How are Israeli fictions exported around the world?

Article  by  Karl DEMYTTENAERE  •  Published 22.05.2013  •  Updated 22.05.2013
[NEWS] Behind the success of Homeland and In Treatment hide the Israeli fictions Hatufim and BeTipul. A focus in on the country’s particularly dynamic market for TV series.
 
In the U.S., enthusiasm for the series Homeland[+] NoteCreated by Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff and Alex Gansa, with Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. X [1] didn’t diminish for the second season, broadcast in late 2012. The series attracted an average of 5.9 million viewers per episode, or 37% more than the first season. These excellent results have led producers to launch a third season, set to hit American screens on September 29, 2013.
 
Behind one series, another may lie – and in this case, behind the hit U.S. series lies Hatufim[+] Note“Prisoner of war” in Hebrew.X [2], an Israeli production. Its storyline was bought by Fox before the first episode was even broadcast in Israel in 2008. Subsequently, broadcast rights have been acquired by Australian and Finnish public television, and by Arte for broadcasting in Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg and Switzerland). The group Weit Media also bought the rights to make a Russian version of the series. This success story is but one of many examples of Israeli shows being exported abroad, and in particular to the U.S.: BeTipul[+] NoteCreated by Hagai Levi, Nir Bergman and Ori Sivan, with Assi Dayan, Gila Almagor, Rami Heuberger. X [3], HaEx HaMitologi[+] NoteCreated by Sigal Avin, with Tali Sharon, adapted by CBS under the name The Ex List. X [4], Ramzor[+] NoteCreated by Adir Miller, with Adir Miller and Lior Half’on.X [5], and the list goes on…
 
The situation is surprising in comparing the American and Israeli television markets, according to Gideon Raff, creator-producer-screenwriter for Hatufim and the Israeli Homeland: “The [Israeli] market is small, budgets are minimal: the pilot of Homeland cost as much as two seasons of Hatufim!”. This furthermore represents a surprising reversal of situations: the very first Israeli sitcom, Krovim Krovim[+] NoteCreated by Yitzchak Shauli, with Yahora Gaon and Liora Rivlin. X [6], broadcast starting in 1983, was developed by seeking inspiration from the American series Three’s Company[+] NoteCreated by Don Nicholl, Michael Ross and Bernie West, with John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt. X [7], broadcast from 1977 to 1984 on ABC. And for good reason: prior to 1993, Israeli TV encompassed just one state-run channel, which was cut off at midnight. Subsequently, television transformed a great deal, and the Israeli market has extensively developed with a great many series of various genres, ranging from teen shows to family dramas and comedies.
 
Despite a relatively restrained market in 2013, with its seven million inhabitants and three television channels, two of which are commercial, the Israeli market for fictions is full of energy. “The Israeli public is curious but easily bored; we are obliged to produce series for non-specialized channels, as though they were written for cable – what we refer to as ‘edgy mainstream’”, says Ran Telem, vice-president of programming for Keshet Broadcasting, the major Israeli media group that produces Hatufim.
 
Israeli fictions have been able to incorporate the specificities of Jewish culture to directly address and seduce the public. This is the case for Srugim[+] NoteCreated by Eliezer Shapiro and Chva Divon, with Yael Sharoni and Toni Sharon. X [8], a series recounting the vagaries of the lives of a group of single Orthodox Jews, forced to reconcile their beliefs with their love lives, in much the same way as Friends.
 
Israeli creators also endeavor to adapt their series to the country’s reality, as for example with the teenage-geared series Hashir Shelanu[+] NoteCreated by Yoav Tzafir, Ori Gross and Tmira Yardeni, with Ninet Tayet, Ran Danker and Efrat Boimold.X [9], whose heroes enroll in the Israeli army in seasons three and four[+] NoteMilitary service is obligatory (a minimum of three years for men and 22 months for women). X [10]. In 2009, Hatufim sought to treat the question of the return of prisoners of war, examining the fate of two former Tsahal soldiers returning from Lebanon, and subsequently adapted in the United States by one of its creators, Gideon Raff.
 
Fictions seem to be a way for Israeli society to address its paradoxes and certain sensitive questions, using comedy, for example. This is the case of the series Avoda Aravit[+] NoteCreated by Sayed Kashua, with Norman Issa and Clara Khoury. X [11] (the title literally translates as “Arab labor”), which recounts the misadventures and identity issues of an Arab Israeli journalist in Israeli society. While not uncontroversial, it is now in its third season, and has become the most successful comedy on Israeli television. This is quite the feat for director Sayed Kashua, given that at the project’s launch in 2006, a study showed that the Arab Israeli minority only represented 2% of television appearances. More recently, the India-set series Ananda[+] NoteDirected by Ohav Flantz, with Dana Modan and Kai Nashif. X [12] recounts an Israeli-Palestinian romance. Broadcast starting in 2012, it uses an original point-of-view to address the question of cohabitation between Israelis and Palestinians.
 
