ABU DHABI // When he chose to pursue a career in medicine, Dr Jamal al Kaabi never expected to become a TV personality. Recently, however, as part of his job as head of the customer services and corporate communications department at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), he was part of a team planning a new health advice programme.
They were working with the channel MBC1 on an Arab version of The Dr Oz Show, already a hit on US daytime television. But, says Dr al Kaabi, a general practitioner, his casting as co-host to Hoaida abu Haif "fell from the sky". "We were planning to nominate people and ask them to come for auditions, but no one came forward," he said. Pressed by colleagues to step into the breach, he took a screen test - and producers loved it.
So, last Friday, Green Apple with Hoaida and Dr Jamal - and its reluctant star - made its debut. Dr al Kaabi's first outing saw him drinking a noxious-looking green brew. Within minutes, the questions started coming in from viewers: did it taste good? "It was a healthy liquid alternative to breakfast, made of a combination of green fruits and vegetables," he said. "Everyone was shocked to see me drink it on the show and enjoy it."
There is, however, more to the show than drinking green slime. The aim is to educate viewers on how to live a healthy lifestyle and shed light on the most common health ailments in the region and provide information on how to prevent them. Each episode in the show's planned 39-week run will address complicated illnesses, procedures and treatments. Dr al Kaabi's job is to make the medical topics understandable to the average viewer.
The first episode, for example, tackled the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and what patients can do at home to prevent contracting the disease without rushing off to a doctor. "We want to make sure people have enough general information that they do not need to revert to a doctor every time they have the common cold or abdominal pain or a headache," he said. HAAD, Dr al Kaabi said, has "an educational responsibility to correct misconceptions in health and reach every Arab household, not only people in Abu Dhabi or the UAE".
A segment of the show also takes place in the kitchen, where Dr al Kaabi and Ms abu Haif, an established MBC presenter, will cook healthy meals in front of a live audience. "This is edutainment that we are using to get an important message across and make people better able to live a healthy life and take care of themselves," Dr al Kaabi said. "It is certainly a very different, new experience. Right now, I'm doing the same thing I used to do but in front of the camera, and instead of explaining a disease to a patient in a private setting, there's an audience."
The show is breaking new ground for MBC, too. Mazen Hayek, director of marketing, PR and commercial for MBC Group, said it was the first time the media group had worked in partnership with the healthcare industry. "With this programme, we want to revolutionise the approach of health care and the way people seek treatment," Mr Hayek said. Early signs are that it may succeed. As well as questioning the host's taste for vegetable goo, Green Apple's viewers sent in many queries on topics of health and well-being.
Can coffee stop bleeding? Does a pregnant woman who always craves sleep still have to exercise? Does a cranky father coming home late from work psychologically and emotionally harm his children when he snaps at them? Dr al Kaabi insists he is not a star. Or not yet. "I am still not recognised as we've only had one episode air," he said. "But I wonder what will happen as more and more episodes air. Who knows? Still, I am prepared for all the outcomes."