Israeli TV shows head for Hollywood

‘In Treatment’ broke new ground as an Israeli TV export to America. Since then, Hollywood has looked more and more into buying local content.

In Treatment 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
In Treatment 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 it was better to listen than to fantasize. They said that there was a one out of 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 Haggai 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 10 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.
Earlier this month, 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 Israel was becoming a content powerhouse – and cheap.
The Financial Times commented on US television executives knocking at Israeli doors, but it 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 bigbudget 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 Shaare Zedek Medical Center, with Kochanovsky as a coproducer. TNT has bought the series. Filming will begin on site next year.
It used to be said that Israel’s 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.
Naor’s Friends, an Israeli version of Seinfeld, 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 and aired on satellite broadcaster YES, were 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 know 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 puts it. Turgeman, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, markets Israeli content to the US movie and TV industry. He says 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.