Israeli creations began having an impact abroad in 2005: during a trip to Israel to see her family, the Israeli-American actress Noa Tishby got wind of a hit series about a psychoanalyst and his patients called BeTipul[+] NoteCreated by Hagai Levy, with Reuven Dagan and Gila Abulafia.X [13]. Persuaded that this drama series could attract American audiences, she contacted its creators and launched the project in the U.S.
 
This is how In Treatment hit American screens[+] NoteCreated by Hagai Levy, with Gabriel Byrne and Dianne West.X [14], an extremely faithful adaptation of the original BeTipul by HBO. Launched in January 2008, this Hollywood version was subsequently broadcast in Spain and Mexico with subtitles. The American channel went so far as to produce specific adaptations in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, while TV Publica Argentina created its own version, En Terapia[+] NoteBy Alejendro Maci, with Diego Peretti and Norma Aleandro.X [15], broadcast since May 14, 2012 on Canal 7.
 
BeTipul’s success paved the way for other Israeli creations in the U.S. and beyond. Khatsuya[+] NoteCreated by Ilan Rozanfeld and Shira Alon, with Amit Farkash and Yon Tomarkin. X [16], a series targeting teenage audiences and riding the Twilight and “vampire” theme waves, elicited a great deal of enthusiasm abroad. At the 2009 Cannes MIPTV, broadcast rights alone for this series were sold to nearly 35 countries in Europe and Africa – quite the feat for a show that had not been subject to major promotional campaigns in these countries leading up to the event.
 
On an entirely different note, the Israeli series Ramzor, dealing with the lives of three close friends in three different romantic situations (respectively in a live-in relationship, married and single), was adapted in the U.S. in 2011 under the name Traffic Light by 20th Century Fox, broadcast starting in February of that year.
 
A number of reasons have been given to explain why Israeli series thrive in being exported. First and foremost, as the standard of living in the country is rather high, there are many similarities with American, European and other societies, despite geographical distance. Secondly, the privileged relationship between Israel and the United States reduces the cultural gap. “We all grew up watching American television”, says Noah Stollman, creator of the series Timrot Ashtan[+] NoteWith Efrat Ben-Zur and Yoram Toledano.X [17], rebroadcast on Israeli screens in January 2009 and adapted by NBC under the title Pillars of Smoke[+] NoteCreated by Noah Stollman and Oded Davidoff. X [18] in 2011.
 
More mundanely, according to Gideon Raff, creator of the series Hatufim, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike seems to have forced U.S. production companies to seek out original concepts beyond the country’s borders, sparking off an opening up to outside creations that has continued ever since.
 
But despite this flourishing health abroad, according to some observers, the Israeli series market is facing quite the challenge at home – that of the standardization of episode formats, which can currently run from 25 to 50 minutes apiece regardless of genre, as well as the standardization of season format. A season only corresponds to the various phases of series broadcast, generally without bearing on the storyline. The definition of one or more common formats for this abundance of series could be an essential new step in allowing this flourishing market to reach a new level of maturity.
 
Translated from French by Sara Heft
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Photo Credits:
- Set of the series Hatufim Ldorfman / Wikimedia Commons
- Logo En Terapia Tv Pública Argentina / Wikimedia Commons
  • 1. Created by Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff and Alex Gansa, with Claire Danes and Damian Lewis.
  • 2. “Prisoner of war” in Hebrew.
  • 3. Created by Hagai Levi, Nir Bergman and Ori Sivan, with Assi Dayan, Gila Almagor, Rami Heuberger.
  • 4. Created by Sigal Avin, with Tali Sharon, adapted by CBS under the name The Ex List.
  • 5. Created by Adir Miller, with Adir Miller and Lior Half’on.
  • 6. Created by Yitzchak Shauli, with Yahora Gaon and Liora Rivlin.
  • 7. Created by Don Nicholl, Michael Ross and Bernie West, with John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt.
  • 8. Created by Eliezer Shapiro and Chva Divon, with Yael Sharoni and Toni Sharon.
  • 9. Created by Yoav Tzafir, Ori Gross and Tmira Yardeni, with Ninet Tayet, Ran Danker and Efrat Boimold.
  • 10. Military service is obligatory (a minimum of three years for men and 22 months for women).
  • 11. Created by Sayed Kashua, with Norman Issa and Clara Khoury.
  • 12. Directed by Ohav Flantz, with Dana Modan and Kai Nashif.
  • 13. Created by Hagai Levy, with Reuven Dagan and Gila Abulafia.
  • 14. Created by Hagai Levy, with Gabriel Byrne and Dianne West.
  • 15. By Alejendro Maci, with Diego Peretti and Norma Aleandro.
  • 16. Created by Ilan Rozanfeld and Shira Alon, with Amit Farkash and Yon Tomarkin.
  • 17. With Efrat Ben-Zur and Yoram Toledano.
  • 18. Created by Noah Stollman and Oded Davidoff.
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