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Guy Pines sits in a Tel Aviv cafe, chewing on the end of the straw in his cola. After about two hours of conversation, which took a strenuous effort on his part, he seems keenly interested to know how this article will turn out. We've already met three times and it's still not clear where the stress is coming from. On the one hand, the pleasant and charismatic person sitting here is forthcoming and speaks articulately without making the least effort. But, at the same time, all our meetings seem to be preceded by tension and hesitation. Pines has a simple explanation for this, though: The past weeks have been among the trickiest and most fraught in his life - professionally speaking at least. His move from HOT to Channel 10 has brought to an end a long and tumultuous period of conflict and uncertainty. A newspaper interview, he explains, was the last thing he wanted to do.

But this is not the only duality that Pines embodies. For 13 years, an eternity in local television terms, he has been an eloquent presence on screen almost every night with his entertainment news show "Good Evening with Guy Pines." This has made him a focus of media attention, but Pines the man still remains a riddle. He is someone who started out as the "son of" - his mother is Tzipi Pines, director of the Beit Lessin Theater - and a child actor, and later was a reporter for Army Radio, before really making a name for himself. But his smiling, blue-eyed facade is actually very hard to penetrate. Just about everyone who knows him calls him "brilliant" and acknowledges that he knows every trick in the book and can anticipate every move. Indeed, any remark that might be perceived as arrogant is immediately tempered with self-deprecating humor. Discussing the fear that his new program will crash, he notes wryly that "a failed prime minister would be worse," and carefully chooses his words while sipping a large glass of Campari during a lengthy late-night conversation after an endless day of work.

All your recent hesitation and unavailability - is this because of insecurity or fear of exposure, or is it just "diva" behavior?

Pines: "It sounds like you're just trying to cook up an opening for your article. I didn't have to do a newspaper piece; I'm doing it because it's part of the rules of the game I believe in. A person in the public eye has to submit to exposure, it's part of the deal. I don't enjoy being hard-to-get, even if I am that way at times. It's just been a week with a lot of emotions and a lot of work. I'm at the head of an enterprise involving a lot of people who are also tense. So I'm a little spoiled? There are bigger divas than me."

It is clear that Pines has had to cope with a lot of tension and emotions lately. The HOT channel, from the time of its earliest incarnation, was his first and practically only television home, apart from some occasional and not very successful forays elsewhere, such as on the "In and Out" show on Channel 2, and as emcee of a few glamorous ceremonies. Pines landed at cable television after eight years on Army Radio and a stint at the weekly Ha'ir. His "Good Evening" was one of cable television's flagships, and its catch phrase, "Hi, Guy" quickly became part of the national lexicon. To a large extent, the show's success epitomizes the revolution in the medium, and certainly the revolution in the leisure and entertainment culture of this country.

Pines presented his last program on HOT and this past Monday inaugurated his five-night-a-week "Good Evening" show on Channel 10.

The slightly bitter atmosphere that remains after Pines' departure from HOT may be indicative of the fierce battles that took place behind the scenes at the channel. Actually, the friction dates back to mid-2005, when the Israeli Entertainment Channel was launched by producer Haim Slutzky, a close associate of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes, who is also a stockholder in HOT.

"From the very start, there was no love lost because of the personalities of the people involved," says someone knowledgeable with the goings-on. "Guy, understandably from his point of view, thought that if there was going to be such a thing as an entertainment channel, then he should be the one to establish it. There were many attempts to effect a rapprochement between the parties, to thaw the relations, but it didn't work. Pines made faces and caused problems. He wouldn't agree to any cooperation; he wouldn't let them make use of his archive or put his content on Ynet [the news site and HOT have a cooperation agreement - G.I.] and eventually everything blew up. You could say that Pines earned all the antagonism directed at him, honestly."

The first round of battles between Pines and HOT took place in 2007 surrounding the renewal of his contract, when the cable company demanded that he cooperate with the Entertainment Channel, of which it is part owner. In the end, the parties decided to renew the contract for three years, but recently HOT decided to turn things upside-down in order to launch a new entertainment news unit that would be part of the Entertainment Channel.

Pines shifts uncomfortably when asked about this.

