funniest - Daniel Tchetchik - January 6 2011
Noam Sharon, left, and Tal Rosenthal. Coming into their own, and your living room. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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Tal Rosenthal sits lazily in front of a TV, indifferent to the scolding of the actress playing his mother and completing ignoring the woman portraying his grandmother. But the contents of the skit - for a new show produced by Rosenthal and his writing partner Noam Sharon - are actually far less interesting than the story behind it all. The "mother" Rosenthal is slighting, it turns out, is Sharon's dental hygienist; his "grandmother" is his real mother; and the set is his home.

And this setup isn't so rare for Rosenthal and Sharon. Their series "Meter Shivim" (one meter, 70 centimeters ) - which premiers tomorrow on Bip's Channel 2 - is one big improvisational show, a sort of developed amateur hour. They managed to enlist friends, family members, people they've happened to meet and even celebrities who agreed to participate in the show before even one frame was aired. The two partners taught themselves how to use home editing software and honed their talents on other programs, in order to produce certain effects and improve those shots filmed without lighting and under minimal conditions. And they conducted all of these tasks on their personal computers.

Tomorrow their material will make its way to late-night TV - marking the first time in Israel that home videos, produced by amateurs, will makeup the content of such a program.

Web roots

Sharon and Rosenthal (the son of journalist Mickey Rosenthal ), two 24-year-olds from Givatayim, took the fast lane from anonymity and lack of experience to a network show. They met about a year ago. Sharon had returned from a long trip abroad with material he'd composed and worked on with his father. During that period, Rosenthal was working in a junior capacity on the satire show "Eretz Nehederet" (Wonderful Country ) and had also developed and sold the format for "Simon" (which aired on the now-defunct Beep comedy channel ).

"Within seconds we understood that we both wanted the same thing," Rosenthal recalls. "Right away we said: Internet."

The choice was not accidental. The medium is fertile ground for independent artists, and especially attractive since network entrepreneurs also use it. The American trio who make up the group "The Lonely Island," for example, began to produce clips and skits at home when they were still in high school in California, and over the years became part of "Saturday Night Live." Millions of fans now enjoy their work, the budget of which has increased accordingly.

Sharon and Rosenthal decided to leave their jobs and set up their own YouTube channel, which they called "Too Short for Modeling." They upload new material to the site once every two weeks. Their first clip, "Tape for Little Bastards," received close to a half million views. They were rewarded with the television show they had dreamed of. All of it - from writing to filming, directing and editing - they did on their own, and with the assistance of friends.

"We quickly wrote a song and thought it would be funny to record it and put it on YouTube. We recorded it in three days," Rosenthal says.

"It's true we had no income, but we understood that there would be expenses and we set our goal," Sharon adds. "The 'Tape for Little Bastards' was lighthearted, we did a half day of filming on a huge budget of NIS 20 for ice cream cones that we distributed to the kids who participated. To this day, we're trying to dig ourselves out of the budget hole this created."

When asked where their budget actually comes from, Sharon says, "It's all self-financing. The beautiful thing is that we know how to create stuff that look expensive."

"That's one reason they took us on," Rosenthal adds. "We do everything ourselves, and for little money."

"This is more or less our editing room," Sharon says, looking at his laptop.

"All of our programs are edited this way," Rosenthal explains. "On other shows they usually have editing shifts. But we do everything at home. We live three minutes away from each other and sit together every day. I'd go downstairs in my pajamas and head over to Noam's house like that for months on end."

Creating a circle of fans

At our next meeting, Sharon and Rosenthal sit opposite the same two laptops, but this time in a well-designed editing studio in south Tel Aviv. They look and behave exactly as you might imagine from hearing about them: Two very enthusiastic, motivated and devoted young people, who tend to finish each other's sentences.

The first clip, which they uploaded onto their Facebook page, doubled in hits every couple of hours. There were 300 views a few hours after they'd posted it in the morning, 600 in the evening, and the next morning, they say, several thousand.

"The Internet is open and whoever releases information in an organized way has an advantage," Sharon says. "You get your audience to come back. If they know that once every few weeks you'll put up something amusing, they start to look forward to it, they sign up for your channel and you create a circle of fans."

When asked if any topics are sure bets, Rosenthal answers "Sure. Bastards and Arabs, for example. But we try to get at them from slightly different angles."

Sharon: "We actually tried to go in all directions, each time for a different audience."

Rosenthal: "We invented an Arab boy band, the 'Kasbah Boys.' There are people who don't know whether or not we're Arabs. We've gotten some wild responses."

Very quickly, they say, offers from producers and networks began to arrive. "But we were snobs and refused. We didn't want to do something that wasn't really us," Rosenthal explains.

The connection between them and the Bip network, which was still broadcasting at the time, came about last May.

"They asked us if they could use our clips on their experimental [comedy] program," Rosenthal says."We said we wanted to keep them for a television show and from there things gelled very fast."

"We had other offers from other production companies, but we decided to go with Bip," Sharon adds. "We said to ourselves, Bip is a stable place, it's been around for a while, it's a strong station," he says with a smile. Last summer it was announced that Bip would soon cease to exist on the HOT cable TV provider, and that's exactly what happened at the start of this month.

But Bip's demise hasn't hurt the comedic duo. The station turned into a production company, and some of their productions - like Sharon and Rosenthal's show - will be aired on its Channel 2.

The end result is an eclectic sketch comedy program, with each show consisting of eight to 14 segments. Most of their new skits were written and filmed especially for television. One segment, for example, is entitled "Bar Refaeli touched my elbow and it didn't do anything for me."

"This is one of the first new pieces we wrote and it's based on a true story," Sharon says. "She touched my elbow and nothing happened."

The duo's success story will no doubt have wide-ranging implications for other television performers, and an effect on the industry, in light of Sharon and Rosenthal's pioneering low-budget work.

"The opportunity is huge," Sharon says. "We've gotten to points where at midnight before shooting the next day, we're still making calls looking for a young woman for a scene, for example. We work a lot with people who aren't actors or with young actors who don't insist on getting paid."

"Our director is a friend and a first-year film student," Rosenthal says. "He never would have gotten to direct a program [on TV] at this age any other way, and neither would we."