Fox to Make TV Series About Syria's Bashar Assad - in Israel

Kfar Sava beat Herzliya Studios in bid to host filming, sparking 'breach of contract' accusation.

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
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Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

America’s Fox Television Network has decided to make parts of a new series on tyrants in the Iran world - in Israel. The segments in question will be filmed in Kfar Sava.

The series, appropriately called “Tyrant,” was written and developed by Gideon Raff, creator of the Israeli television series “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”) which was later remade into the successful American television series “Homeland,” now in its third season.

“Tyrant" is set in the fictional country of Baladi. Its creators say they deliberately of mixed elements from several actual countries so they don't seem to be targeting a particular one, or situation. Yet many would say they see it as the story of Bashar Assad, president of Syria.

in practice the show is about Bassam Al Fayeed (played by Adam Rayner), the second son of the dictator of the fictional Middle Eastern country of Baladi. The young Al Fayeed is self-imposed exile and is married to the American Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), with whom he has two teenage kids. Bassam, who goes by "Barry," has been living a fully assimilated life as a pediatrician in L.A. when he and the family head back to his homeland for his nephew's wedding in what is his first visit in 20 years.

“Tyrant,” whose stars include Israeli actress Moran Atias, will be the most expensive production ever filmed in Israel, and is expected to bring tens of millions of shekels into the Israeli economy. It will be shown on the FX cable network starting this summer.

The decision to film in Kfar Sava is somewhat novel, given that Herzliya Studios, which specializes in television productions, negotiated intensively for the business. But in the end the Kfar Sava Economic Corporation made a more competitive bid, and an agreement is to be signed shortly.

Under the agreement, Fox will build a model of a palace like Assad's in a wooded area spanning 10 dunams (2.5 acres). The Kfar Sava municipality says funds from the venture will go toward educational and communal projects.

Herzliya goes into shock

The decision to film in Kfar Sava stunned Herzliya Studios, whose attorneys sent an angry letter to Kfar Sava Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo, saying that his city had improperly insinuated itself into Fox’s good graces after Herzliya was on the verge of signing an agreement with the broadcasters, leading to a “breach of contract.”

Studio attorney Doron Elkayam expressed concern that Kfar Sava “had circumvented all proper public administration procedures” by “harnessing its property, services, employees and connections to rout my client’s bid.” The studio claimed that it had already received permits to do the required construction on its property and had engaged advisers for this purposed.

Elkayam argued that it wasn’t clear why a public authority had decided to compete against a commercial firm, and what purpose would emerge for the city and its residents to “put a great deal of expensive resources at the disposal of a foreign company for free. It isn’t clear to my client why the Kfar Sava municipality decided to be philanthropic to a foreign commercial body with public funds.”

Herzliya Studios called on Ben-Hamo to rescind his bid so that the studio and its hundreds of employees could make an honorable living “without being forced to compete with an entity that is not subject to market conditions and budgetary limitations.”

The Kfar Sava Economic Corporation stressed that Fox would be paying both real estate taxes and rent for the land it uses, in accordance with an appraiser’s evaluation.

Ben-Hamo also issued a statement calling Herzliya Studios’ claims “ridiculous.”

“Kfar Sava is among Israel’s top cities in terms of quality of life, green landscapes, its central location and the scope of the services it provides its residents,” the mayor wrote. “Indeed, an inquiry was recently received from the American Fox Network to rent land for the purposes of filming a television series. We are proud that of all the possible locations in the country the American company decided to choose us, inter alia because of the possibility of being involved with the city’s communal and educational activities. The Kfar Sava municipality works hard to develop the city and is open to new ventures. We hope this initiative will indeed go forward and generate not just ‘Kfar Sava pride,’ but national pride.”

The decision to film “Tyrant” in Israel comes on the heels of a decision by the NBCUniversal network to film a suspense series here called “Dig.” That series, which will be cowritten by Raff, is the brainchild of Keshet CEO Avi Nir, who will coproduce it.

“Dig,” which will be filmed in Jerusalem, generated some controversy when Keshet and the Jerusalem municipality announced that there would be filming in the City of David, outside Jerusalem’s Old City, and in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. After Palestinian officials protested, NBCUniversal denied there had ever been plans to film in those locations.

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus, Syria in 2012.Credit: AP Photo/SANA

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