Exporting Israel to the world through television

Top American talent agent Adam Berkowitz is putting together deals to adapt Israeli shows for the US screen.

‘The Greenhouse’ based on the Israeli ‘HaHamama’ debuts on Netflix in September 2017. (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The Greenhouse’ based on the Israeli ‘HaHamama’ debuts on Netflix in September 2017.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is at the very center of the new golden age of television and will soon become even more important to the international television industry, according Adam Berkowitz, the co-head of television at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), who was a guest at the recently concluded 34th Jerusalem Film Festival.
“What’s going on in television in Israel is incredible,” he says. “Israel has exported more successful formats certainly than any other foreign- language country.” A format is the overall concept and branding of a television program.
A frequent visitor to Israel, Berkowitz has participated in several conferences and pitching events at past festivals here and received the 2017 Israel Film Festival Career Achievement Award in March in Los Angeles. Berkowitz has packaged and sold many US television series, among them Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men, Masters of Sex, True Detective and House of Cards, and in recent years has started working with Israeli television.
“A couple of my goals are to help the country, helping to produce there and to help the economy, showing Israel in a positive light...
and to help the people that I’m involved with, that I care about, in terms of selling their formats in different territories. So this is my way of giving back, since I’m not doing any army service, and I’m very pro Israel.” (His daughter made aliya not long ago.) Berkowitz first became aware of the high quality of Israeli television when he saw Homeland, the Emmy-winning series that was executive produced by Gideon Raff, who created and wrote the Israeli series, Hatufim, on which Homeland was based.
“Homeland is by far the most successful and commercial adaptation of an Israeli format,” says Berkowitz, noting that In Treatment, a US adaptation of the Israeli series BeTipul, was also one of the early Israeli successes abroad.
But these two shows are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cooperation between the Israeli television industry and international companies.
Three of Berkowitz’s recent projects exemplify the ways in which the Israeli industry is reshaping how television is developed and produced all over the world.
The first of these is the sale of the series Fauda, a popular and critically acclaimed show, to Netflix, the movie and television streaming service. Fauda is about Israeli special agents hunting terrorists on the West Bank, and also tells the story of the terrorists themselves.
Fauda is, in my opinion, one of the most important Israeli television shows to be distributed internationally,” said Berkowitz. “This is partly because it’s the original Israeli series, so it can’t be overshadowed by comparisons to any other version. And it presents the Palestinian/Israeli conflict without taking sides. Therefore, people can truly understand this complicated situation through watching this unbiased portrayal. Fauda depicts the people on both sides as real and complex, and shows the best and the worst of the Israelis and Palestinians fighting a war that no one wins.”
The distribution of Fauda on Netflix will give worldwide exposure to the actors. “The original Israeli actors are becoming famous and starting to receive international critical acclaim.”
Another Israeli show Berkowitz has sold to Netflix is a new version of the Israeli teen show Ha Hamama, called The Greenhouse in English.
But there’s an important twist with this project.
The Greenhouse “is unusual because it was an Israeli format that was produced by the same Israeli production company... with the same Israeli showrunner, Giora Chamizer, but with American actors and it’s going to be an international version that’s going to be on Netflix in September.”
Although The Greenhouse is filmed in Israel, it is set in San Diego. This development is important because it paves the way for future collaborations which will be extremely beneficial for the Israeli television industry in terms of bringing more jobs, money, opportunity and publicity to the country.
“It’s important to keep the original creators involved if possible because they brought something to the table that was special enough so that a foreign country wants to option it, so if you can keep them involved it’s very helpful.”
The third Israeli show Berkowitz has worked on recently is an American version of the comedy/drama The Good Cop, a highly rated Israeli series that stars Yuval Semo and Moshe Ivgy. Andy Breckman, who created Monk, is producing and writing, and Tony Danza (Taxi, Who’s the Boss?) has been cast in the role played by Ivgy. This will also be on Netflix. Howard Klein of 3 Arts Entertainment is an executive producer on the show, and the Israeli network YES, which created the original show, will executive produce as well.
There are several reasons why people in the television business are looking toward Israel, Berkowitz said.
“Israelis are good at producing shows on a budget. Because they don’t have a lot of money, they sacrifice big action and expensive scenes for character development...
And if you shoot in Israel versus San Diego, for example, the cost savings are very significant.”
A second factor is that Israel “is a Western society and their values are very Western in nature, so characters cross over very much to the American and international market.
And they have great characters.
For example, In Treatment was basically the Israeli version [of Betipul] dubbed over into English. It was almost identical.”
The third reason, Berkowitz said, “is there’s a lot of very, very talented, creative people in Israel, which is not that surprising.”
Berkowitz had advice for Israelis who want to break into television.
“Write what you know, because the best things you write are things you know about, to make it as real as possible... Sell it there and get it produced in Israel and then if it’s really good, it will translate...
I don’t think they should worry about doing stuff for the foreign market, because then you’re creating stuff that’s not necessarily what you do best, and the market is always changing, so just do something great. Quality succeeds.”