Israeli Culture's Top Ten

Israeli Television's No. 1: Avi Nir

Avi Nir, 52, CEO of Keshet.

Avi Nir, head of Channel 2's Keshet network for the past 11 years, not only embodies, to a large extent, the values of local commercial television; he long ago achieved quasi-mythical status. Nir is regarded as the person who is able to predict what the viewing audience wants, satisfy their tastes precisely and, time after time, create shows that will keep them glued to the screen. From Big Brother to Master Chef and Yellow Peppers to Traffic Light – all were his babies and all earned impressive ratings, along with that most valuable yet elusive of elements – buzz.

Things didn't always go this smoothly for Avi Nir. The supposed loudness and coarseness of Keshet’s shows have elicited disdain and criticism from the start. That has been the case with Big Brother, from its very first episode to the current season. Critics disparage what they say is the manipulation of emotion on programs like Master Chef and A Star is Born (the Israeli version of American Idol.) Nir has been accused of infantilizing and "drugging" the audience and the derisive comment by Uri Rosenwaks, chairman of the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum, that "he is Israel's real education minister," has not been forgotten.

But none of that changes the bottom line. When it comes to influencing local culture, Nir ranks above all others – and not just because of his undeniable control when it comes to ratings, which are maintained with an uncompromisingly competitive spirit. Six years ago, Keshet, under Nir’s leadership, decided to alter its approach to television dramas. Up to then, locally-made drama and comedy series were looked upon as existing merely for the sake of fulfilling regulatory obligations. But in the wake of global changes in the television market and the success of locally-made Mesudarim (Set for Life), Keshet decided to get deeper into the world of drama – and to trade in it in the international arena.

Keshet’s innovation made deep inroads among the local audience, primarily due to its willingness to take chances (as with the series Arab Labor, which has mostly Arabic dialogue, or Yellow Peppers, about an autistic child and his family) and it had unexpected international success. Since then, Keshet and Avi Nir have become familiar names at the big studios, television networks and agencies in the United States and Europe.

The most prominent example of this is Nir's involvement – together with Keshet's vice-president for content, Ran Telem, and Gidi Raf, creator of the Israeli show Hatufim – in the creation of Homeland, a loose adaptation of the local series, which has won prestigious awards and been a spectacular success. Homeland tops the list of local formats created by Keshet that have been adapted and made it onto American television. Also on the list are Shalosh (Three), Ramzor (Traffic Light) and Ha-Ex Hamitologi (The Ex List), among others.