Meet the next PM - Elad Stefansky

Are you tired of every election campaign featuring recycled candidates?

elad stefansky 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
elad stefansky 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Are you tired of every national election campaign featuring recycled prime ministerial candidates like Netanyahu and Barak? Well, so is 31-year-old Ramat Gan resident Elad Stefansky. Except that unlike most of us, who just grumble under our breath, Stefansky woke up one morning and decided to run for prime minister - at least on TV. Beginning Monday night at 8:30 p.m. on Channel 1, a 10-part weekly half-hour mockumentary series called Running for Prime Minister will follow the antics of the everyman, nebbishy yuppie - Stefansky appearing as himself - as he learns the ins and outs and what-have-yous of penetrating the Israeli political system. "The concept is about an average person who wakes up one day and decides to fulfill a childhood dream - to become the prime minister of Israel," explained the writer of the series, Hili Ziv, who happens to be Stefansky's professional and personal partner. "He's naive, doesn't know the first thing about politics and doesn't even want to play the political game. He's more intent on making the world a better place, and he concludes that the best way to do so is to be the prime minister," Ziv said. The series - which incorporates elements of everything from reality shows to successful mock documentaries like Mighty Like the Wind and Borat to films like Woody Allen's Zelig and Forrest Gump that combine fictional characters and real events - accompanies the political novice as he learns everything about what it takes to become prime minister. Stefansky, who is also the show's creator and director, leaves no stone unturned, consulting insiders including veteran politicians such as former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid and former NRP MK Shaul Yahlom, comedian-turned-pol Green Leaf party head Gil Kopatch, top political media advisor Itai Ben-Horin, and Channel 1 diplomatic correspondent Ayala Hasson. The juxtaposition of the intentionally empty-vesseled Stefansky asking savvy professionals the most rudimentary questions is the setup for unscripted results that are designed to both tickle the funny bone and raise some serious issues. "When I, as a naive citizen, ask one of these political veterans why, when I sent my resumé to the Prime Minister's Office nobody ever called me back, I'm being earnest. "But any answer that I get to that question will be a comic response by definition," explained Stefansky, a one-time actor who turned to advertising and content development for the Internet 10 years ago. According to Stefansky, the series presents a duality of ideas that is both idealistic and critical. "It combines that cynical view of the political system and gives the viewer the feeling that they're living in an imperfect world. At the same time, it's presenting the idea that everybody can follow their dreams, that every person can make a change in society," he said. Both Stefansky and Ziv followed their own dreams in conjuring up Running for Prime Minister as a result of forming their own company a year ago to develop content, mostly for the Internet. But Stefansky, who had dabbled over the years in TV format development, decided to also include that aspect in the company's mix. Running for Prime Minister emerged as a result. "The idea was very natural for me. It's always been a dream of mine to run the country, and I still believe I would be a great leader. But when I grew up and began to understand the world of politics and that you need a certain type of personality, then the dream began to fade," he said. "But the idea of combining that childhood dream with what I'm actually doing now with content seemed like a natural partnership." A little over a month ago, Stefansky and Ziv met with Channel 1's creative team and offered them four TV formats they had developed, including Running for Prime Minister. "This one caught their attention, and then it happened very fast," said Stefansky, adding that the timeliness of the upcoming national elections provided an extra boost. Ziv, who knew her way around a political campaign, having worked in the past with heavyweight media and campaign adviser Moti Morel, devised outlines for the episodes that manage to avoid the elephant in the room. For a series about Israeli politics, the show shies away from taking a political stance and from any of the pressing issues facing the country's real leaders, like our volatile neighbors, or internal flashpoints like Hebron. "We're not trying to address or solve the complex political questions here. Elad isn't political, but of course, it's impossible to totally ignore the big issues," Ziv said. "We're not identifying with any political party. Our point of view is to provide a good smile to people the morning after." According to Stefansky, it was not too difficult to collar the well-known guests, despite their not exactly understanding what they were being filmed for. "We didn't give them the full picture of what we were doing when we filmed them. They didn't know if I was Borat. But they were cooperative. Most of these people are living off of TV and media exposure, They need it," Stefansky said. "We're trying to get [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert to give me some advice on one of the episodes," he added. "We tried for Shimon Peres, but he didn't agree. That was disappointing, since he's always talking about how young people should get involved in the political process." The series will coincide with the country's actual political campaign, with the penultimate episode airing on February 9, on the eve of Election Day. Of course, everyone knows the outcome of the final episode - Elad Stefansky will not be elected prime minister of Israel. And unlike in the US, voters can't even cast write-in ballots for him. But Stefansky and Ziv are hopeful that their candidate will pick up some support along the way and that viewers will click on the show's Web site to discuss the issues raised on chat lines, and participate in on-line polls. "I would be disappointed if people didn't react to the show in a thoughtful manner. It should give viewers something to think about," Stefansky said. It doesn't require a tongue-in-cheek, mock documentary to expose some of the absurdities of the Israeli political system, but Running for Prime Minister demonstrates that it doesn't hurt. "It's a little like a reality show, but not exactly," said Ziv. "It's just our reality."