Early this year, Israelis from across the political spectrum breathed a collective sigh of relief upon news that the quality of life had improved dramatically. No, the exorbitant cost of living hadn’t decreased. Nor, did jihadist threats from the southern and northern borders recede.
What we’re referring to is the announcement in early January that, after many long years, another long national nightmare finally ended: Netflix – the US-based company which provides streaming media and video on demand – had finally become available in the country!
Though most in the West could be forgiven for failing to appreciate that Israelis have a life beyond the conflict and actually occupy themselves with quotidian concerns such as ‘What’s on TV?”, the reality is that – in addition to the fact that Israelis can now (legally) enjoy popular Netflix shows like The Crown and House of Cards – the country has actually become one of the world’s leading exporters of home-grown tv show formats. This recent development was reported in the Financial Times on Nov. 23rd in an article titled ‘Israel is homeland to global tv show success’.
Here are some excerpts from the piece written by their Jerusalem correspondent John Reed:
The Jewish state, with 8.5m people, punches well above its weight in TV terms, comparable perhaps only to similarly small Denmark, exporter of shows such as Borgen and The Killing.
Homeland, the acclaimed political thriller, was adapted from an Israeli series called Prisoners of War, which sold the idea to 20th Century Fox Television in 2009. The drama begins its sixth season on the Showtime US cable channel in January. The A Word, a drama commissioned by Britain’s BBC One about a family coping with an autistic son, began its life as Yellow Peppers, set on an Israeli kibbutz.
Shtisel, an Israeli series about a family in Jerusalem’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, was recently sold to Amazon’s video arm for a global remake under the name Emmis.
“We are great storytellers — storytelling and film are very much embedded in the Jewish nature,” says Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Keshet International, whose company produced Prisoners of War and other successful TV shows. “Israel is conflictual and gives us a great foundation for telling stories.”
He compares Israel’s burgeoning TV industry to high-tech, another sector where a country with few natural resources focused instead on building world-class businesses based on intellectual property.
Other Israeli shows featured in the FT article include Loaded, a series about four tech geeks who become millionaires, now being produced for Britain’s Channel Four, False Flag, an espionage thriller picked up last year by Fox, and Fauda, described by Reed as “an edgy, powerful Israeli TV series” that was picked up by Netflix.
Sadly, such human interest stories about Israel and Israelis are far and few between.
Indeed, the dominance of the ‘conflict Israel’ narrative in the public imagination was touched upon in our 2011 interview with Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer about his book The Transforming Fire. We asked Spyer about the contrast between the real Israel and “mythical Israel”, what he characterized as “a place of uninterrupted darkness and horror, in which every human interaction is ugly, crude, racist, brutal.” Spyer attributed the popularization of “mythical Israel” to “the sheer volume of copy and programming hostile to Israel which an average consumer of media…in the UK would…be exposed to”, compared to the dearth of depictions of the real state with all its nuance, complexity and even ordinariness.
We’re happy that FT readers were exposed to this little piece of the normal, everyday modern Jewish state those who live here know so well.