sports tie-in attracted attention to the show and managed to save it from immediate cancellation.

This news story was followed by many others until the show’s finale on Star TV in 2013. For example, the Supreme Council of Radio and Television (Radyo Televizyon Üst Kurulu [RTÜK]) overseeing television broadcasts fined the show many times for using inappropriate language, depicting alcohol and cigarette use, and setting an improper example for children and youth.[5] The news stories about the show did not end with the ones mentioning the RTÜK fines. The Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi [AKP]) government’s Vice Prime Minister Bülent Arınç revealed during an interview that they were “keeping the show under their watch.” [6] At the same time, the Minister of Family and Social Policy, Fatma Şahin, targeted the show’s depiction of women.[7] Another AKP member, Şamil Tayyar, launched a Twitter attack on the show after an episode criticized then-AKP-ally Gülenist cadres in the police force and judiciary system. [8] A Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi [MHP]) member Bülent Belen even raised questions in Parliament about the show. With his parliamentary question, he called the government to action and requested Bülent Arınç, Fatma Şahin, and two other ministers’ response to Behzat Ç. being an example of stories not in line with the “Turkish family and social values.”[9] In fact, the AKP government’s strong reactions against the show had much to do with Behzat Ç.’s script developing a political critique of the government. However, the same controversial element strengthened fans’ connection to the show. The fans responded to the RTÜK’s constant targeting of the show and the politicians’ attacks with more activism on social media and the streets. For example, in Ankara, where the show takes place, Behzat Ç. fans organized an open-air public screening to show their support in March 2012.[10]

The creative team behind Behzat Ç. acknowledged this political aspect. The executive producer Tarkan Karlıdağ revealed they hoped their stories reached people who did not read newspapers.[11] They scripted episodes focusing on political assassinations, corruption, journalists and activists being unlawfully detained, LGBTQ+ rights, violence against women, and politically motivated KCK (Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan [Kurdistan Communities Union]) and Ergenekon trials. The series approached these issues in a way not done in mainstream television fictions. Furthermore, Behzat Ç.’s perspective did not fully coincide with the main opposition against the AKP government since the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi [CHP]) and its followers were also criticized in the show along with the AKP. In this regard, the novelist Emrah Serbes, who occasionally wrote episodes focusing on political issues, stated that he was neither pro-AKP nor pro-CHP before adding that there were people who believed in a third alternative.[12]

The show’s main screenwriter, Ercan Mehmet Erdem, similarly underlined his engagement with contemporary political issues while identifying the four axes of the storyline as the “regular” murders, political crimes, corruption, and the deep state.[13] In addition to depicting the show’s inclusion of locally specific political stories, Erdem’s mapping of the four axes indicates the show’s political tone. This mapping also introduces a critical term—the deep state—which will reappear in the debates about the show’s survival. Ryan Gingeras describes the deep state as a “phrase that generally refers to a kind of shadow or parallel system of government in which unofficial or publicly unacknowledged individuals play important roles in defining and implementing state policy,” while Kerem Öktem explains it as a “constellation of actors from the army, the security forces, the extreme right, and organized crime circles” working together to pursue extra-legal goals.[14] Mehtap Söyler underlines the “symbiotic relationship” between the deep state and organized crime, which involves autocratic cliques and the mafia.[15] Since the story is set in the capital city, Ankara, Behzat pursues homicide cases that bring him face-to-face with criminals, politicians, and businesspeople—all pointing towards the mysterious connections between the state and criminal circles, described as the deep state. The show’s willingness to engage with political topics—including such deep state entanglements—in a novel manner became more visible as the AKP government’s pressures on journalists increased between 2011–2013. The show’s politically critical tone also earned Behzat Ç. academic attention.[16]

Politics, crime, and Behzat Ç.’s claims to quality

Like the press coverage, academic research on Behzat Ç. has revolved around the show’s engagement with political critique and its difference from mainstream television shows. Therefore, ideas about Quality TV[17] and Cult TV[18]—two terms that similarly focus on TV content that differs from “regular TV”—emerged as anchoring concepts for studying the show. According to Evrim Yörük, the show’s claims to Quality TV stems from cultural realist aspirations, including dealing with contemporary political issues.[19] Yörük also noted its “cinematic” aesthetics associated with realist cinema, such as the use of natural lighting and synchronized sound recording.[20] After comparing the show’s application of a quality TV model to the U.S. network series Hill Street Blues (1981–1987), she concluded that Behzat Ç.’s quality was, in fact, as  threatened by the weekly 90-minute-long episodes length that were challenging to the creative writing process.[21]  

Like quality itself, Quality TV, as a categorizing term, surely conjures up different meanings in different locations and at different moments. Elliott Logan’s discussion of quality television helps identify important indicators of quality, such as auteur-like showrunners, complexity, controversial storylines, cinematic style, genre hybridity, higher production values, and reflexivity. These are the traits associated with this category of Quality TV in an Anglo-American context.[22] As depicted in Yörük’s analysis, similar indicators are used in discussions of quality in other markets, such as Turkey.

