Variety: America Discovers Israel

The American television industry continues to show interest in original Israeli programming. Earlier this week the American firm Electus signed a deal with the Israeli group Abbot Reif Hameiri; Electus is to develop Israeli programming in the United States, and the Israeli company will market Electus' content here. Under the terms of the agreement, Electus acquired the game show "Cuckoo's Nest," a cooperative venture of Cellcom and Abbot, which is broadcast on Facebook and to the cellular phone company's subscribers.

Electus is headed by Barry Diller and Ben Silverman, former co-chairman of NBC's entertainment division. Silverman was responsible for such series as "The Office," "Ugly Betty," and "The Tudor Dynasty," as well as the reality show "The Biggest Loser." Silverman said yesterday that the partnership agreement will include development and distribution of TV, movie and digital content.

"The partnership grants an unparalleled opportunity to Israeli artists and to our company," Guy Hameiri, CEO of Abbot Reif Hameiri, said yesterday. "The Israeli [television] industry is brimming with talent and creative ideas, and working with Electus will allow us to offer a suitable platform to talented artists and strengthen our presence in the international market."

On Wednesday, Variety's web site featured a long article on the new partnership under the headline "U.S. networks turn to Israel." Variety reporter Michael Schneider wrote: "Anxious to find the next international format hit, U.S. TV execs and producers are making pilgrimages to Israel."

One proof is that the pilots acquired by CBS for next year includes the American version of "The Ran Quartet," which has now grown into a quintet. The series is called "Quinn-Tuplets" and is adapted by Mike Kelley ("Swingtown") and his brother Chris. Giyora Yahalom, who created the show with Oren Jakobi, says the American version will involve several changes. "First of all, there will be three men and two women, the first test-tube babies in America. A documentary filmmaker is involved in the family's life," he said yesterday. According to Yahalom, the Americans decided to omit the character of the father and "the mother is a feminist who decided to become a single parent 32 years ago."

As in the Israeli series, the siblings will be accompanied by a director who met them several years earlier while shooting a documentary. His name is Michael Aptow, in homage to British director Michael Apted, who helped select the children of the "7 Up" documentary series. "While working on the project, Aptow falls in love with the mother," Yahalom revealed. Yahalom says he is glad that "the zigzag from documentary to drama" is maintained in the American version, and that it has not yet been decided if the show will feature "a cast of stars like 'Brothers and Sisters,' or, on the contrary, unknown actors, like 'Gray's Anatomy.' My inclination is, of course, for stars," he says. If the pilot becomes a series, Yes personnel will be signed on as producers.

CBS had already adapted an Israeli TV series, Keshet's "Mythological Ex," but the show was taken off the air after just a few episodes. "The Ran Quartet" joins other Israeli series with American versions: "Phenomenon" ("The Inheritor" in Israel), and the best-known and the most successful show, "In Treatment," broadcast by HBO.

Silverman told Variety that Israel has emerged as an "ultimate greenhouse for ideas," adding: "It reminds me of where Holland was 10 years ago." He was referring to the success of companies like Endemol, which created formats such as "Big Brother" and "Deal or No Deal."