Homeland Homeland "Homeland," starring Emmy-winner Claire Danes, is one of the most successful adaptations of an Israeli show. (Photo: David Bloomer / Showtime)

Bringing Israeli television to American audiences

The new Fox game show "Boom!" is the latest in a long line of adaptations of Israeli TV series.

The acclaimed TV dramas “Homeland,” “Tyrant” and “In Treatment” have more in common than rave reviews and high ratings. All three were imported from Israel, and these days, they have plenty of company.

“In Treatment” – which ran on HBO for three years (2008-2011), won two Emmy Awards, and was based on the Israeli series “Be Tipul" – aired in more than 20 countries and paved the way for its production company, Keshet, to show its TV series in more countries in North and South America, Asia, Australia and Europe. 

The Emmy and Golden Globe-winning “Homeland,” now in its fourth season on Showtime, is based on Keshet’s “Prisoners of War." Their success created a new film industry in Israel, with Dori Media and Armoza Formats challenging Keshet for the most cutting-edge ideas on television. Meanwhile, Keshet realized it had insights into what was interesting to the American audience and now concentrates its efforts on coming up with original series ideas for export only.

But Israel isn't just a place for networks to find ideas for fast-paced drama. These days, Hollywood is looking at Israeli game shows. The singing competition “Rising Star,” which aired in the summer of 2014 on ABC, originated in Israel, and the U.S. version of the Israeli smash “Boom!” will premiere on Fox in January.

Rising Star"Rising Star," which aired on ABC in the summer of 2014, was one of the many shows on U.S. networks that originated in Israel. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC)

“Boom!” is a trivia show in which a team of four contestants must answer multiple-choice questions represented by colored wires attached to a “bomb,” and if they choose incorrectly by snipping the wrong wire, the bomb explodes. 

“It’s a big mess. It’s fun,” Assaf Blecher told From The Grapevine. Blecher is the Israeli CEO of Los Angeles-based Keshet DCP, the partnership between Israeli broadcast giant Keshet and Dick Clark Productions, which produces "Boom!” and “Rising Star.”

"'Boom!’ is the most successful game show ever in Israel,” he said, noting that it was produced there for $75,000. 

In addition to the music and award shows Dick Clark Productions is known for, including “The American Music Awards,” “The Golden Globe Awards" and “The Hollywood Film Awards,” the new partnership with Keshet will produce reality and game shows such as “Simon” for TruTV and “Face to Face” for Game Show Network.

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,” said NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who bought “Allegiance” from Keshet. “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.”

Bert and Jennifer Salke(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Salke and her husband, Fox 21 president Bert Salke (pictured at left), were among the Hollywood executives who participated in the Israel Conference in Los Angeles in October to discuss their working relationship with Israel, Keshet in particular.

“There’s no one I’d rather work with. They’ve bent over backward 1,000 times for us. They’ve been very open to the way we do business and we’ve learned a lot from them and I think they’ve learned a lot from us,” said the man responsible for bringing “Homeland” and “Tyrant” to U.S. screens. “The Hollywood television business needs ideas. It’s hard to come up with new stuff. The freedom of communication in Israel via the Internet and technology has opened up the community and brought Israel closer than it was 20 years ago.”

Other panelists weighed in with their own reasons why the Hollywood-Israel connection works. “There’s a lot of commonality in terms of the culture, which makes the format easy to adapt in this country,” said Howard Davine, EVP of ABC Studios. “I think Israeli society mirrors American society,” added David Lonner of Oasis Media Group. Blecher pointed out that “Israelis think internationally, Israel is a small country so you have to think big, outside Israel. There’s also a passion and creativity that comes from having limited resources. You have to make it look great with so little.”

Ben Silverman, now chairman of U.S. production company Electus, is now bringing hit Israeli shows like "Zansuri" to American networks. But he first became aware of Israeli imports a dozen years ago, when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was dominating domestic prime time and Israel was showing a hit called “The Vault.” Running Reveille Entertainment at the time, he bought the show and made a deal with ABC for the 2003 season, but it was never produced. 

“There were issues with the national live elements," Silverman said. "But it was my first experience with Israeli ingenuity,”


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Bringing Israeli television to American audiences
The new Fox game show "Boom!" is the latest in a long line of adaptations of Israeli TV series.