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Producer tries to fill gaps in our knowledge of the Arab world

The three months she spent in the Gulf area making ''The Oil Kingdoms'' gave Jo Franklin-Trout a greater sense of the importance of family: families in general, and her own husband and two children in particular.

''I was so anxious to get back to my family. I've learned a great deal watching family relationships in the Arab countries. I walked away with a lot of food for thought. In the West, the family has practically dissolved. Fathers and sons rarely see each other, daughters leave home, the extended family has really disappeared. So we are left without a sense of belonging, without a sense of ourselves. In the Arab world, the family is extended . . . it is the most important element in life.''

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Ms. Franklin-Trout, a former senior producer for ''The MacNeil-Lehrer Report, '' is already planning another series on areas of the Middle East she has not yet touched - probably Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt.

''For the most part, television coverage of the Middle East is event oriented , and it's kind of like starting a story at the end rather than at the beginning when you consider that most people know so little about the area. They know little about the history and culture, mostly about corrupt societies with very little sense of the overall economics and foreign policies. That's why we are constantly surprised by what happens there.''

In her total intensity, Ms. Franklin-Trout constantly grabs the interviewer's arm for emphasis: She is fervent in her beliefs and she expresses them intelligently.

How do the five Gulf countries in the new series differ from Saudi Arabia, the subject of her previous series?

''There are enormous differences. The Gulf countries are on the main trade routes of history. Unlike the Saudis, who were very insular for a very long time until oil opened their doors, most of the Gulf countries were traders, used to everybody sailing in from everywhere. They sold goods and talked to the rest of the world. They were the merchants and the shippers. As a result, in everything from their social perspectives to their version of Islam and their personal customs there is a marked difference.

''I think most people will be startled by what's happening in the United Arab Emirates in particular, a good case study in what money does to a culture. They have literally gone from a generation behind veils where women were secluded at home, couldn't travel in the streets, to a situation where women can be television newscasters, bankers, lawyers. It is an amazing story. I was stunned.''

Are there any poor people in these countries?

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''I suppose so. Oman is still struggling out of poverty and the oil is already beginning to go in Bahrain. But nobody starves anymore in these welfare states. It's just that there are some people who are enormously wealthy while others are just barely able to afford their new hi-fi set. Things are expensive there, but the prices I found comparable to New York City prices. They receive free education and health benefits as well as more or less free housing. It's a total welfare society.

''When the money runs out, their investments around the world will bring in their income. The Gulf will be their home; the rest of the world their office.''

Do the governments worry about maintaining power?

''They regard giving money away as an exercise in self-interest. As long as all the people seem to be happy with all the material things, those in power believe the people won't think of overthrowing the government.''

Do the typical Middle Eastern stereotypes hold true when one visits the area?

''Well, it is true that time moves differently in the Middle East. An appointment at 11 a.m. may be kept at 3 p.m. or even the next day. 'Why are you so obsessed with time?' they asked me. 'There are other things more important.'

''And I suppose they are right. Time should not be that important.''

Then she smiles. ''May I take that back? It is important on Oct. 10, 17, and 24 at 8 p.m.''

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