EXCLUSIVE: As Israelis head to the polls Tuesday in one of the most closely fought elections in a generation, many will be following the day’s events not on the news but on What A Wonderful Country. The satirical show — think Saturday Night Live meets The Daily Show — is currently Israel’s highest-rated program, with an average 33.2% rating and 44.9% share. While the likes of current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may enjoy a hagiographical reception from U.S. broadcasters, nothing is taboo on What A Wonderful Country, where the country’s politicians get skewered on a regular basis.
So influential has the show become that, come election night, Channel 2’s grid will be shared between the actual news and a special live edition of What A Wonderful Country. While the first exit polls start rolling in around 10 PM local time, the screen will cut between real life Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levi and What A Wonderful Country‘s team of impersonators as they begin to analyse what promises to be a historic result.
Closing polls showed the center-left alliance of the Zionist Union narrowly ahead of the incumbent Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Prime Minister facing the genuine prospect of defeat.
“It’s going to be a very big night for us,” Ran Telem, SVP Content at Keshet Media Group, tells Deadline exclusively in between round-the-clock preparations for tonight. “Our talented team will have the first live sketches ready to go on air only one hour from the actual results. It’s very hard to do something funny and accurate in such a short time. Some sketches were so clever, it takes the hot air right out of the politicians’ balloon. Before everyone tried to manipulate reality to suit themselves but now we are here to kick them in the back.”
Here’s an example:
The brainchild of Muli Segev — creator and editor-in-chief of the show — What A Wonderful Country has become an institution in Israel since its debut 12 years ago, winning the Israeli Academy Award for Best Entertainment Program for seven straight years from 2004-2011. Since then, it has entered everyday life, even getting a name check from President Barack Obama, who enjoys a notoriously testy relationship with Netanyahu. “Just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for What A Wonderful Country,” quipped the U.S. President in 2013. “We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material.”
Following the old adage of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, Israel’s politicians regularly appear on the show themselves, including Netanyahu, opposite their impersonators. What’s more, the popularity of the series has led to politicians trying to get in on the act themselves by posting their own comical videos in the hopes of attracting younger voters. Netanyahu’s campaign, for example, posted a video showing the leader of the Likud party turning up at an unsuspecting couple’s house and presenting himself as a “Bibi-sitter.”
“More than anything else, this was the social media election,” says Telem. “The politicians have watched us and understood that what works best on Facebook and other social media is funny videos. That gives them their best chance to go viral. Even though, they’re using the same techniques as us, the results are quite different.”
And as the team behind What A Wonderful Country prepare for their big night, one thing they won’t be short of is material.
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