Addicted to scoops
Journalist Gidi Meron has created the series `Katav Plili,' premiering tonight, based on his experiences as a crime reporter. He starts with his greatest failure
Gidi Meron, a former crime reporter, thin, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, his hand always ready to pull out his mobile phone, sits in a Tel Aviv cafe and tells a recording device about the series he created, "Katav Plili" (Crime Reporter). The series itself, which will premiere tonight on TV's Channel 1, begins with a similar scene: The crime reporter Udi Tavor (played by Eyal Shechter), thin, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, always ready to answer the phone, is interviewing the head of the crime family, Izzy Polack, in a cafe. The prominent difference is that the imaginary hero is drinking hot chocolate, while the real journalist and screenwriter prefers a beer and a small espresso, together, in the morning.
And another difference: The meeting in the series ends with an assassination. In reality, things didn't get that far, but arguments and conflicts characterized the work on the series for four years. This week it became known that Haim Buzaglo, the director of the series ("Zinzana," "Yarkon Precinct") did not attend the premiere showing because of a conflict with producer Micha Sharfstein.
Now, says Meron, who wrote the series with Ofer Greenstein, everyone has made up. Even he and director Buzaglo reconciled after serious differences of opinion, which stemmed, according to Meron, from different starting points. "My agenda was based on scriptwriting and ethics, and Buzaglo's was artistic," says Meron.
The crime boss's daughter
One of the serious differences of opinion between the two arose surrounding the casting of the actors, and mainly over one role - having Ofer Nimrodi, the publisher of the daily newspaper Maariv, play the role of the publisher of the competing newspaper (Meron, today a reporter for the magazine of Yedioth Ahronoth, the daily that competes with Maariv, was the Maariv crime reporter during Nimrodi's time). Buzaglo, as is his custom, wanted to combine documentary and fiction. Meron was shocked. "I pleaded in tears," he says, "for him to give in." Even today, when a spirit of reconciliation prevails, he admits, "If the business with Nimrodi hadn't been called off, I would have taken it to court."
He heard about the decision to cast Nimrodi when the filming had already began. "I was opposed for ethical reasons. It is unthinkable for a series that describes and criticizes the conduct of the media to use an actual publisher. That's biased. I heard about it by chance. Haim (Buzaglo) told me that he was simply amazing in the role. He said, `Listen, I spoke to Nimrodi, I've discovered that he has acting ability.' He wouldn't give in," Meron says.
Buzaglo, according to Meron, was angry about the publication in Haaretz of the intention to cast Nimrodi. "We didn't speak for a long time, until in the end we reconciled at the film festival in Jerusalem (the series participated in the Wolgin competition at the festival this year). From his point of view, he was right, but I, as a person who lives in the world of journalism, couldn't live with it. I wrote a series whose motto is, as Shuki Sadeh (actor Oshik Levy), the crime reporter of the competing newspaper, says, `We have become prostitutes of the written word.' Had I been willing to have someone in a position of power participate in the series, I would have become a type of prostitute myself."
The attempt to cast Nimrodi was extreme, but it wasn't the only such instance. Eyal Schechter, who plays his alter ego the hero, is `my ray of light,' says Meron. He is less enthusiastic about the participation in the series of Sarit Rosenstein, the daughter of Ze'ev Rosenstein (a notorious underworld figure), who plays the daughter of the head of the crime family, Izzy Polack. Soccer player Itzik Zohar plays here, too.
"I was surprised by the casting of Sarit," says Meron. "Haim auditioned her. He said that he wouldn't have taken her had she only been the daughter of Rosenstein, but she studied in his acting school, and he said that she was suitable. I was able to live with that; I had no ethical problem. I didn't like the choice, definitely not - nor did I like the choice of Zohar, I didn't like these gimmicks - but I was able to live with it. That's a director's choice. It's not the same thing as casting a publisher. That's in a different league altogether."
The editor records
As the names of the characters indicate - Udi Tavor corresponds to Gidi Meron (Tavor and Meron are both mountains in Israel), Shuki Sadeh corresponds to Buki Na'eh, the crime reporter of Yedioth Ahronoth (Na'eh and Meron were competitors for a time at Maariv and Yedioth), Meron did in fact avoid using real people in the series, but he based it on real figures, in the style of a roman a clef.
And according to this roman a clef, life in the editorial offices of the daily newspapers is stormy and passionate. The competition is tremendous, the reporters are colorful people who are involved in each other's lives, and who speak in marvelously picturesque language. Tavor yells at his ex-wife (Smadar Kalchinsky), after finding condoms in her bathroom closet, that she is a "fucking prostitute"; his editor, Shneur (Oded Teomi) has a habit of recording him in secret, and on the other hand embraces him and slaps him affectionately on the shoulder for every news item he brings to the paper. Shneur even meets with Tavor's ex and interferes in their relationship.
