From Holy Land to Hollywood...
Israel is the new Scandinavia when it comes to viewing – the source of inspiration for a wave of new TV dramas
Susie Mesure writes interviews, news and features for the Independent on Sunday, Independent and i, and has done for the last ten years or so give or take two lengthy maternity leaves. She is interested in just about any topic, especially anything Scandinavian, food, or consumer-orientated, and used to be the Independent’s Retail Correspondent
Sunday 30 September 2012
The words Israeli and drama usually herald reports of some intractable conflict in the Middle East. But that is changing thanks to a stream of popular Israeli television series that US studios are rushing to snap up.
The small country, with a population roughly equal to London's, has become an unlikely hotbed for gripping new dramas that are spawning award-winning spinoffs.
Homeland, which was inspired by the Israeli thriller Hatufim, returns for a second series next Sunday (7 October) fresh from its success at the 2012 Emmys where it scooped all the top gongs.
American TV executives are mining Israel's airwaves to find the next candidate to receive the Homeland treatment. NBC's Universal Television has just bought the rights to another mystery series from the Israeli network behind Hatufim. The studio is planning to develop an English-language version of The Gordin Cell, which follows former Soviet spies starting a new life in Israel.
Rick Rosen, the Hollywood agent who brokered Hatufim's sale to the network Showtime among others, said Israel was emerging as the next Scandinavia, another rich source for captivating dramas. "There's an enormous amount of creativity there. There are some great writers and some great shows," he added.
What Israel's series lack in the iconic knitwear and brooding female protagonists, they make up for with psychological tension and deft storytelling. Mr Rosen said Israeli comedies were "edgier" than their American equivalents.
"It's easier to see interesting shows around the world because of the internet," he said, explaining the recent obsession with foreign formats. "The world is a smaller place."
As is clear from Homeland's cult status in the UK, British audiences are as keen on Israeli formats as US viewers. Odelia Haroush, who organised the UK's first Israeli film festival in London this summer, said: "We included television in our festival because there is so much interest. [TV series] are popular because they are very funny and emotional. [They show] the cultural and social diversity of in everyday life in Israel." Seret, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival, will be held again next June.
Other Israeli shows in the pipeline in the US include Yellow Peppers, a drama about a rural family with an autistic son, and Pillars of Smoke, a series about a mystery at a secretive commune. All are being remade for American audiences, because, as Mr Rosen said: "Americans seem to like the American versions."
Richard Ferrer, editor of Jewish News, said the nature of Israeli politics meant local writers, such as Hatufim and Homeland's Emmy-winning Gideon Raff, had plenty of potential plotlines. "Israel's survival is always at stake, so what might appear to be paranoia from a comfortable distance tends to be reality on the streets of Tel Aviv."
Mr Ferrer added: "Talented young Israeli writers like Raff are turning their country's raw survival instincts into edgy and authentic drama. His show Hatufim tapped an open wound in a country where conscription is law and kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was feared lost. It makes for truthful and plausible drama."
Life Isn't Everything
CBS is developing its own version of Israel's most successful ever sitcom about a middle-aged divorced couple who were bad at marriage and are proving even worse at divorce.
Some episodes from the Hebrew version, Ramzor, featured at London's Israeli Film and Television Festival. Fox's English-language adaptation proved a rare disappointment because it messed around too much with the original.
The best-known of the spin-offs is America's favourite drama after cleaning up at the 2012 Emmys. It tells the tale of a former prisoner of war, Sgt Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, and Claire Danes' suspicious CIA agent, Carrie Mathison.
The Gordin Cell
The latest thriller getting the Hollywood treatment features former Soviet spies. The US version will be called M.I.C.E. (Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego) and is set to be shown on NBC.
One of the earlier re-makes, this was based on Israel's The Mythological Ex about a woman who visits a psychic and discovers she has already dated the man she is destined to marry.
Pillars of Smoke
Described as part-Twin Peaks, part-Lost, the series is a mystery set in the Golan Heights, which follows the investigation into the disappearance of a cult from the area. In development for US reboot.
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