How Israeli formats are making a big impact
Israeli TV shows are adapted in tens of countries and territories, with hundreds of co-productions currently in progress. This inventive hothouse of TV shows, formats and concepts is now the third biggest provider of shows to the US market; an astounding achievement for a country with just over 8 million residents and 2 million TV homes.
Shows like Homeland (Hatufim), In Treatment (BeTipul), The X List and Traffic Light (Ramzor), as well as hugely popular game shows like Who’s Still Standing and I Can Do That, have secured Israel's place as the industry's prime creator of innovative TV formats, many of which are being optioned at concept stage.
Israeli creators possess a proven ability to package a show and adapt it to any designated culture. Besides complete formats, buyers can buy a show and include Israeli talent to put together the foreign version of their Israeli TV show. Hatufim’s Israeli creator Gideon Raff for example, wrote HBO’s Homeland pilot and produced the US version with fellow Israelis Avi Nir and Ran Telem. Another example comes from CBS’ Hostages, which hired Israeli creators Alon Aranya and Omri Givon to write multiple episodes for the successful US version.
“Formats are what foreign markets are after” says Avi Armoza, founder of leading Israeli formatter Armozaformats. “We are open to creative dialogue with all our partners in order to enable the best adaptation of the format to the local culture and needs.
“Generally speaking we look to keep true to the main format idea and there are definitely certain elements in every format that shouldn’t be touched, in order to maintain the format’s identity and potential for success. However, there are also always elements that can, and should, be adapted for each country in order to suit the local audience, this is the beauty of formats."
Buyers of 'adaptable formats' range from US-based HBO, Lionsgate and CBS, to European outlets (BBC, Channel4, M6), as well as markets across the globe, including Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, Argentinean and even Indonesian TV.
A prime example of the formats’ ability to transcend geographic, cultural and even political boundaries, is Homeland, which originally centred around three Israeli soldiers’ return home after years in captivity. The successful American adaptation introduced a famous Hollywood lead (Claire Danes) while Russia, Turkey, South Korea and Mexico had their own versions, with the latter even turning it into a telenovela.
"It is about talent, funding and the stories that the conflicted area produces," reflects Oscar nominated director Scandar Copti (Ajami). "The essence of drama is conflict and Israel is probably one of the most conflicted places in the world.”
Armoza looks at the cause a little more positive and says: "Israel’s prominent position in the start-up and tech world, combined with the high content creativity has helped Israel to reach its strong position in the industry and to help it adapt to the industry’s changing needs”.
He knows about the successes first-hand. His company currently has 75 productions in over 35 countries worldwide and he believes “foreign buyers are attracted to the high level of creativity and storytelling” and that a strength of the nation’s industry is that “Israeli shows have a high production standard but have cost effective budgets”.
Another major attraction for foreign buyers and investors is the markets’ innovative and daring attitude. Creators are constantly pushing the envelope through cutting edge use of technology, with shows like Rising Star, which enabled real time voting with voters’ Facebook photos showing live on TV. The game show was adapted in over 25 territories including the US, Turkey, China and the UK.
Also hugely popular is Connected (Mehubarim), which pushed the boundaries by playing on the scripted reality genre, giving people ‘real reality' instead. “Connected, daringly took the language of exposure of the internet and social media,” Armoza says, “where people are increasingly sharing everything about their private lives and adapted it to the world of television.”
The appetite for Israeli formats shows no sign of slowing down; Keshet, which developed Homeland, currently has eight new shows - both exclusively licensed as well as co-productions - hitting American screens, including the archaeological mystery Dig (USA Network) and the Richard Dreyfus vehicle Your Family or Mine.
“Hollywood has realised that US audiences were attracted to the distinctive creativity of Israeli companies,” says Armoza, noting that Israeli creators now develop formats with that in mind. "It is the combination of creative talent, technological prominence and cultural pluralism, which breeds compelling multi-platform content."
With the local TV, as well as film production industry not showing any signs of slowing down, global audiences can look forward to a lot more shows that will have originated in Israel in the years to come.