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(photo credit: AP)
After years of brainstorming and many failed attempts both in the US and elsewhere, a Los Angeles-based production company has finally succeeded in getting a Jewish television network off the ground.
Jewish Television Network Productions, an independent production and distribution company, launched the first broadband network of its kind last week, featuring a wide range of Jewish life-related programming.
With more than 10 channels ranging from news to cooking and kids' programming, and featuring over 250 video clips, the network is hoping to engage the entire Jewish community, including those who have been left untouched by existing institutions.
"The challenge we have had as the Jewish community is that we have not been accessible or user friendly," said CEO Jay Sanderson. "This will be an opportunity to embrace Judaism from the comfort of your home."
Over its 25 years as a production and distribution company, there was much discussion at the Jewish Television Network (JTN) about whether there could and should be a Jewish TV network. Myriad attempts by others failed due to a lack of funding and of the resources necessary to sustain a niche market.
Last year, JTN recognized that with the emergence of audio and video on the Web, the Internet could make the initiative viable. "It's good for the Jewish people and for the world for there to be a Jewish network, and that's why we launched," said Sanderson from his office in LA. The annual budget will be between $500,000 and $1 million.
The JewishTVNetwork.com is an outgrowth of JTN, which was founded in 1981 as an independent nonprofit organization to provide television programming reflecting the diversity of Jewish life. Today JTN's programs are carried by more than 90 Public Broadcasting Service affiliates, reaching over 80 million American homes. Programming has also been made available in Israel, Canada, New Zealand, Hungary, Japan and China.
It doesn't hurt that several prominent Hollywood executives sit on the board, such as CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, SONY Corporation CEO Michael Lynton and FOX TV Studios President Gary Newman.
JTN will use over 600 hours of existing programming as a start, as well as commissioning new material. From their living rooms or computers viewers will, by choosing from a long list of available programs, be able to watch food being prepared around the world; Shabbat and holiday services from local synagogues; movies, documentaries, shorts and animation; daily Israel Broadcasting Authority English language newscasts; and lecture series from the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and the 92nd Street Y in New York.
One documentary currently in production, The Jewish Americans, a prime time six-hour program, explores 350 years of Jewish life in America. It is a quintessentially American story with the familiar immigrant tensions between preserving identity and adaptation.
Another, Worse Than War - an exploration of the nature of genocide, ethnic cleansing and large-scale mass murder in our time - is written by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the author of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. The channel will also include user videos and blogs.
"We will look at every video to make sure it's appropriate, but we believe in reaching the broadest possible audience," said Sanderson. "We are interested in making the Jewish community bigger than it is, not smaller."
"There is a lot out there that might push the envelope but doesn't cross the line," he added.
Sanderson said the network wanted people across the religious and political spectrum to feel like their needs were being met. "It's not our job to be critical of Israel or Judaism, it's our job to reach out and create a virtual community," Sanderson said. "There is a difference between being critical and open. That's going to be fine line, and something we will have to evaluate on a regular basis, but that's the goal."