Reality Check is a Deadline feature series covering the players, programs and trends in reality television.
Israel has grown to become one of the world’s go-to spots for formats, and the trend is likely here to stay with execs believing it soon will resemble the UK and Scandinavia. Arguably jump-starting the trend was scripted drama Be Tipul, which HBO adapted as In Treatment in 2008. But the one that opened the floodgates was Hatufim, the original version of what Showtime fashioned into the Emmy-winning drama series Homeland. And in the past year, a nonscripted show has brought the territory to a whole new level. Rising Star, the interactive singing competition created by Tedy Productions and Hatufim‘s Keshet International, turned attention full-bore to the Middle Eastern nation and has helped give rise to a slew of new programming that is wending its way around the globe. Pretty impressive for a country that has only two commercial broadcasters — a situation that is leading some locals to produce for international first. But there’s also a universality to the stories and concepts that Israel is bringing to market. Producer Tal Shaked of A Cappella echoes a sentiment you hear a lot when talking with local execs. “We’re a small country in the Middle East with a lot going on around us,” she says. “We have Jews and Russians and Arabs and Ethiopians. … We have religious and nonreligious people. There’s never a dull moment. The country lives under threat – we are surrounded by enemies. And that makes people be very creative.” Here is a look at some of the key reality producer/creatives in the market today.
A Cappella was founded by Einat Shamir and Shaked with the goal of cherry-picking content and business opportunities that would bring innovative ideas to the screen. Producing veteran Shamir spent 10 years at Channel 10 as executive producer and Head of Drama. Shaked formerly ran the international division of Channel 10, bringing local versions of such reality hits as Survivor, Beauty And The Geek, The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice to Israel. The duo teamed up in 2012 and late last year sold scripted drama Reaching For Heaven to eOne for U.S. and UK versions. In April, they introduced their first big unscripted effort, The Big Picture, to buyers at Mip. The game show was created by TV host and mentalist Nimrod Harel, and $1M was spent developing and producing an English-language pilot hosted by Andrew Günsberg. Contestants must identify photographs projected on a 20-meter-high screen in the studio. As is all the rage, there’s an interactive element that brings in the viewing audience. Via a specially designed app, viewers can answer questions to potentially become the partner of the onscreen contestant and split the $1M purse. The presentation at Mip attracted a lot of attention and discussions are ongoing with several buyers. A Cappella is producing for international first with the goal of bringing Israeli creations to the world. “Our vision is to put creators in the front line. We open doors for them,” Shaked tells me. “To identify where their creations can land, we cherry-pick our talent and projects. Because of my strong background with international, I have an eye in identifying right platform.” While the A Cappella partners focus on rolling out The Big Picture, they also have a handful of other projects in the works, including Hide-O-Mania, a reality thriller created by author Mayan Rogel and developed with gaming/tech expert Natalie Vidal that’s akin to a televised version of hide-and-seek.
Studio Glam was founded by former Keshet Channel 2 Head of Entertainment and Reality Ami Glam and his wife Ilan in 2013. Since then, they’ve created shows including Win The Crowd, in which street performers earn points for the onlookers they draw. It’s been optioned by Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions in the U.S. and also has an option in Russia. Another street-set competition, Duel Games, sees people chosen at random to play various games and has been produced in Colombia and Argentina and optioned in seven other markets including by Leg in the U.S. Studio Glam also has documentary format Like Share Please, which builds on stories from Facebook and has received a commission from Israel’s cable outlet Channel 8 Hot. But the biggest success has come with The Extra Mile, the 24-episode series debuted to record numbers on Israel’s Channel 10 in May. It’s still airing until the end of July and consistently has rated 60%-70% above the channel average. In the show, 10 acrimoniously divorced couples are sent to a tropical island where they must work together when faced with challenges in order to win a big cash prize. But there’s a twist: They’re not in it for themselves, the money is to be put aside in a trust fund for their kids. Glam calls the show “very intense” but tells me that the couples will learn new things about themselves through the process. “With divorce, you only see the negative side,” he says. “We’re looking for the positive and great moments.” At Mip in April, Glam sealed a multi-territory deal with Endemol to produce the show in 12 markets. Just month, the first commission was announced in Spain. Glam tells me that “things are going very fast” and negotiations are underway with a U.S. network. “In one year, we’re very happy with our achievements so far,” Glam says.