Ayşegül Kesirli Unur uses “Cult TV,” another categorizing term, to describe Behzat Ç.’s position among its contemporaries.[23] Kesirli Unur similarly mentioned the show’s engagement with politics along with its willingness to challenge mainstream narrative and aesthetic choices, such as its incorporation of self-reflexivity; she cites these as factors distinguishing the show from other shows on air.[24] She also adds that the censorship the show was exposed to contributed to its cult status.[25] While it is important not to conflate the two categories, “Quality TV” and “Cult TV,” the frequently overlapping indicators between these two categories underline an insightful observation about Behzat Ç.—that it was different from the mainstream shows in Turkey.

In an earlier analysis of Behzat Ç., I also focus on what distinguishes the show from the other Turkish shows produced at the same time.[26] In this prior work, I explore the global spread of the Anglo-American interpretation of quality. Furthermore, I discuss Behzat Ç. as an example of Turkish political quality TV that was trying to survive both increasing censorship and state control in the domestic market and the Anglo-American Quality TV model spreading through the emergence of global and local streaming platforms. The target viewers for the show were what Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green describe as the pop cosmopolitans—viewers with access to content from around the world.[27] In other words, Behzat Ç. was competing with both local productions and transnational TV flows for the attention of Turkish pop cosmopolitans. In this context, the show’s strength came from its timely capability to address culturally specific, national experiences in a way that was rare for mainstream television at the time of its production. This also allowed the show to reach audiences less interested in broadcast television.

I also argue for an alternative definition of Quality TV, which Behzat Ç. and Leyla ile Mecnun (Leyla and Mecnun, 2011-2013) exemplify; it is more tolerant of lower production values, longer runtimes, and longer seasons. Relying on a vocal but small group of niche audiences, these shows have thrived upon political critique accompanied by intertextual and self-reflexive references. These strategies helped establish a special connection with the viewers and paved the way for fan activism to evolve into more traditional forms of political activism. In this way, Behzat Ç. differs from examples such as an early BluTV original Masum (Innocent, 2017), which follows the Anglo-American quality model more strictly. Therefore, I situate Behzat Ç. as a local alternative emulating the quality model which it developed while trying to survive amid increasing censorship in Turkey and the competition created by the global spread of Anglo-American quality both via the expansion of services such as Netflix and the emergence of local streaming platforms. Just like Mareike Jenner explains in the case of Arrested Development’s move to Netflix, hosting shows with quality and cult associations has become an attractive strategy for new streaming platforms to distinguish themselves from regular television and market their brand.[28]

As a detective story,[29] Behzat Ç.’s is also a good reminder that the crime genre is suitable for quality TV shows even in cases where the Anglo-American model is challenged. For example, in another context Milly Buananno traces Italian quality TV back to the nation’s public service tradition, arguing that it aims for a more mainstream viewership compared to the U.S.-based understanding of quality TV.[30] Her discussion includes examples focusing on the police’s and judiciary’s fight against the mafia and corruption: La Piovra 1–10 (The Power of Mafia, 1984–2001) and Il Giudice Borsellino (Judge Borsellino, 2004). Quality TV’s interest in crime and corruption can be explained by its affinity for what Elliott Logan describes as its “controversy-courting explorations.”[31] I will draw on both frameworks to acknowledge the intertwined relationship between Quality TV and the crime genre. Nevertheless, my focus remains specifically on this franchise's transformation and that transformation’s relation to the text and its context rather than my pursuing a category or genre-based analysis.

In the case of the Behzat Ç. franchise, the “controversy-courting” narratives, which brought public attention to the original series, later became a burden for the show. The political critique embedded in the show first hindered its survival on broadcast television. Then, when the show was brought back to the screen on a streaming platform, the same political criticism turned into a problem needing to be dealt with.