“I have no patience for glass ceilings,” declares producer Tmira Yardeni, the owner of Tedy Productions and one of the most powerful women in the world of Israeli television. “I was never an employee because of this, and I never brought in partners into my company, and there were many who were interested. I want to do things in the way that I understand them.”
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Indeed, Yardeni has always followed her instincts, which has paid off quite handsomely business-wise although she also suffered ridicule about some of the programs she produced – among them hits like “The Comedy Store,” “Kochav Nolad” (the Israeli version of "American Idol") and “Born to Dance.”
But something is changing now. Yardeni has gone in a more serious direction in the past few years, producing the drama “The Gordin Cell” and more recently “Sisters” and “Moms and Dads.”
Additionally, over the weekend the Israeli Academy of Film and Television announced that it would be giving her a lifetime achievement award. This honor, surprisingly, turns her into a darling of the establishment. It is surprising, to her as well to some degree, because Yardeni admits that she has never before attended so-called Ophir Awards ceremony, which will be held for the 13th time next month.
“I am not a person of the past, but mainly of the present and future,” she says with half a smile. “So it’s true, the prize gives you pause and let’s you look back – but I am actually at a peak of productivity. We are working on eight or nine productions simultaneously. So it’s not so bad to win a life achievement award.”
Not only the commercial world in which Yardeni works has seen its ups and downs in recent years. Her husband and partner in Tedy Productions, Dudu Yardeni, died over a year ago. Talking about him is the only time in the interview with Haaretz that she shrinks a little and looks uncomfortable.
“Dudu came down with an illness called Alzheimer’s,” she says. “The word ‘widow’ is written on my forehead. It is a strong word. Life goes on. I have grandchildren and amazing children. Everything is good.
Did life stop for you during Dudu’s treatment?
“It is a disease that turns a person into someone else. Parting is done over a period of time ... Dudu, until his final days, recognized us but he was another person, completely different. It was a lot like 'The Exorcist.' It was as if a demon had gotten into him. And despite this, everything was done with respect and love. We made it through this process, as hard as it was mentally, in an almost pleasant way. Life went on at the same time.”
Did it change something in you?
"It made me think that if I understood that I had a chance of getting Alzheimer’s, I would have to try and stop it before it starts. The last thing one wants is to lose one’s humanity, and you lose your humanity with this disease. I would not want my children to experience their mother this way.
You produce a lot of entertainment shows for the masses. You’re not itching to do something that will be crowned as an exemplary achievement?
“The definition of an exemplary achievement is unclear to me. ‘Kochav Nolad’ changed the face of music. [Musical soap opera] ‘Our Song’ changed the daily drama industry, not to mention ‘The Comedy Store’ in the realm of entertainment. When you create something groundbreaking, it takes time to internalize it. It happens all the time.”
When asked if she thinks she is an expert on Israeli taste, Yardeni says: “What I do is not to identify what the masses want, but rather to identify talents. After so many years, I know I am good at this. When the Second Channel started out and we did 'The Comedy Store,' I thought how lucky I was to know what people would want to see because for years I did things on stage, things for which people got a babysitter, ordered tickets and stood in line. And suddenly all the knowledge I had amassed flowed onto the screen, so I knew it would work.”
Leaving the mother ship
The last few months have been particularly stormy for Yardeni and her production company. She started to dismantle the symbiotic relationship between Tedy and the mother ship – Keshet, the powerful Channel 2 franchisee – and decided to take her main talent, actor-comic-producer Zvika Hadar, to participate in two major productions with the competitor on the other side of the road: the Reshet franchisee.
“I have to say that this was done after a consultation with (Keshet CEO) Avi Nir, after a good conversation,” she asserts. “Avi really tried to make us stay, but he cannot give us what he doesn’t have with respect to screen time, and we cannot wait.”
Yardeni’s conciliatory tone can be misleading. Her relations with Nir are indeed as strong as before, and a total of three Tedy productions will soon debut on Keshet – but just a year ago their relationship was on the rocks. The backdrop was the Eyal Committee, which Yardeni was instrumental in establishing.
Television producers were seeking to increase their share of revenues for shows they produced. The panel's agenda was to work out a way to dismantle the monopolistic power of the franchisees to force them acquire more programs from external producers. The communications minister at the time, Gilad Erdan, responded to what was seen as a declaration of war by Yardeni and other producers by setting up a committee to look into the issue.
However, Yardeni caved in at the last moment, just before she was supposed to testify about the aggressiveness the franchisees displayed toward the production bodies.
Haaretz obtained information that indicated that the reason she retreated was because Nir informed her that if she would appear before the panel she would not be allowed to work with Keshet anymore. This threat worked, and the committee’s conclusions evaporated.
But Yardeni categorically denies that there were any such threats. “I simply realized that it was not right to continue this fight, and I stopped,” she says now.
In response, Keshet commented: “This claim [by Haaretz] is baseless. The facts are that Keshet worked and continues to work with many production companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels and never conditioned work with Tedy Productions or with anyone else.”
Channel 2 now faces possible division into two separate, 24/7 stations. Such a move, which Prime Minister and Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyhau supports, is expected to profoundly affect the television market. If it does happen, as Netanyahu hints, it is liable to deal a mortal blow to local production companies, among them Tedy. Yardeni grasps the danger implied in this scenario.
“We have to hope that someone will come with common sense and the channel will not be broken up in the end, because if it is broken up they will probably lose even more money, and then I don’t know upon which gas fumes they will work. If the two franchisees somehow merge – they will earn money, and if they earn money then it will be possible to work normally.
"Breaking them up will make the channels bleed money," Yardeni declares. "Two such channels are not economically feasible. It is that simple.”