Brow Beat

The Story Behind That Iranian Version of Modern Family

The cast of Haft Sang, Iran’s answer to Modern Family.

Still from YouTube.

Yesterday, I wrote about an Iranian show called Haft Sang, which made news here in the U.S. thanks to a video posted by YouTube user Sina Haghighi. The video highlighted how closely the show was modeled on the American hit Modern Family—save for the gay characters, who had been turned into a straight couple in the Iranian version.

Though the video made the rounds at several sites, little else appeared to be known about Haft Sang among American media outlets. So we reached out to Haghighi, a professional video editor in Iran, who was happy to provide further details about the show’s characters and its origins.

According to Haghighi, Haft Sang (the title come from an Iranian children’s game, and literally means “seven stones”) is part of the Ramadan programming of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB. Such IRIB series are typically 30 episodes each, and include a mixture of both comedies and dramas, all of them having an “ethical theme” of some sort.

Haft Sang’s first episode aired this past Sunday. (Ramadan began on Saturday evening.) Only two episodes have aired thus far, and they were nearly exact recreations of Modern Family’s initial two episodes. Haghighi counts the ABC original as his and his wife’s “favorite American show,” and so he quickly noticed the similarities—as well as the differences: The Iranian episodes are twice as long as the American version, around 40-50 minutes each, yet they lack some of the original’s subplots (such as Manny’s crush on an older girl and Jay dressing up to look younger), making for a much more slowly paced show.

Phil and Claire are now Mohsen and Leila; children Luke and Alex are Shaahin and Shadi. (Haghighi notes that the latter actually resembles the actress who plays Alex, save for the addition of a head scarf.) Haley is now a teenaged boy named Amir. Nasir and Mehri take the place of Jay and Gloria, and Hamed is their son in place of Manny. Mitchell and Cam are now Behrooz and Elham, a husband and wife who are unable to have children due to Behrooz’s infertility. (This explains why the couple has adopted a child in the first episode, as Cam and Mitchell do on Modern Family.) Haley’s dim-witted boyfriend Dylan is Anoush, a close friend of Amir’s.

Alcoholic drinks cannot be depicted on these shows, nor can boy-girl friendships, “even for children of school age.” All women above the age of nine must wear a hijab on screen. “No man would ever touch a lady even if he plays her dad or brother or husband,” Haghighi tells me. “No matter what!”

Having a satellite TV signal receiver is illegal, though Haghighi says that many Iranians use them anyway. Plus, “downloading and watching American series with or without Farsi (Persian) subtitles is widely common in Iran,” he says. “So it won’t be more than a couple of hours after a show is broadcasted in the U.S. that people start downloading and sharing the show with each other back here in Iran.” Some of the biggest American imports in Iran, according to Haghighi, include Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Office, and, of course, Modern Family.

Haghighi says that IRIB productions have “drastically improved” in quality over the years, and so many of their “legal” shows have become popular as well.