Seeking romantic TV shows, U.S. networks look to Israel
ABC picks up two series, plus more are possibly on the horizon.
A hunky baker is toiling away at his job at the family business. On the small TV in the shop, he watches the latest celebrity news about one of the country's most famous actresses. His life and hers couldn't be more different. And yet... what if they ended up meeting and falling in love?
That's the premise of the hit Israeli TV show "Beauty and the Baker." Over the course of two seasons and 20 episodes, fans have fallen in love with the gluten-meets-glamorous couple. And not just in Israel: the show airs in more than 200 countries. Amazon Prime has made the romantic comedy, complete with subtitles, available for U.S. audiences to enjoy.
The success of the series – which also stars Jason Lewis of "Sex and the City" fame – caught the eye of ABC, and the American network has green-lit an English version of the show for next year. The pilot is being written now.
Karni Ziv is the head of Drama and Comedy at Keshet, the Israeli studio behind the show. "All over the world, people want to see what will happen when a boy meets a girl, and to hope for a very happy ending," she told From The Grapevine. "And it's a kind of story that is universal."
"Beauty and the Baker" isn't alone. "Until the Wedding," an Israeli romantic drama about how one couple’s decision to get married can affect everyone in their lives, is also being adapted for American television. The show will delve into the intimate relationships of a group of friends as they contend with their own romantic lives. It's also set to air on ABC.
Another series that Keshet is betting heavily on is "The Stylist," a romantic comedy about a fashion designer to celebrities featuring up-and-coming actress Ziv Sultan. "It stars a brilliant new actor that we discovered and I'm so proud," Ziv told us.
Ziv says that romantic shows are experiencing a renaissance because they provide a respite from the turmoil of the news cycle. "I think that romantic stories can comfort you for an hour when you sit in front of your TV," she explained. "There is space for that hour after we watch a lot of news that – especially women – want to sit in front of the screen and just have fun, and a bit of escapism from reality."
That trend is manifesting itself across the television landscape. Crown Media, which owns the Hallmark Channel, has produced more than 150 romantic holiday movies and continues to increase their output – with 37 new ones this year alone. Netflix has jumped on the bandwagon with their own slate of original romantic films. "This is the content that you turn on when you want to get away from the noise and hysteria," Hallmark Networks Chief Bill Abbott recently told The Hollywood Reporter.
It may also be that viewers are feeling fatigue and burnout from the likes of "Chicago: PD" and "Law & Order." Ziv believes the networks are looking for romantic stories "because they've had enough of crime and espionage and suspense and police."
She's speaking from experience. Keshet was behind some of the most popular Israeli adaptations on American TV screens – including Showtime's "Homeland" and "The A Word" on the Sundance Channel. Another Keshet drama, "When Heroes Fly," was acquired by Netflix in October.
To streamline the process of turning an Israeli TV show into a hit in the United States, Keshet now hosts the annual Innovative TV Conference in Jerusalem. The biggest names in television from around the world meet with Keshet to see what they have coming down the pipeline. Networks like HBO, Showtime, AMC, Hulu, NBC, CBS have all traveled to Israel hoping to find the next water-cooler show.
At this year's conference, we had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Ziv about the influence of Israeli TV on American audiences:
So what’s behind the increased interest in Israeli programming? “We’re pursuing it because it’s the best. It’s driven purely by creativity. And there’s something about the relationships between the people here and in Israel that has brought this stuff to everyone’s attention,” Jennifer Salke said when she was the president of NBC Entertainment. “Nor does the cookie cutter show work. No one will watch unless it’s great. So we look outside for inspiration, and Israel is shining in that area.”
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