The beautiful and the brave
As she begins a new show on Channel 23, Einav Galili discusses the pressures of prime-time commercial TV she happily gave up.
Some months ago, on a hot summer's Shabbat, Einav Galili found herself, her husband, their 3-year-old son and their 1-year-old daughter visiting a kibbutz petting zoo. This was a particularly sad zoo, notes Galili, "with flea-bitten animals from heaven knows where, smelly and hot, where you go around with your children and say, 'Here's a goat, here's a hen.'"
Making matters worse was a 25-minute wait for a pony ride because "you aren't going to deny your son the experience of a pony, the first in his life, are you? And then your turn comes, you've already paid and you hand over the coupon, seat your child on the pony and take out your phone for the photograph and then he has an attack of hysteria. You, of course, understand him, only why couldn't he have had the attack 25 minutes earlier?"
Up until a few years ago, Galili was the symbol of the liberated single, but now she is up to her neck in family matters. She relates this petit bourgeois story with humor, pulling out snappy witticisms and observing herself and her life with sardonic distance.
"There are moments when you look at yourself and wonder," she says. "There are those moments when you rebel, say on a Shabbat, which every parent understands is not only not a day of rest but simply endless time. Through some kind of trick of physics, it stretches on, I think, to three months. I have this kind of feeling that it seems I am preserving some kind of critical eye, but it's definitely not always the case."
Galili, 41, is quick at repartee and she is as sharp as she is amusing as she formulates her words. She was the dimwitted but sharp-tongued moderator on "The World Tonight," and other jobs have ranged from the radio program "The Beautiful and the Brave" to four seasons as moderator of the Channel 2 satirical program "Fixed Game," with several more stops in between. This past Tuesday night saw the debut of a new program she moderates called "Room 101," a local version of a successful British format.
On it, Galili hosts well-known interviewees (political commentator Raviv Drucker and Haaretz columnist Neri Livneh, for example ), who tell her about the things that annoy them, like death, Super-Pharm checkout clerks or the great outdoors. The program is being broadcast as part of the new nighttime lineup on Educational Television's Channel 23. At the same time, Galili continues as moderator of Channel 2 franchisee Reshet's morning show.
"I did an interview and talk show on Channel 2 and I wouldn't want to repeat that," says Galili. "They measure the rating from minute to minute. They know what the audience is doing at the moment the interviewee's face comes on screen, whether they've zapped or stayed. This necessitates very massive constraints. There's something about going to Educational Television that enables tremendous freedom. You can talk with extremely interesting people who aren't necessarily the hottest item in stardom this particular week.
"I don't think the nighttime lineup on Educational Television could exist on any other channel, for purely economic reasons. I'm awfully glad there's a place where this can happen. I have a feeling that if we make a good program, people will see it and I am glad there is a place where this can happen - a small show with a brilliant format."
Is this a pressured situation?
Galili: "There's something about the work on Channel 2 - you come and you try to make the best program you can, and to make sure there won't be screwups. The marketing machine for this thing is very well oiled, and it pushes and sells it to the public like some formative event that can't be missed and their lives won't be the same after it. The most common thing in a promo is using phrases like 'the most' and 'there's never been anything like it.' In that sense [the new show] isn't blown up to monstrous proportions. On the other hand, I am discovering - and pretty much to my astonishment - that inner stress is inner stress, and this need for it to be excellent in my opinion is just as big. The desire is not to goof."
It's a pretty unusual place for you to be, isn't it? You've always been a Channel 2 star, usually in prime time. This is the first time you're moving into a niche.
"The truth is that at the same time, I am still there, but I don't have any strong urge to be there."
Galili's most recent major project was the talk show "Einav Galili Ba'ah Batov" which was broadcast at peak viewing hours on Channel 2, but was cancelled after a single season.
"My feeling is that I am admired, treated well and courted in a sufficiently generous way. If indeed there is any bias, it is in my favor, really. There are lots of offers all the time and a lot of things that don't suit me."
What wouldn't suit you?
"Some of them aren't suitable because of the stage of life I'm in. I've had two children in three years and a bit, and I am interested in watching them grow up. There are things I don't do today on the most practical level, say a daily comic series, because it would mean leaving the house and that doesn't suit me nowadays. It isn't out of concession or bitterness, but rather it's a decision I have made, and I say no to a lot of things in this context. But I'm also talking about the emotional stress it involves. These days, it doesn't suit me to be taken on such extreme trips."
Does it have to be all that extreme?
"When it's sitting on your shoulders, when you're responsible for bringing in those numbers on prime time on Channel 2, then yes. It's a very, very extreme experience and at the moment I have the feeling that when I do something like that, innocent bystanders get hurt. I'm in a period in which I have a desire to do things that don't ruin my life. The truth is that also, with respect to my taste, it wouldn't be all that trivial for me to find myself on Channel 2 prime time."
You don't like what you see?
"I am not a consumer of reality shows. I can see an episode and be impressed by the professional skill behind it, really, but it isn't my medicine and I have no interest in presenting these things. That's not where I belong."
Sticking pins in photos
Galili tells about tempting offers to moderate game shows she has rejected outright, ideas for late night shows she turned down because of unsuitability and also revulsion at the effort entailed in writing jokes and "killer sentences" for programs of the sort in which she used to specialize.
"There's a kind of image that if you're not on the Channel 2 screen, you're probably sitting at home with pictures of the franchise managers, sticking pins in them and plotting revenge," she says, "but it's simply that I have no very burning urge to be in those places, and I think this says nice things about me psychologically."