Tedy was founded in 1973 by Tmira and David Yardeni to rep musicians and produce records. When commercial broadcasters were established in Israel during the ’90s, the Yardenis turned their attention to producing original formats. Those include Star Is Born, which ran for 10 seasons, and Masterclass. Tedy now produces Rising Star. That show debuted in September 2013 on Keshet Channel 2 to stellar ratings and then proceeded to sell local versions to major broadcasters in more than 25 countries. While Season 2 in Israel gears up to shoot in a few months, the first formats have rolled out internationally in Brazil and Portugal. But the real proof of its success will be when ABC debuts its version on June 22 in the U.S. Tmira Yardeni tells me they didn’t exactly know they had a hit on their hands when the curtain rose on Rising Star in 2013. “We knew we had something new,” she says. “The first program was our pilot, and we were very frightened that people at home would let all the contestants pass – what do we do then? – or they would eliminate the good ones, or we didn’t know if it worked from a technical point of view.” The format incorporates an interactive app that lets the audience decide the fate of the performers. Even the special curtain that rises to reveal the passing acts to the audience has “seven engines,” Yardeni says with a laugh. “We were very, very worried.” But after it succeeded in Israel, and with a smart marketing push by Keshet International, it became the talk of the town at Mipcom in September. Yardeni is anxious to see how ABC and Keshet DCP do with the show. “We want to see how it works in the real country.” On deck for Tedy is Mishpacha Behofaa (A Family On A Stage) for Keshet’s music channel 24, where it will air this summer. The aim is to choose the best singing family in Israel, but, Yardeni cautions, it’s not a nasty elimination game. “It’s very touching and another way to look at music and family relations from the grandmother to the grandchild and mother singing together. … It’s modern, and interesting because Israel is an immigrant country so we have so many kinds of music and customs.” Israel has come a long way in the past 20 years or so of commercial TV and Yardeni has been around long enough to reflect on the evolution. “The very big change came when we began to produce TV formats, Yardeni says. “We didn’t think that our culture” would be so embraced. But with globalization, “you see that your problems are human problems. Now we understand that a good story or a good format is something that can make must-see TV.”
UNITED STUDIOS ISRAEL
United Studios Israel (aka Herzelia Studios) bills itself as the biggest production house in Israel. Owned by Taya Communications, it was founded in 1949 and made the switch from producing films to television during the ’90s with the rise of commercial broadcasting. The company works across genres including entertainment, drama, late-night, game shows, current affairs, children’s programming and documentaries. Its best-known program to U.S. audiences is hidden camera/prank show Deal With It, co-created with Keshet. It was originally made locally for Channel 2, and is produced stateside by Howie Mandel’s Alevy and Keshet for TBS. Season 2 premiered in March, and a third season will run later this year. Also from USI is primetime reality title Raid The Cage, produced for Channel 2 and distributed by Sony Pictures Television International. The show is in its third season locally and also is being made in China, Turkey, Romania, Russia, Argentina, Vietnam and Thailand. USI also makes Channel 10’s successful celebrity prank series Ambush. New at the recent Mip-TV market were Channel 10 cooking/dating show Taste Of Love, sold by Dori Media, and man on the street-meets-studio quiz show Who’s Asking, distributed by Armoza. Pilots that have yet to air include medical factual entertainment show Housecall, which sees a famous doctor visit a family to prescribe preventative medicine techniques; trivia game show Shuttle Battle, in which couples vie for a dream vacation; and truthful criticism entertainment Can You Face It? on which Dori is closing a U.S. option. USI spends big on development and produces its shows internally. The company is looking to invest in international co-productions, especially given the limited shelf space on Israeli television. Parent company Taya is also actively eyeing the acquisition of indies, particularly in the UK.