An observer inside the modern, airy Keshet building in the Ramat Hayal
neighborhood of Tel Aviv would be forgiven for thinking that the unassuming man
walking the halls – wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap and bantering with the
young, beautiful cosmopolitan tastemakers half his age – was there to visit a
successful niece, or maybe to deliver a package to one of producers in their
But the casually dressed Joe Pesci look-alike is
actually the one on the receiving end of such packages; he’s one of the people
who decide what we watch on TV.
A lone wolf in the world of
communications, producer Arik Henig prefers to call himself an “all-around
player” as he recounts the decades he’s spent leaving his mark on the fields of
journalism, politics, radio, TV, film and sports. A quick rundown of his
versatile credits: • Serving as an aide to Yitzhak Rabinduring his term as
defense minister in the 1980s.
• Producing a handful of successful TV
documentaries, including Everything is Personal
, about the complex relationship
between Rabin and Shimon Peres and aired annually on the anniversary of Rabin’s
assassination; The Pioneer
, about Israeli NBA star Omri Casspi; and The Holy
, about Maccabi Tel Aviv’s journey to the Final Four in Thessalonika in
• Reporting over the years for Army Radio, Yediot Aharonot
and still writing a succinct, opinionated weekly sports column – “The
Starting Five” – for Yediot
• Adapting and serving as executive producer
for the popular Keshet/Channel 2 reality game show Monit Hakesef
• ... and perhaps the job of which he’s most proud, helping to
introduce the NBA to local sports fans for the last two decades as the
association’s Israeli representative.
“I wear a lot of hats besides this
one,” Henig says, pointing to his baseball cap, as we sit in the Keshet
He constantly scans the room to see who enters and exits, and
our talk is regularly peppered with requests and asides to the younger Keshet
staffers, who treat him the respect his resume deserves.
“I’ve spent a
lot of time traveling the world – I’m naturally curious, and that’s why I know a
lot and have taken advantage of opportunities. The one thing I am – which is
sometimes an advantage and sometimes not – is versatile. I’m not capable of
keeping to one thing, which is why I’ve never worked for anyone,” he says,
adding that while he has an office at Keshet to oversee Monit Hakesef
develop a new show, he’s his own boss.
Still, he admits that he does
answer to some people, and the more important the person is, the more respect he
has for him.
“It’s my personality to get along with important people –
with other people, I have a problem,” he says.
“There are three people
during my life who I’ve connected with who have led me on my way – Yitzhak
Rabin, [NBA commissioner] David Stern and [Keshet president] Avi Nir – he’s the
genius of Israeli TV. All three have played integral parts in what I
What Henig does may seem serendipitous. But the self-described
former Holon “beach boy,” who only graduated high school in an external program,
is part of a continuum of Israeli ingenuity and chutzpa that has manifested
itself in every sphere – from military to hi-tech to entertainment, where
Israel’s innovative and cost-cutting TV formats are being gobbled up by US
networks at record rates.
THE WAY he got involved with the NBA is a case
“In October 1984, I was in the middle of one of my trips
visiting a girlfriend in New York, and she knew I worked as a freelance writer
and told me she had this friend, a young lawyer, who had just become
commissioner of the NBA and suggested I interview him. A lot of my breaks have
come through my girlfriends,” says the twice-married Henig.
“So I went to
interview him for Army Radio and Ma’ariv
, and we had a special chemistry. He
told me that in the US, basketball would always be No. 3 behind baseball and
football, but he was a genius – he said that we’re going to go global, we’ll
broadcast games around the world and sell uniforms and merchandise. Then we’ll
import players from other countries and make the NBA a global
sport. Everything he told me, by the way, is true 25 years later,” he
“In my chutzpa-ness, I didn’t have any fear from people of
importance, then or now,” he recalls. “I sat across from the most important
person in the NBA and said, ‘I want to do this in Israel.’ I knew that it would
succeed and it would be huge.”
Stern and Henig continued their discussion
and relationship over the next few years, and from 1990 to 1993, Henig was
authorized by the NBA to broadcast games on the then-experimental Channel 2 late
at night. At that time, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were dazzling the
world with a series of world championships.
Henig would host pre-game
shows and travel to the US for all-star games and championship series, bringing
Israeli viewers firsthand interviews with Jordan, Magic Johnson and other
superstars of the day.
“I haven’t done an NBA broadcast since 1993, and
people still come up to me on the street and say, ‘I grew up with you and
learned about the NBA from you,’” he says. “It’s all due to me that the NBA is
so big here.”
The NBA and his relationship with Stern proved to be a door
opener: He became the official NBA representative in Israel, organizing
exhibition games, setting up training clinics with the likes of Julius “Dr. J”
Erving, and playing a role in the Israel visits of stars like the New York
Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire.
“David Stern is the biggest person I’ve ever
met – he’s done great things for me in my life – if there was no NBA, I would
never have gotten into television, made documentaries and moved on to Monit
,” says Henig.
In fact, it literally was due to the NBA that the
game show, his current cash cow, fell into his lap. The popular program – second
only to Kochav Nolad
in the ratings and a winner of the 2010 Israeli Emmy for
best entertainment show – in which unwitting passengers enter a taxi and find
themselves able to win cash for answering questions, was initially launched in
England in 2005 and adapted for American screens the following year on the
Henig was on his way to the 2007 NBA All-Star Game in
Las Vegas and ended up being stranded in a New York hotel during a blizzard.
Flipping the remote control on the TV in his room, he came upon Cash Cab.
watching for a few minutes, a lightbulb went on in his head.
“I knew that
an Israeli version of this show would be huge,” he says.
He called down
to the front desk and requested that the show be videotaped, then got in touch
with the owners of the show in England and paid £3,000 for a six-month
“Then I called Avi Nir and said, ‘I’m sending you a video by
Fedex – it’s going to be your biggest hit,’” he says. “I don’t know how
to describe it, but I have this sense about things. I knew Rabin would become
prime minister long before he did, and I knew Avi Nir would be great in TV back
when he was an assistant to the marketing director.”
It took a few
months, but Henig and Keshet staffers adapted the show to fit an Israel audience
– an effort that required considerable tweaking.
“The most important
thing I did was to discover the show; the second most important thing was the
adaptation,” he says. “For every format there’s a ‘bible’ that you have to stick
with to a certain extent. The way the show works abroad is that people are told
they’ve been chosen to be on a game show, and when they go down to the taxi,
boom – the show begins. I didn’t like that, I wanted the contestants to be
completely surprised – just regular taxi passengers.”
Along with the
format change and an engaging host in Ido Rozenblum, the show became a huge hit
– and, according to Henig, the only Cash Cab adaptation in prime
“In the US, it’s on at 6 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. We put it
on the most popular station in prime time, and it gets the highest ratings. It’s
broadcast in 120 countries, and Israel’s the only place where it’s so
THE SUCCESS of Monit Hakesef
has given Henig plenty clout in
Keshet, and he’s used it to push through an idea for a new sitcom that combines
his love of sports and TV.
“A lot of soccer players from Israel go abroad
to play. My idea was go behind the scenes with a player who brings his large
family with him to England. It’s all about them adapting to a new country while
still being totally Israeli. Moni Moshonov, one of my best friends, is going to
play the father of the player, and we’re writing the scripts for the first year
now,” he says enthusiastically.
“Keshet doesn’t like to spend money – but
when they believe in something, then the sky’s the limit,” he adds, taking a
bagel out of his brown lunch bag.
At the age when most contemporaries are
taking advantage of their right to start slowing their pace, Henig is still on
the fast track, unable to step off.
“I don’t rest, and I’ll tell you
why. Everything I’ve done from the age of 20 or so, I’ve been crazy about
– and not just one thing, but dozens,” he says.
“I don’t feel my age –
all the people here,” he adds, waving around the Keshet cafeteria, “get along
with me despite the age difference, because I have a young spirit, and I’ve done
good by them with Monit Hakesef
. They want to work with me.”
the soccer sitcom is up and running, Henig still has plenty of dreams to pursue.
Rattling them off as if making a mental list, he runs through producing his
first feature film, establishing an NBA academy of basketball instruction in
Israel and bringing more NBA teams here for exhibition games.
an explorer who reaches a peak, puts his flag in the ground and then moves on to
another peak,” he declares.