Is­rael hopes TV hits will help na­tional im­age

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By DAN WILLIAMS

A decade af­ter its tele­vi­sion in­dus­try in­spired the Amer­i­can hits Home­land and In Treat­ment, Is­rael is step­ping up its en­ter­tain­ment ex­ports, with a di­plo­mat and a tal­ent agent act­ing as its en­voys to Hol­ly­wood.

Though TV for­mat sales ac­count for a sliver of over­all Is­raeli ex­ports – $268 mil­lion, or 0.2%, in 2016 – they open another win­dow into a coun­try that has suf­fered un­sym­pa­thetic news cov­er­age in the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans.

En­ter Sam Grundw­erg, the Is­raeli con­sul-gen­eral in Los An­ge­les, and Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the tele­vi­sion depart­ment at Creative Artists Agency. They have been pro­mot­ing Is­rael as a well­spring of screen con­tent worth adapt­ing for US au­di­ences or air­ing abroad in trans­la­tion.

Home­land and In Treat­ment have Amer­i­can sto­ry­lines, but Grundw­erg said the fact that they are based on Is­raeli shows builds re­la­tion­ships with Hol­ly­wood that con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s stand­ing.

Last week, the duo hosted more than 100 en­ter­tain­ment ex­ec­u­tives from 20 coun­tries at a Tel Aviv con­fer­ence spon­sored by the govern­ment, where Is­raeli stu­dios and writ­ers vied for buy­ers. Their doc­u­men­tary and drama ideas were prepack­aged with id­iomatic names and pol­ished sub­ti­tles in English.

“This is some­thing the prime min­is­ter [Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu] has a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for, as a crea­ture of the me­dia and some­one who un­der­stands opin­ion-shap­ing,” Grundw­erg told Reuters. “[It] gives the big­gest bang for the buck in terms of reach­ing peo­ple. These are things that tran­scend the pol­i­tics and the trib­al­ism.”

Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy “doesn’t work with me and it doesn’t work with oth­ers,” he said. “This [en­ter­tain­ment out­reach] is what cre­ates, for peo­ple, an as­so­ci­a­tion with Is­rael at an ex­pe­ri­en­tial, emo­tional level.”

Grundw­erg es­ti­mated 40% of his work in­volves court­ing Hol­ly­wood and the sports and mu­sic in­dus­tries. He said he and Berkowitz took nine TV in­dus­try no­ta­bles on a five-day tour that in­cluded the Syr­ian and Gazan fronts.

Berkowitz, who presided over the con­fer­ence in a pri­vate ca­pac­ity, said there were cur­rently at least six Is­raeli-based shows be­ing aired in the US. They in­clude Fauda, about Is­raeli un­der­cover spe­cial forces mem­bers pur­su­ing Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists. The show, which Berkowitz rep­re­sents, was bought by Net­flix, with a sec­ond sea­son in the pipe­line.

“Los An­ge­les tends to be a bub­ble of com­fort. It can be quite arid in terms of orig­i­nal in­spi­ra­tion. The Is­raeli shows, with their di­verse, real-life prob­lems and not-quite beau­ti­ful casts pro­vide them with new ideas. They like the grit,” said Alon Aranya, a writer-pro­ducer who adapted the Is­raeli sus­pense se­ries Hostages for CBS.

An Is­raeli show costs as lit­tle as $150,000 per episode com­pared to $2m. to $3m. in the United States, Aranya said.

Thrift deep­ens drama, Berkowitz sug­gested: “Be­cause Is­raeli TV is done on such a low bud­get, the shows are based on the char­ac­ters.” (Reuters)

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