"The writing was on the wall for a long time," he says, weighing every word. "In my view, it was very clear what was happening. We [i.e., his show] didn't want to be broadcast on the Entertainment Channel. I didn't want to be part of that whole thing; it's not in my journalistic DNA. This forced marriage with them didn't suit us: I had a very good run with HOT, but in a divorce things don't usually end well. If everyone was happy together there would be no divorce."

Was it a matter of pride? Of money?

"There was no money issue. There were no negotiations, neither side posed any demands. It is a matter of power, of who has the upper hand, of who will be Israel's entertainment news. It happened very quickly. We made it clear that we had no interest in being part of the Entertainment Channel, even if it meant leaving altogether."

For now, the resentment and bad blood that remains is enough to fuel a soap opera. The Channel 10 promo for Pines' new show featured him and his fellow presenters, reporters and sidekicks looking very sharp and polished. HOT shot back with a commercial declaring: "Leading program seeks young and hungry host," but Pines took the "Good Evening" label with him to Channel 10. Even in the dim lighting of the restaurant where we are talking, it's hard to miss the upset look on Pines' face when the subject comes up.

Were you insulted by the HOT promo for the new show?

"The promo did offend me, yes. Though from all the reactions I got, it seems to have offended those around me even more. And I was offended by the lie it contained - that this was the same program. It was a lie: There is no 'leading program' searching for a host, and there was something petty and ungrateful about this promo, which is very typical of a soulless corporation."

Pines landed at Channel 10 after negotiations with Channel 2 and Channel 24 (the Israeli music channel) fell through.

"I didn't come to Channel 10 with any declaration that I was going to conquer prime time," he explains. "I see our show as a pleasant way to cap off the evening. I don't set any rating goals for myself. Nor can I predict what the future will bring. There could be changes and I wouldn't mourn if we were given a different time slot in the future, whether earlier or later."

And what if this experiment on Channel 10 doesn't work out?

"That's always a possibility."

Army Radio stint

It may seem as if Guy Pines, 42, has always been part of the mainstream and of TV prime time, but his current standing is a result of an ongoing, tenacious pursuit of a goal in a way that is not at all typical here. Pines also says he was not a typical kid. His parents, Dan and Tzipi, divorced when he was a child, and he split his time between his mother in Tel Aviv and his father in Ramat Hasharon. As a boy, he acted in the theater; at age 9 he won an award for his role in a TV film. He says his mother did not encourage his natural predilection for acting: She fought to keep him from attending the Thelma Yellin School for the Arts, he recalls.

"I think I was a very unusual kind of kid," he explains with a smile. "My fields of interest were chemistry and Latin. I had a lab at home and collected weird creatures. This is why I put a lot of energy into connecting with the right people so I wouldn't get beaten up, and why I developed a sense of humor to help get me out of trouble."

You were a nerd?

"You asked, so I answered. I didn't have posters of rock stars or movie stars in my room. I listened to classical music on the radio, not even Army Radio."

Did you want to be an actor?

"I think so, but my mother was always worried that I'd be pigeonholed as someone who had to act just because of who she was."

Pines attended Ironi Daled high school in Tel Aviv while living with his father's new family in Ramat Hasharon. This was his first display of independence, after he refused to move to Be'er Sheva with his mother when she was appointed director of the municipal theater. "And it wasn't easy," he remembers.

Pines: "From the start of my army service, I moved to Tel Aviv and lived on my own. Then, it seemed very natural. Today it seems like the story of a little boy who goes to live by himself in the big city, at first in an awful basement apartment on Dizengoff that got flooded whenever there was a lot of rain. It was underneath the city sewerage lines so there was a pump and whenever you flushed the toilet there was this loud rattling sound. One day I came home to find that the whole place was flooded with about 30 centimeters of mud and sewage and everything was ruined."

After that Pines shared an apartment with the singer and musician Sharon Ben-Azar, and kept on moving as he advanced at the radio station.

"Guy is one of the most talented people I ever saw in my career, which lasted 35 years," says Muli Shapira, who until recently was director of the cultural department at Army Radio. "He was a superb reporter, a good editor and producer, and editorial coordinator. He came to us with a very broad range of knowledge in every field and is also a perfectionist. At the station he stood out from the very beginning because he was always very independent, too. A cat that lands on its feet."

