Israeli TV shows head for Hollywood

US studios have bought ten Israeli series in the past two years as they search for fresh content.

Only a few years ago, Israeli scriptwriters, directors, and producers sought to get a foothold in Hollywood to sell Israeli serials with an international orientation to US television studios. Two years ago, Tel Aviv Los Angeles Workshops was opened by studio representatives to help Israeli artists. The studios told the artists that it was better to listen than to fantasize. They said that there was a 1-1,000 chance of success, and that only a few Israeli artists, if any, would achieve their Hollywood dreams.

Even then, however, there was a precedent: the drama series by Haggay Levy, "In Treatment" was sold to the prestigious cable studio HBO. Actress Noa Tishbi mediated the deal, and Israeli artists believed that the dam was about to be breached. They were right.

Since then, US studios have bought ten Israeli shows, including "Kidnapped (whose American version is now being shot in Israel), "Naor's Friends", "The Mythological X", and "Ramzor" (whose US version, "Traffic Light" was pulled after disappointing ratings, which its Israeli producer Adir Miller attributed, in an interview with "Globes", to changes made to the US version) "In Treatment" is now in its third season.

Two weeks ago, the "Financial Times" reported on the buzz surrounding the quality of Israeli content, implying that American content was poor compared with the flood of refreshing drama on Israeli TV. The paper said that Israel was becoming a content powerhouse - and cheap.

The "Financial Times" commented on US TV executives knocking at Israeli doors, but did not mention the close ties between Hollywood stars, such as Steven Spielberg and Philip Rosenthal (the producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond") and Israeli producers.

Israeli producer Tzafrir Kochanovsky has hooked up with Spielberg to develop a big-budget science fiction series under Dreamworks. "It is a mix of the "X Files" and "The da Vinci Code"," Kochanovsky told "Globes".

Spielberg and Rosenthal are also working on a drama series that will take place at Jerusalem's Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, with Kochanovsky as a co-producer. TNT has bought the series. Filming will begin on site next year.

It used to be said that Israelis entry into US television was due to a confluence of several factors: the spotting of Israeli writing talent, which relies on the sale of potentially blockbusting and multi-audience appeal to US producers; a lack of new ideas by US scriptwriters, who feel that everything has already been written and filmed; the courting of Jewish power centers in Hollywood by Israeli artists; and Israeli chutzpah. The producers of "Naor's Friends" - an Israeli version of "Sienfeld" - was sold back to the Americans. "The Arbitrator" - an Israeli version of "The Sopranos" with a whiff of Israeli movie "Lovesick Alex" - is trying to take the same road.

The rights to the Israeli musical telenovela "Danny Hollywood", produced by Teddy Productions Ltd., and aired on satellite broadcaster YES, was sold to GC Corporation, owned by Joseph Grinkorn and Israeli Adi Cohen. GC owns the independent production studio Killer Films, which produced Bob Dylan's "I'm Not There" and the miniseries "Mrs. Harris" and "This American Life". It is premature to known whether the US version of "Danny Hollywood", which depicts the colorful life and mysterious death of a pop star in the 1960s will be a movie or TV series.

A year ago, Oded Turgeman founded Operating Room a content company that functions as a "shortcut to Hollywood," as he put it. Turgeman, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem, markets Israeli content to the US movie and TV industry. He says that there are backers for developing Israeli content and projects for Hollywood.

During a workshop last year, Tel Aviv Los Angeles Workshops said, "We came to work. We're looking for Israeli scripts and ideas." One of the hosts was Darren Star, the producer of "Sex and the City", "Beverly Hills 90210", and "Melrose Place".

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on May 22, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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