The Arty Semite

Mideast Minefield Keeps 'Tyrant' Producer Nimble

By Dan Williams

  • Print
  • Share Share

(Reuters) — It’s hard to keep up with the social and political hurly-burly of the Middle East, but U.S. TV producer Howard Gordon got a hit out of it with “Homeland” and hopes to do the same with new series “Tyrant,” even if it requires last-minute tweaks.

While fellow Americans celebrated over the July 4 weekend, Gordon was back in Israel for his latest whirlwind visit to fine-tune upcoming episodes, based on feedback he has received about the series set in a Middle Eastern dictatorship buffeted by demands for change arising from the Arab Spring.

There were complaints from Muslim American groups to weigh, as well as input from Middle Eastern dissidents. They are factored in to Gordon’s drive to empathize, though he wants the series to work as a universal drama divorced from actual events.

“I like to think that, as sort of amateur cultural diplomat, I create these stories as bridge-building,” Gordon told Reuters.

“We are listening to our Muslim colleagues and adjusting the material as much as possible. I appreciate the sensitivities, and no one is setting out to perpetuate or exacerbate stereotype, but we are here to tell a good story, a family drama, a saga.”

He likened the tale of an Arab-American doctor embroiled in the Middle East autocracy run by his father and brother to “The Sopranos” or “Sons of Anarchy” — shows about a New Jersey mob and a Californian motorcycle gang, respectively.

“Tyrant” takes place in a fictional Arab country stripped of the sectarian or political labels that abound in the news.

“You will never hear Sunni or Shia or Alawite or Hashemite, because it is too complicated to render dramatically,” Gordon said.

“This is at some level a totally challenging show — by definition reductive on one hand and on the other a distillation of many of the countries and people and characters we’ve seen.”

While hearing real accounts of life under oppressive rule prompted Gordon to rewrite episodes 2 and 3, he said he sought to preserve a balance by also showing the tyrant of the title had economic achievements to his credit.

“He’s not just a monster,” Gordon said. “It’s fascinating, but also a minefield of potential controversy. The storyteller in me was very attracted to the hornet’s nest of it.”

“Tyrant” began broadcasts last month to middling reviews — a factor that may decide if the U.S. producer gets his wish of a second season.

Gordon learned to take critics’ flak over his hits “Homeland” and “24.” Both tended to view the Middle East through counter-terrorist gunfights and are enjoying long runs.

“Homeland” was inspired by an Israeli television series, “Hatufim,” and partly shot in the Jewish state, an experience that contributed to all the episodes of “Tyrant” being made there, too, after the pilot used locations in Morocco.

The Israeli crews were highly professional, Gordon said, and while not as keen as American counterparts to work overtime, thrifty. He estimated each “Tyrant” episode cost 15 percent less than it would have in Los Angeles, where relative paucity of tax breaks has driven much television production to cheaper sites.

The “Tyrant” cast also appreciated the quality of life available, after hours, in Israel, Gordon said — although an initial arrangement to use a studio near freewheeling Tel Aviv fell through, forcing the entire production to relocate to sound stages erected on strawberry fields outside rural Kfar Saba.

“We’ve had some glitches,” he said.

Gordon, who is working on two other shows concurrently, said that should there be another season of “Tyrant” he would likely limit shooting in Israel to secondary footage like exteriors and consider alternative locations in neighboring Turkey or Jordan.

“If we were to get the LA tax break, it might be an inducement to move much of the photography back,” he said.

“There is also the political consideration of it,” he added, noting the “potential political or perceived political incorrectness” of making a show about the Arab Spring in Israel.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tyrant, Television, Howard Gordon

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.