It's surprising to learn that when he arrived at Army Radio, Pines had no intention of going into cultural reporting and never envisioned himself as the future king of local entertainment news.

"I was set on being a political affairs reporter. That was my goal at age 18," he confesses. "There was a time when I did only news on Army Radio - military affairs, politics. And then the cultural department wanted me and they arranged for me to be transferred, and I really started enjoying it. I might have been there two years too long," he says, looking thoughtful. "I tend to say in places for a long time."

He left the station to edit the cultural section of the weekly Ha'ir, where he met his future wife, Ruthie Rudner. He then moved on to working in local news on cable television and thought about working for Channel 2, but then received an offer from ICP (the precursor of HOT) to work as a presenter for cultural affairs. At first, he was one of a group of four hosts for a daily culture and entertainment program. Then he presented a similar program with Yael Abecassis called "Entertainment Tonight," and when that went off the air, he started with "Good Evening."

"He's a real phenomenon and always has been," gushes Abecassis. "Guy's charm lies in his enigmatic quality. From what I know, he's a fascinating personality. It all comes easily to him and it was like that from the start. We started presenting 'Entertainment Tonight' together and even got to travel to Cannes twice. There the differences between us became very clear. He always glided through all the interviews and was completely at ease in that world, and I quickly realized that in comparison to him, I was inexperienced and out of my element. He was also always able to improvise and to solve problems - to produce on his own, to write, to interview. It was all there from the beginning."

2,200 shows later

Pines began hosting "Good Evening" in 1997. Today, almost 2,200 shows later, he's still doing it, but starting a new count on a commercial channel. He admits he never imagined that he'd be doing "Good Evening" for so long. He also admits that "there were ups and downs" in his desire to do the program, and recalls saying in an interview about a decade ago that he was fed up with "dealing with nonsense." "I felt really stuck and that it just wasn't cool to keep doing the same thing for a long time - at least, for what seemed like a long time to me then," he says now.

Perhaps you feel you're only utilizing some of your abilities? On various occasions, you've talked about your desire to do other things like satire or a talk show.

"Once it seemed to me that a talk show was the ultimate goal, the ultimate TV product. But I haven't felt that way for a long time. I don't get excited by the thought of sitting in a studio and having victims parade in."

Pines may have given up on pursuing other directions in television, but he has realized his ambition to become a producer and thereby significantly upgraded his financial situation: His company Guy Pines Communications was founded in 2004. The cost of the show is estimated to be $4 million a year and he produces about 170 shows a year. He also has a Web site that features material from the show. Last Monday his first show on Channel 10 hit a relatively high 9.4 percent rating.

"My wife Ruthie has been involved in management for a very long time," says Pines. (She was content manager for Keshet and for Nana 10, an Internet offshoot of Channel 10.) "Six months ago she decided she wants to work on something that she's had a burning desire to do for a long time: writing. And she is doing it and currently working on two series. I admire her ability to make the switch. With me, it's always been just a lot of talk."

And what has this "talk" been about lately?

"I think about Woody Allen's last film, 'Whatever Works,' and the philosophy of the movie's hero: to do whatever works. I'm not sitting at home knitting, and I find myself fighting with the same vigor for things that are important to me. This fills up my life as it did in the past, and I don't have any Mount Sinai in mind that I somehow have to get to."

Maybe the program and the financial security it gives you, and the ease of doing the same thing for so many years - maybe this is like a golden cage for you, where there's nothing to compel you to escape.

"To a certain extent yes ... A person has to constantly ask himself if he's doing things just because it's convenient for him. I don't disparage that. Everything you've said is true. I am comfortable financially and professionally, and I have my own territory. If I were suffering more, I'd be seeking a different route. It's apparently no coincidence that artists' masterpieces are often created when they are seeking their path in life. I don't look down on people who suffer for their art, but apparently it means that I am not an artist. I don't denigrate people who sacrifice their personal comfort for the sake of something that's burning in their bones, but they are who they are and I am who I am. I don't believe in suffering and I don't think I could live that kind of life. I want to feel secure about my children's future and my economic future, and I definitely take that into consideration."

And you don't feel like at this point you could afford to take more of a risk?

