Israeli producer Sharon Tal Yguado believes things are about to change on television. And the main reason is the wave of terror attacks in the West. “I think viewers have had enough of these dark and violent series,” says Tal Yguado, whose full title is executive vice president of scripted programming and original development at Fox International Channels.
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“With all the terror attacks that are occurring now in the United States, Europe and around the world, we’ll see a change soon. Once, Israel was among the few countries that experienced these troubles and the world lived in a kind of euphoria. Now, terror is threatening other parts of the world, too. So I think things are about to change.”
It’s safe to say, though, that Tal Yguado’s shows haven’t made the switch yet. As well as working on hit shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Dexter,” her latest show is “Outcast,” whose opening scene sees a crazed child eating a cockroach.
The boy, we later find out, is possessed and has a secret that could threaten the whole of humanity. This is the latest series by Robert Kirkman, best known as the creator of the comic books behind “The Walking Dead” – the most successful cable series in the history of U.S. television.
“When I spoke with Robert about the series and he told me that it deals with a ‘dybbuk,’ I asked him if the focus of the series was on demons that chase people or is it, like in ‘The Walking Dead,’ about people and relationships. He said it was the second option, so I decided to go with it.
“We developed the series in the studio [Fox], and when there was a script we sold it to Cinemax,” she says, referring to the premium cable channel owned by HBO. They invested about $20 million in marketing and advertising the series, launching it worldwide simultaneously, she adds.
Tal Yguado, 40, was born in Herzliya and attended Yigal Allon High School in Ramat Hasharon. After her army service and receiving a BA in psychology from Tel Aviv University, she went to the United States to do her master’s in media at New York University.
Today, she is probably the most senior Israeli woman working in Hollywood. Two years ago, the entertainment trade newspaper Variety featured her as one of the most successful women in the entertainment business, alongside Angelina Jolie and Cindy Holland, the vice president for original content at Netflix.
Tal Yguado is busy working on two new projects that are particularly dear to her heart. One is the U.S. version of the Israeli thriller series “False Flag” (“Kfulim”). The other is a remake of another Israeli show, the comedy “Very Important Person” (“Ish Hashuv Meod,” which starred Yehuda Levi). In addition to the U.S. versions of these Israeli shows, she is also responsible for an unusually big purchase for the Israeli television industry, which will see “False Flag” distributed in over 100 countries.
How are Israeli artists regarded in the U.S. television industry now?
“In Hollywood, they look at Israel as a creative community – a bit like how they looked and still look at Scandinavia. Israel really interests them. Turkey and South Korea have also become places they pay attention to of late. But I deal with Israeli formats in a different way. Many times when you buy a series in Europe, or anywhere else, you say goodbye to the original creator and go and do it completely independently. But I was always the type who liked to work with the original producers. If that’s Robert Kirkman, when I worked with him on ‘Outcast’ on the idea he wanted, or whether it’s Shirli Mushoyef, who I’m trying to involve in the U.S. version of ‘Very Important Person.’”
The road to Tal Yguado’s present position, in which she controls enormous budgets, began some 20 years ago as a producer and creator of a reality TV show format that she developed alongside actress Dalit Kahan. The project attracted interest from producers at Sony and Fox, sparking a bidding war. Fox won and invited Tal Yguado to a meeting in Italy, where they were about to launch a dedicated channel for women.
“Five men who set up this women’s channel sat there and I, with my Israeli chutzpah, asked them if that seemed logical to them. In response, they told me I was their answer to my question and they wanted me to stay in Italy, in order to help them launch the channel,” she says, talking to Haaretz at a fish restaurant in Jaffa.
A short time after setting up the channel for Fox in Italy, Tal Yguado was named the head of Fox’s European department. After that, she began to work in the Asian markets, too. As time went on – and after launching over 100 channels all over the world – she realized she was beginning to run out of challenges in her job. She determined to find a new role for herself on the creative side of television, but then met her future husband – an American who lived in Los Angeles.
At the same time, she received an offer she couldn’t refuse: To make use of the profits from Fox International and invest them in series in their preliminary stages of development, in order to secure distribution at a later stage. The first series she backed was the serial killer show “Dexter,” starring Michael C. Hall. The series is still regarded as a trailblazer for its content and dark tone, which is reflected in contemporary shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Outcast,” but also in “The Walking Dead” and “The Leftovers.”
As a woman who’s reached a relatively high position in Hollywood, how many times have you hit the glass ceiling?
“The more you advance and get to the top, [the more] you begin to feel it,” says Tal Yguado. “The ceiling for women in Hollywood is very high, but it is still there. Certainly, you feel it. Personally, it’s very important for me to bring in women in key positions – both on my team and in the writers’ rooms. I don’t consider myself a feminist, but it’s important for me that, in practice, women receive key jobs. At Fox, there’s more freedom in this regard, but if you look at the management, even in my company, the overwhelming majority is male.”
Do you feel a responsibility toward viewers when you choose a certain project?
“I admit and confess that, not long ago, I didn’t care very much. But recently, maybe because I’m a mother and maybe because the world has gone crazy, I see the influence of television more than in the past. I think your responsibility increases. To tell you that our series are causing violence? I don’t know. But is it possible to replace that edge with something more sensitive? It seems so.”
From her position in the television industry, Tal Yguado cannot afford to ignore the technological revolutions led by Netflix and other digital platforms such as Hulu and Amazon – which have made the traditional cable companies look like anachronistic institutions. She admits this is part of a larger change in viewing habits.
“All the companies that relied on the old and well-known model are looking at themselves in the mirror and realizing that their economic model is falling apart,” admits Tal Yguado. But she’s not concerned that this is a monster that will devour entire companies in the television industry. “The history of television proves that no company remained successful when it produced only for itself. Success goes in waves. The minute Netflix took shows from everyone else for its own productions, it had an advantage. Now, when they are going to produce only for themselves and the rest of the companies bring back the content they produced to make it themselves – because that’s what’s going to happen – they’ll have a problem.”
You launched the first episode of “Outcast” on Facebook Live. How much has Facebook moved toward becoming a real broadcaster?
“I’m not seeing it as a broadcasting channel but as an advertising one. There are no results that show whether this will work or not. It’s still very experimental. This won’t happen with every series, but mostly with series for premium cable networks. It’s intended to stimulate the taste buds of the younger generation, even though it’s still not clear if it will cause them to take out a subscription to see the series legitimately.”