If you are a regular reader of NoCamels, or just know a thing or two about Israel, then you are probably aware of Israel’s well-deserved nickname as “the Startup Nation.” However, the humble home of technological and R&D innovation, has slowly, and for the most part unknowingly, taken over another growing sector—content for television.
At the recent MIPTV 2014 Media Market in Cannes, Israeli television production companies dominated the floor, with Keshet Media Group’s Avi Nir delivering the keynote speech and a special event dedicated to examining what make Israeli television formats so successful. And with shows like the HBO hit drama “In Treatment,” to Fox’s “Traffic Light” and now the up-and-coming talent reality contest “Rising Star,” we may soon be calling Israel “the Format Nation.”
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This riveting drama about a psychologist who also needs psychological help is what some in the content industry call Israel’s “foot-in” to the world of international television. The drama series known as “BeTipul” in Hebrew, created by Hagai Levi and Ori Sivan, was picked up by American cable giant HBO and debuted starring actors Gabriel Byrne and Dianne West in January of 2008. After just one season, “In Treatment” won a number of the television industry’s highest honors, including Emmy, Golden Globe and Writers Guild awards. Following three successful seasons in the United States, the show was developed for television in eleven additional countries, including Italy, Japan and Russia, making “In Treatment” an unforgettable milestone in the very short history of Israeli show business.
Who’s Still Standing?
While the concept of game shows originated in the USA, Israeli content writers seem to have a good knack for writing fun and competitive game show plots for television. Take for example “Who’s Still Standing?,” adapted from the popular Israeli game show called “Lauf al Hamiliyon,” or “Jump on the Million,” which aired on NBC for a full year from 2011 to 2012, hosted by Ben Bailey of “Cash Cab.” In the show, the main contestant faces off in one-on-one trivia battles against the other contestants in the arena, and if one of them answers a question wrong, a trapdoor opens under their feet, plunging them into the abyss (or in reality a comfy cushion located below the stage). The premise for the game show was picked up in over seven other countries and has set the stage for other Israeli game show formats, like Keshet’s “Boom” and A Capella’s “The Big Picture” to be sold with success overseas.
Israel sure knows a thing or two about real-life drama. It seems that Israelis know it so well, that “Hostages,” developed by Israelis Omri Givon and Rotem Shamir as “B’nei Aruba” (literally “Hostages” in Hebrew) was aired in the US on major television network CBS three weeks before its pilot launch in the land of milk and honey. In a nail-biting plot, a doctor’s family is taken hostage by a team led by a rogue FBI agent the night before the doctor, played by Toni Collette, is set to perform a critical surgery on the US President. The American version of the drama was developed in partnership with well-known director Jeffery Nachmanoff, best known for “The Day After Tomorrow” and Showtime’s series “Homeland,” and is being broadcast internationally in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and seven other countries.
Even comedies aren’t outside of the domain of the creative minds of Israeli writers. Following three widely successful seasons of “Ramzor” (literally “Traffic Light”) in Israel, the hilarious sitcom was adapted for the US market. The premise for the show, highlighting the struggles of three long-time friends who try to balance their personal lives with their friendship, was picked up by Fox in the United States and developed as “Traffic Light.” The show aired in 2011, and despite its success in Israel, was discontinued by Fox Network in May of the same year to the dismay of the show’s creator, popular Israeli comedian Adir Miller. However, with a fourth season in the works in Israel and a sixth season of the Russian-adapted version currently running, American viewers may have just missed the punchline.
Thirteen years ago, “American Idol,” one of the most successful shows in the history of American television, got everyone hooked on singing competitions where the winner is chosen by “viewers like you.” Now, an Israeli-created competition “Rising Star,” recently nabbed by ABC, is the first show to incorporate real-time voting by its viewers via a smartphone application. The viewers vote together with the judges as the contestants appear live, with a huge screen preventing the judges from viewing the contestant as they perform. In an additional twist, the contestants are given an idea of how many people are voting for them at home as images of the voters (taken from their Facebook pages) are displayed on the screen in front of them. The competitive format is expected to rival the likes of “American Idol” and “The Voice” and is set to be launched this coming summer in the US. The “Rising Star” format was also sold to major networks in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and a deal is pending with major UK broadcaster ITV.
Yup, it’s true. One of Showtime’s most highly rated series ever, actually originated as the Israeli show “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”). Soon after its premiere in Israel in 2010, “Hatufim”, which tells the story of three Israeli soldiers who were captured on a secret mission in Lebanon, was bought by Fox and adapted into the more complex story of a “turned” American soldier in “Homeland.” While the plots of the Israeli and American versions are notably different, “Hatufim’s” creator, Gideon Raff remained a important consultant for “Homeland’s” directors and a number of the series’ episodes were filmed in major Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa. Indeed, the Israeli series “Hatufim” is, in its own right, a critically acclaimed series, airing in over 19 countries in its original Hebrew format with subtitles. “Homeland” swept the Emmys and Golden Globes following its first and second seasons, with lead actors Claire Danes and Damian Lewis winning Emmys and other awards for their roles. With millions of devoted fans all over the world, including American President Barak Obama, “Homeland” has helped Israeli television make a name for itself that will not soon be forgotten.