And there are quite a number of characters who border on caricature, or go beyond it. Take for example the criminals, who resemble those of the series "Zinzana," and the mentally ill, who recall the patients in "Shalva" (Serenity, another series by Buzaglo). The archivist looks like writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and one of the employees on the desk is called "Wheels," because he sits in a wheelchair, and his behavior can only be described as strange.
How similar is that to your reality?
Meron: "I don't speak like that, but in the scene with his ex-wife, Udi loses it. He falls apart, and when he falls apart he's on the edge. The crisis with his ex-wife symbolizes the chaos he's in.
"When it comes to his relationship with Shneur, you have to separate between the editor's love of recordings, which is his obsession, and his relationship with Udi. I based his character on former Maariv editor Yaakov Erez. We had a father-son relationship, and he was involved in my personal affairs. He knew my ex-wife. What happens in the series was not exactly faithful to the reality, but there are no dramatic exaggerations here. When I left Maariv, Erez chased me down the corridor, and shouted at me, `Wherever you go, I'll make sure that they shoot you in the knees and not in the head, so it will hurt you for the rest of your life.' He didn't speak to me for a few years.
"In general, a newspaper is a transparent place. The walls are made of glass. Endless hours of work, you have no privacy, they know everything about you. Many people find themselves not only working in the editorial offices of newspapers, but actually living there 24 hours a day. For them, being fired is much more than losing a job."
Meron identifies with the enthusiasm and the frenzy that motivate Udi; he wants to convey the sense of hallucinatory chaos of a reporter's life. "Udi is an addict who lives on scoops," he says. "As a crime reporter, I very quickly internalized that a scoop is the be-all and end-all. If I didn't have an item on the front page of the paper, Erez would pass by me and say `Who are you? Do I know you?' And that would really drive me crazy. I felt that I had disappointed my father."
When the scoop is the first order of priority, and in general, in high-pressure journalistic work, there are mistakes. Even in the beginning of the series, Meron refers to his greatest, and certainly his most famous, mistake - the interview with the singer "Hasaruf," who turned out to be TV interviewer Haim Zisovitch in disguise. In the first installment, Udi is taken blindfolded to a mysterious rendezvous with an ultra-Orthodox woman and her son. He publishes their story, and in the second installment, new things are discovered.
Meron's article about "Hasaruf" was published five years ago in the Yedioth supplement "7 Days." The story of the paralyzed Mizrahi singer, who had burns all over his body and sang depressing songs, made waves. Less than two days later, the deception was exposed, and a short time later, on Yair Lapid's TV show, Zisovitch exposed his face beneath the mask.
Is the use of this story in the first installment an admission of blame or an attempt to head off the critics?
"The case of the ultra-Orthodox woman and her son is a reconstruction of a true story that happened to me 15 years ago, and I wanted to explain through it how in journalism, one day you're king of the world, and the next day you're a zero, a dishrag." In the case of "Hasaruf," he says, "the bottom line is that I'm to blame. I failed. Anything I say is a reason for punishment."
He describes the mysterious trip to Ramle, the rendezvous with the man whose touch through a glove he still remembers, and the things he told him still cause him to shudder with shame, the way they handled the article in the editorial offices, the flattering messages that flooded his beeper after publication. Two days later, on Sunday morning, his partner Rinat Klein, at the time the editor of "Reshet al Haboker," phoned to tell him that one Web site was claiming that Zisovitch was Hasaruf. Afterwards came a phone call from Yair Lapid, which began with the words, "Shalom, dummy."
"When he called, I realized that the sky had fallen. He still tried to console me, told me that I would have a story to tell my grandchildren. I felt that I had nowhere to run to. A very heavy experience. My only consolation, perhaps the consolation of fools, is that I didn't harm anyone."
Zisovitch's character touched Meron. He even liked Hasaruf's song, "Charm is vain, beauty is deceptive." But he has no admiration for the person who invented them. "Zisovitch had an anachronistic theory regarding the corrupt press. He wanted to prove that if he brought an outrageous story, they would buy it. Had this entire affair led to his advancement, I would have said, `Never mind, he stuck it to me, but look where he is today.' But what do I see? That he runs to the establishment at every opportunity, and has remained a marginal figure in the gossip columns."
Meron kept going. He says that he is no longer addicted to journalism, and prefers to develop in television. The new series has already been promised a second season. He is working on two additional projects - a feature series about the crisis in the kibbutzim and a travelogue about the disengagement. He is also fascinated by the story of Yehuda Gil, a member of the Mossad who was convicted of spying after he invented information that he ostensibly had received from a Syrian source. "At the end of his career he invented stories. I compare him to an aging journalist. He no longer had sources as in the past, he was living on his reputation, on Adrenalin, on being told that he had brought good information. After he was caught, they found all the money he had received for his missions in his safe. Because it wasn't a matter of money.
"I'm running after him," says Meron, in spite of his declarations of having kicked the habit, "but he doesn't want to be interviewed."