There's something regrettable about this, because it explains why women in general, and certainly of your age profile and with your work in television, are absent from the screen.
"I'm not naive about this, and it's clear to me it's easier to make your way in the world as a white man than it is as a woman of any color whatsoever. However, it's true and it's clear to me that fewer women are on the screen because they don't have that same urge in their blood to be on the screen."
"A great many women say no even to an offer to participate as a guest on a panel. The fear is common to everyone, an understandable anxiety, but lots of times the answer is, 'It's not urgent for me.' There are other things in life and being heard in prime time is not the most urgent thing. I would be happy to sit and gripe about the male establishment that isn't giving me room to express myself on Channel 2, but the truth is that this simply isn't the situation."
At the evening hour when the interview is conducted, at a table at a quiet restaurant at the Tel Aviv port, Galili is amusing and charismatic, but it's hard not to wonder whether her tricks of humor aren't aimed at covering, maybe concealing, her real feelings. "It's an argument I have all the time, but I say the opposite - it's a technique of openness."
What do you mean?
"That the fact you are talking in an amused tone enables you to say precisely the things you would never imagine boring the public with. For example, on the new show, when someone talks about his potbelly, that he wants to get rid of it, it may be a very funny conversation, but in fact there is a lot of depth in it. There's really something very sophisticated there, in my opinion."
Why aren't your voice and opinions being heard, for example, on the question about women you talked about a moment ago?
"I feel uncomfortable. My feminism, I feel, is taken for granted, and if I am mistaken, it's about that. I can't imagine that it's possible to look at me and think anything other than that about me. The problem is that I don't find it comfortable to beat people over the head with it."
So it seems to you pesky?
"Yes. I am not sure my opinions are all that interesting to the public. On the gender issue, I think there are all kinds of ways to do it. One way is all-out war, and not for a moment do I underestimate that or the price women are paying for waging it. But there is also guerrilla warfare, and the nonchalant presence of a woman, in all kinds of places, and this thing can be effective. I am afraid of leaving people hanging, of boring them. I also think there's something not so sophisticated in this. When people know what you are going to say you lose effectiveness and this makes me a bit sad. The thing that frightens me most in this world is being boring. This scares me more than getting old, wrinkled and ugly."
In Galili's archive, which contains materials and pictures, some of which are 20 years old, there are many references to her external appearance. Among other things, Galili sometimes worked as a model, as a presenter on the Shopping Channel, and was even cast, at age 19, in the role of an ovum, alongside Aki Avni (he was a sperm ) in a play for young people ("My favorite bit in the play was 'How far to go, how far to give, is he truly in love? Is he a creep or just a Don Juan? Just so they won't say, that girl's just a slut," she recites apologetically ).
Out for a good time
Galili spent her 30s cultivating an image as a single girl out for a good time. In this context the question of attitude toward age and appearance is inevitable. "From the moment you've passed the age of 32 or so, you know there won't be any interview without them asking you about the question of age."
What is the question of age?
"There are a lot of ways of phrasing it, but the bottom line is always 'How do you feel about the fact you're getting old?'"
And how do you feel?
"I have never been given a job because I am 1.8 meters tall and blonde. On television there are drop-dead gorgeous women, and it's never something I could stand out at. Physical aging is not the cause of much suffering for me. I can look at myself and say 'Okay, I look like a woman of 41 and that's fine.' I swear it's fine with me. Older women try to hint to me gently that more tests lie ahead for me but for example nowadays I am getting a lot more offers of work than I did at the age of 25. Certainly more than I got when I was 22, when the best offer I had for the tax year was selling toasters on the Shopping Channel. Not that I would mind remaining with taut skin and being slender forever but I am not suffering dreadfully from this. I think my youth wasn't really one long party.
"Overall, my life has really gone a lot better than I thought it would. At the age of 30 I felt better than I did at 20, and at 40 better than at 30. I now have a son of 3 and a bit and a year-old baby girl. Last week I slept a total of five hours. This is one of those periods of time, not the sexiest in my life. It's sort of the temper of the times to mourn terribly the death there is in marriage and having children and the wretchedness of becoming bourgeois. But I can't cry about this. You've found a person with whom you're really interested in spending some more years of your life and you've succeeded in half-sanely having children together. The alternative doesn't look much cheerier to me. Are you suggesting that if I were to look at myself from the outside, I would think I am some kind of boring bourgeoisie?"
"It could be you're right. A family can be a source of awful misery, but when it works it's exceedingly delightful. When it works it's absolutely the best way for me. I am certain I couldn't be happier in any other constellation. It's true there are moments when I say to myself 'Hang on a minute, who's that loopy woman with wild, dirty hair and wearing a sweatsuit, standing there and yelling in the middle of the living room?' But a large part of the time it's fulfilling a potential that it's really nice to be fulfilling. But I can't do only this."
And are you managing to balance things?
"The attempt is doomed to failure but this state of affairs creates situations like the one I faced a few days ago. I'm standing in a store choosing disposable plates with a picture of Dora and a Winnie the Pooh tablecloth for my daughter's birthday and as I'm doing this I'm talking to Motti Kirshenbaum and trying to explain to him - eloquently - the British format on which my program is based, so that I can beg him to come on the show. Now, I say to myself, it simply can't be that this is happening, but it is happening, and if I weren't doing both these things, I really would be embittered."