"If I could find a cure for cancer, and it had to be one thing or the other, I'd say to myself: How can you devote yourself to presenting entertainment news? But to ask myself: 'Why do the entertainment news when you could be hosting a talk show?' doesn't quite cut it. I guess I've grown up and come to terms with my career."

'A good guy'

Pines has a tendency to simultaneously mock and be enthralled with the field he has been covering for years now. He's known for running a tight ship, and for his zealous protection of his place - for instance, when ensuring that his film crews are present at every event and attempting to gain exclusive coverage of certain events. He is considered warm and friendly, but also known for strictly maintaining boundaries. While he has a very sharp and shameless sense of humor, he is exceedingly careful about what he says. Above all, he is known for his easygoing, non-judgemental style of presentation.

"He's very realistic and that guides him in his choices," says an old acquaintance. "He may be in the spotlight, but he still chooses what to expose and somehow manages to remain in the shadows. He thinks about things very carefully out of a desire not to divulge too much of himself."

"He's not someone who puts everything on the table," says one media executive. "He's a talent himself, as well as a producer and editor. He enjoys being a celeb, but he's also completely realistic and a little disdainful of that world. There's a little bit of diva behavior and insecurity, but mostly he just does what's good for Guy Pines."

Pines has a positive image as a nice guy without any antagonistic bent. Alon Shtruzman, HOT's former deputy CEO and now a senior executive with the international Fox broadcasting network, explains: "It's hard to find any dirt on Guy. He really is a good guy. Someone who made something of himself thanks to his wits and hard work. He built up a career for himself and didn't fight with people."

"I don't seek out confrontation," says Pines. "There are people who look for confrontations. Not that I don't get involved in them. I guess if I were more dedicated, the affair with HOT would have continued. But I'm not the kind of person who itches for a fight just to show who's bigger."

Your mother is just the opposite of you in that she tends to draw a lot of criticism.

"Surprisingly, my mother and I are not the same person. My mother gets a lot of criticism because of who she is. I think that in her case, it's impossible to separate her professional ability and success from the fire she attracts. I'm also different from my father, just like I'm different from you. It's an interesting comparison to make, but she's a different person and we really do not function the same way in the world."

Pines has been happily married for many years and has two children, 8-year-old Anna and David, who will turn 3 in April.

"Ruthie and I have a lot in common in terms of our personalities," he notes. "The foundation [of our relationship] is very strong and enables us to overcome the tedium that usually sets in after people are together for many years, and have careers and children. Of course, whenever anyone says that, they end up having a loud and messy breakup," he laughs. "I can understand why couples fall apart. Neither of us had some ideal picture of a family or thoughts of five kids running around the house. We became parents only when we knew it couldn't be put off anymore. We really admire our children, by the way - sometimes too much."

So you're a power couple that copes with the bumps in the road.

"I'm happy we're that way, especially given what we went through recently. In times of uncertainty and change, we always end up relying on each other for advice, and after all these years together, this is encouraging. We have this game of sitting in restaurants and watching other couples that aren't talking. You see each one sitting there wrapped up in his or her own world. Couples that can sit there across from one another for half an hour and not exchange a word. That's scary. A lot of couples I see around me can only talk about the kids or about the 'bureaucracy' of marriage."

Does the fact that your parents divorced when you were young influence the way you conduct your life today?

"I don't think there's any connection between how we're raising our children and how we were raised. We're so much more concerned with giving our children security, compared to how it was in the past, that I'm a little jealous of them in this sense. I'm not talking about the materialistic level. But when it comes to awareness, attention to details - I don't' think my parents knew even a tenth as much about me when I was a boy as I do about my kids today, about what they're going through. I can't picture my daughter crossing the street alone, I just can't picture it. It's a different model of parenting."

It sounds like having children wasn't at an obvious move for you and your wife. That it was a very conscious and deliberate decision.

"We even made charts and such, I'm not kidding. In arriving at the decision, we asked ourselves: Can we really say that we do not want children? Because if we can't, then we are going to start a family. Today I also feel that children are much more real than lots of other things that seemed important at the time: another show, another production, another project to cook up. If there's anything that can stir up the emotions in the bitter and cynical Ashkenazi in me - it's them. If anything could drive me to acts of violence, it would be to protect them. More than anything else."