Gideon Raff, creator of the original Israeli drama Prisoners Of War and the writer and exec producer of its Emmy-winning U.S. version Homeland, says he doesn’t know how the series’ story will end. But Bert Salke, the president of Fox 21, which produces Homeland, says he thinks the writers have a “sense of where they want Carrie to be in six years.” It needs to be remembered that the story really started with Claire Danes’ CIA agent, Salke said. At a panel for a small group of journalists here at Mip-TV today, Salke also noted that Danes and co-stars Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin have input and “influence the characters.” Homeland was renewed for a third season in October.
Talking of the genesis of the original Prisoners Of War (Hatufim in Israel), Jerusalem-born Raff explained the subject was “taboo” in his home country because there are 1,500 current prisoners of war and when any POW returns, there is a severe reticence to “know what happens to them.” Prisoners Of War was the first time such a subject had been broached on local television and “in the beginning we kind of got flack for exploiting the subject for ratings, I guess, which was a ridiculous argument. But once people saw the show, the arguments subsided,” Raff said. Now, there is controversy over Prisoners Of War, which recently concluded its second season, as did Homeland, “but it’s about the show, not the subject.”
Salke said that when Fox originally optioned Prisoners Of War for 24 alums Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, “it was thought of as a network show.” Salke says he “immediately thought it was cable. You can do so many different things on cable.” Homeland was a “tough call” for Fox chairman Kevin Reilly. “People were scared”, and because of the terrorism and counter-terrorism aspects of the show it was hard to tell where the show was going, so they approached pay channels. Showtime’s David Nevins and Matt Blank “got it right away,” per Salke. Ran Tellem, who is VP Programming at the series’ Israeli broadcaster Keshet, concurred that “half the people” at the Prisoners Of War broadcaster initially “thought we couldn’t do it. We had a POW at the time.”
Raff added that before he shot a frame of Prisoners Of War, he sent a script to Gordon and Gansa “to talk about the differences in societies.” A big one, he noted, is that Israel negotiates for POWs but the U.S. does not, which is why Homeland‘s Nicholas Brody is released in a military operation rather than after years of back-and-forth as in the Israeli version. It isn’t only in Israel where the subject is not talked about, though, Raff said. Most of his highly educated American friends “don’t know there’s an American POW with the Taliban who has been there for three years,” he pointed out.
Salke contends that Homeland is changing television in the U.S. “It’s about creating your own zeitgeist and frankly about winning awards and creating controversy,” he said. He believes Homeland is “the TV story of 2013. These cable shows are going to affect the broadcast landscape.” With series like AMC’s The Walking Dead scoring sky high ratings, but available to far fewer people than network shows, he allowed, “It’s a little bit of an unfair game” because of the parameters that are allowed on cable. “It’s less episodes, there are no commercials, you can tell better stories. It’s an unfair advantage, but still… It will make broadcast TV much better in the U.S. This will be a watermark year for changes.”
The group also touched on budgets. Of the discrepancies in what is allotted to make Homeland in the U.S. versus what is paid for Prisoners Of War in Israel, Salke said an entire Prisoners Of War season is essentially made for less than an episode of Homeland. Raff joked he didn’t think the discrepancies were big enough.
Raff also talked about Tyrant, FX‘s high-profile drama pilot he created and from Gordon and Six Feet Under alum Craig Wright. He joked that after writing all the Prisoners Of War episodes himself and collaborating on Homeland, being in a writers’ room on Tyrant meant that “sometimes my opinion is accepted and sometimes it’s not.” Ang Lee committed to directing the pilot just after he won the Best Director Oscar. Tyrant is the story of an unassuming American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation.