It is prime time on Thursday night, the start of the Iranian weekend, and the three government-run channels have lined up the hottest programs of the week.
On Channel One, a mullah, seated in a garden, is giving a talk on the proper way to pray. "Never pray on a bed with a spring mattress," he intones. "You move around too much."On Channel Two is a videotape of the late Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, warning about "the Great Satan."
On Channel Three, a stiff, ungainly carpenter in a blue smock moves toward a pine bookshelf in a nationwide special on woodworking. "Tonight," he said, "we will learn how to make corners."
An increasing number of Iranians are taking revenge on the torpid state broadcasting system, which seems unfamiliar with the concept of entertainment.
Bright silver Iranian-made satellite dishes, costing $700, dot the flat apartment roofs of Tehran and are beaming in everything from late-night soft porn films from Turkey to the BBC news. The mullahs, determined to wrest their audience back, are furious.
They have denounced the satellite dishes as part of a plot to corrupt the Islamic state. The Parliament is expected to outlaw the dishes officially. And members of popular militias known as bassijis have begun barging into homes to smash the receivers.
In some parts of the city, lines have started to appear through the broadcasts. Many viewers believe this is part of a government effort to disrupt the signal.
"These programs, prepared by international imperialism, are part of an extensive plot to wipe out our religious and sacred values," said Ezatollah Zarghami, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
As part of the offensive, Iranian television officials have promised to spend $17 million to broaden their programming. And for the first time, Iranian television recently showed an event outside Iran live, or nearly live, in an effort to win back viewers. During the World Cup, soccer matches were delayed by a few seconds so that crowd scenes, which would have showed women in Western dress, could be replaced with old footage of spectators bundled up in the more modest attire of winter coats.
In a fifth-floor apartment in downtown Tehran, a father and his 23-year-old daughter sat in front of a television and went through the afternoon programming.
Programs available via satellite included a BBC documentary, a music video channel playing the song "Swamp Thing," a tennis match and a game show. The white cord that attached the set to the broadcast antenna lay unhooked on the floor.
"We got the dish eight months ago and we haven't watched Iranian television since," said the father, who insisted on not being identified. "Even the news broadcast is useless since the mullahs wait so long to report events. They have to discuss the ideological impact of each news item before deciding whether we should know about it or not."
The reach of the satellite programs is enormous, especially among young Iranians, many of whom spend four or five hours a day watching the foreign broadcasts. In the past 12 months, changes have been made in hair styles, dress, and even expressions, which now include a smattering of English slang.
"We do not have the word `already' in Persian," said Ali Reza Damouzeh, a 23-year-old businessman, "and since the satellite dishes arrived this is one word that everyone has adopted."
The most popular shows appear to be serials like "Dynasty," "Baywatch" and "Moonlighting."