Screen Savors: Harel's new sting

Stealing is what Channel 10's The Sting is all about.

The amazing thing about television is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Forty-some years ago, the New York station WPIX ran a grainy series called Racket Squad. In it, viewers were warned of various cons. The show concluded with the host presenting the following watchwords: "Remember, there are some people who can shake your hand with one hand and pick your pocket with the other, and it could happen to you." Back then, grifters were less hi-tech but the public's fascination with these clever folk is still strong. Witness first the UK series Hustle, about a team of conmen who steal from the rich or nasty, which still airs Sunday nights on Channel 1. Then there's The Real Hustle, shown locally on the Ego channel - for a while. In this UK show, another team of professionals demonstrate and explain their own series of cons. Now, it's Channel 10's turn with The Sting. It resembles the second show but it borrows heavily from the first, especially in its opening credits, which are suspiciously similar to Hustle's clever opening. But hey, stealing is what this show's all about. The Sting features illusionist Nimrod Harel (who had all of Israel transfixed with Bilti Nitfas and Machshavot Nistarot) and harkens back to that show of my youth. Along with three assistants - Roy, Shachar and Rochman - the crew shows us, what Harel claims, are the most common stings in Israel and the world, "so that you don't become the next victim." The first scheme involves making off with a safe, containing NIS 500,000, from a trendy Tel Aviv couple's fancy wedding. Harel takes us through the whole operation. Roy and Shachar pose as a couple interested in marrying to scope out the place. Then they return, posing as wedding guests and Rochman a photographer, with a duplicate safe covered with a tablecloth and plant. Guests stuff the real one with money and then they're switched. Since this is Channel 10, there are commercials. Harel is perpetually promising that we'll see what happens next… right after the break. But no one has ever walked away from a three-card monte game before it ends. And it's the same deal here; the action is entertaining enough to keep viewers hooked. That's good, because truth be told, the four grifters look great but they sound awful. Roy and Shachar's lines come across like they're reading off a cereal box. Rochman's a bit better. They do a much better job acting on the street than they do elsewhere. The producers also need to tone down the hyperactive music. And, for the love of God, let's get Shachar some warmer clothing. With all the emphasis on her cleavage, the poor girl might freeze this winter. The other stings shown were less impressive, but interesting. One, an item on identity theft, features a young woman who is shown just how easy it is for the conmen to open bank accounts and write checks in her name - thanks to information she'd tossed in the garbage. Better buy a home shredder, folks. Another woman is lured into offering a bribe to ticket-writer Rochman when Shachar convinces her that for NIS 100 each, he'll rip up their parking tickets. Be warned: Always ask people in uniform for ID, be they police officers, from the gas company or whatever. Back to the wedding hall, Harel further demonstrates how the conmen left out special ink for the guests signing checks. Following, they were able to use a lighter to heat the ink, causing it to disappear. Then the thieves could simply make out the checks as they pleased. In the end, the Fab Four contacted the distraught couple and returned all the money. How very considerate of them! After all, The Sting's supposed to be a warning to us all, as well as feel-good TV. More magic than mayhem, don't expect anything more hard-hitting than the likes of Screen Savors or Kolbotek. Will Harel's gang score in the ratings? Probably, judging by Israelis' penchant for such stuff. Meanwhile, the show's already had an impact. A young couple we know who just married - the night after the show was aired - hired a guard to keep an eye on their safe. Smart move, because remember, it could happen to you. The Sting airs Saturday nights at 9 p.m. on Channel 10.