Spoiler alert: Hollywood searching for next 'Homeland'
After the drama based on the Israeli series "Hatufim" swept the Emmy Awards and scored a ratings coup with the second season's premiere episode, interest in Israel's television exports appears to be on the rise.
The second season of "Homeland" premiered on the Showtime network in the U.S. this past Sunday, one week after the drama – which is based on an Israeli series – stole the show at the Emmy Awards, clinching four awards including those for best drama, best actress, best actor and best writing in a drama series.
In Israel, the first episode of the show's second season is set to air this coming Saturday on the Yes Oh channel. Compared to the previous episodes, which kept viewers on the edge of their seats, the season premiere starts off low key, with protagonist Carrie Mathison tending to her family's garden. From inside the house, we hear a news report that Israel has bombed five Iranian nuclear facilities.
For "Homeland," Israel plays more than just a supporting role in the story line. As has been widely reported, the show was created by Gideon Raff and is based on his Israeli drama "Hatufim" and Keshet Broadcasting's Avi Nir and Ran Telem were among the executive producers of the American version. In addition, Israel and Israeli actors also feature in the actual episodes: In the first season, a scene of Israeli flags being burnt in Beirut was shot in Israel, and the CIA offices in Beirut bear more than a striking similarity to Tel Aviv's first city hall on Bialik Street. Jaffa's flea market served as a backdrop for scenes meant to be in Lebanon, and scenes purportedly set in Cyprus were also filmed here.
Israeli actors Clara Khoury, Yael Sharoni and Jonah Lotan have appeared on the show or will in the coming season (coincidentally, Clara's father, Makram Khoury, has joined "Hatufim," which is due to return for a second season on Israel's Channel 2 on October 15).
At the end of the first season of "Homeland" – about a CIA agent (Claire Danes) who suspects an American Marine who returned home after eight years in captivity in Iraq might be working with the enemy -- it was hard to imagine how the series' creators would outdo such a dramatic climax, but American creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon promised to rise to the challenge.
However, the season premiere seems to ignore the climax of the previous season, and cuts straight to the aforementioned prisoner, Nicholas Brody (played by Brit actor Damian Lewis, whose accent on the show never betrays his true nationality). We see (spoiler alert!) Brody advancing into the upper echelons of the American government, when he receives a message from Abu Nazir, a high-ranking terrorist heading an Al-Qaida network (who was also present in the show's first season). At the same time, Carrie who is recovering from her crisis from season 1 gets an unexpected request from the CIA.
Capitalizing on the Emmy wins
The show's Emmy wins have already proved fruitful. The premiere episode of the second season scored a ratings coup, with a 60 percent increase in viewership from the first episode of the first season. The episode – aired three times on Showtime the night it premiered – attracted 2.1 million viewers in total, an impressive achievement for the series. ("Homeland" is the second most popular series on Showtime after "Dexter," another show that returned to the small screen on the same day.)
Keshet CEO Avi Nir told Haaretz he believes the win "will help promote additional Israeli television exports to Hollywood." Terence Carter, a drama development executive for the Fox Broadcasting Company, said that "Homeland" has helped generate greater interest in foreign television shows and Israeli ones in particular.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Warner Bros. Studios will produce an American version of the Israeli show "Hostages" ("Bnei Arova" in Hebrew) for CBS. The series by Rotem Shamir, Omri Givon and producer Haim Sharir is due to premiere on Israel's Channel 10 in the near future, while the American adaptation is expected to begin filming soon as well. Alon Aranya, a screenwriter who produced the pilot for an American version of the Israeli show "Timrot Ashan" ("Pillars of Smoke"), adapted the script for American TV.
Last year, blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer (of "CSI" fame) and Warner Bros. bought the rights to "Hostages" and, this week, CBS committed to producing a pilot for the show with writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff. This is the first Israeli show to be acquired in the development stage, without an Israeli production already on the screen, for an American television channel.
Aranya is no stranger to American television. His production company with partner Rob Golenberg, Scripted World, has already sold a number of dramas to American TV. Among them are "Ritter," an action series from executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Cary that is based on an Icelandic legal drama, which has been sold to NBC and "Betrayal," another drama based on a Dutch series that has been sold to ABC, which also plans to air the Aranya-produced "Red Widow" this spring.