It’s a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that the History cable network scheduled its two-part “Houdini” mini-series over Labor Day weekend on the theory that most folks will be away from their television. But, if by some chance, that turned out actually to be the network’s strategy, kudos to them.
Houdini is played by Adrien Brody, but not even the Academy Award winner can drum up a performance magical enough to make his character seem real.
He is burdened by Nicholas Meyer’s script, which paints a one-dimensional portrait of a man with daddy issues and who seems to talk exclusively in aphorisms. What could even the greatest thespian do with dialogue like this:
“I love my father. But he was a nobody. I’m not going to be like him.”
“Fear is how I know I’m alive. Not like other people. I don’t escape life. I escape death.”
“The only way to beat death is to put your life on the line. Why was I so compelled to beat death? What was I trying to escape?”
On the Daily Show, Maggie Gyllenhaal told Jon Stewart that she has not received any backlash about the politics of “The Honorable Woman,” the new show that she stars in. Since it centers on the ongoing turmoil of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Stewart looked amused.
“You have very thoughtful friends,” he said.
Granted, the eight-part mini-series written by British director Hugo Blick is only a few episodes into its run on the Sundance Channel (in the UK, five episodes have aired already). There is still an ample amount of time to provoke both critics and political pundits.
However, for the moment, the series seems focused on avoiding taking a side. The first episode introduced a very complicated political murder mystery. Gyllenhaal plays Vanessa “Nessa” Stein, the daughter of a successful English arms dealer who supplied Israel with weapons and was murdered 29 years ago in front of his children. Nessa, along with her brother Ephra, has inherited her father’s company and has a plan to remodel the business as a supplier of peace, not war. The idea is to bring Internet and phone cables to impoverished Palestinian territories to enable education and communication. As Nessa says, “Terror thrives in poverty, it dies in wealth.”
The plan is jeopardized when a man is found dead in his hotel room. We learn that the victim is a Palestinian who Nessa planned to give a lucrative contract to construct the communication infrastructure. Of course, allegations from both Israelis and Palestinians ensue, and protestors hound Nessa with questions wherever she goes.
Image courtesy of HBO
When is a terrorist not a terrorist?
That’s the question asked and answered in the important HBO documentary, “The Newburgh Sting,” which debuts July 21 at 9 p.m.
It’s been over five years. Still, many people are likely to remember how a joint terrorism task force arrested four men before they could bomb a Bronx synagogue and JCC, and fire a missile at military aircraft at Stewart Airport in upstate New York.
The government gratuitously went through the process of a trial, but the men, who became known as the Newburgh Four, had already been convicted in the media.
However, an investigation by filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner suggests that the four men were not terrorists, but dupes in an elaborate plot set up by an FBI informant.
Following 9/11 (which the FBI missed), the Bureau set up a network of informants to root out home grown terrorists. Most (if not all) of these informants were set loose on mosques. This certainly isn’t politically correct, and no U.S. mosque has yet ben implicated in any kind of terrorist plot. But the FBI seems to have adopted a “We screwed up and now we have to catch up” attitude that made its agents willing to overlook such niceties.“The rules are off,” was a common refrain in FBI offices.
Important, too, these undercover informants were financially rewarded. Previous criminal activity was overlooked. So, if they couldn’t find genuine terrorists, they were potentially motivated to create them, or else lose their jobs. And that seemed to be the case here.
Newburgh, 60 miles north of New York City, is an impoverished community. Shahed Hussain, an informant and shady character, visited the local mosque and asked the Imam if he knew anyone interested in Jihad.
The Imam suggested congregants stay away from him, but Hussain kept showing up in fancy suits, fancy cars (plural) and flashing wads of cash.
Cote de Pablo is a Chilean-born actress who seems to specializing in playing Jews.
She is most famous for playing Mossad agent Ziva David in the long-running CBS hit “NCIS.” Now comes news that she has been cast in “The Dovekeepers,” a four-hour mini-series based on Alice Hoffman’s best selling novel, which, in turn is based on true events at Masada.
The mini-series will depict the siege from the perspective of four women who arrive at the mountaintop with “unique back stories but share a common bond for survival,” according to CBS.
Pablo plays Shirah, an independent single mom with mysterious power. Called the Witch of Moab, she practices forbidden ancient rites of magic and is knowledgeable about herbal medicines.
The series is being produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who received multiple Emmy nominations for the 10-hour mini-series, “The Bible” and produced the feature film, “Son of God.” “The Dovekeepers” will air sometime next year.
(JTA) — The production of “Tyrant” is leaving Tel Aviv because of the ongoing rocket fire in Israel.
The television drama, which was co-created by Israeli writer Gideon Raff, will move its operations to Istanbul, Turkey, Variety reported Wednesday. Air raid sirens and ongoing rocket fire from Gaza have disrupted the production, and members of the cast and crew have posted on social media about the stresses of running to bomb shelters.
The show’s producers reportedly hope to return the production to Israel if the situation allows it.
“Tyrant,” which airs on the American cable network FX, is set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin.
Meanwhile, executives of the USA Network’s “Dig,” which had been filming in and around Jerusalem, are waiting to determine their next move, according to a report in TV Guide. The show delayed its return to shooting from a hiatus because of the current violence; the break will be extended by several days.
“Dig,” which also was created by Raff, was on hiatus when Operation Protective Edge began last week.
“Our first priority is the safety of our cast and crew,” said a statement from Universal Cable Productions, according to TV Guide. “We will continue to assess the situation and plan accordingly.”
Paul Lee, ABC’s group president of entertainment, met with reporters this morning during the Television Critics Association semi-annual meeting in Hollywood. Not unexpectedly, the subject of “The Goldbergs” came up.
Lee,who recently renewed his own contract with the network (though ABC has languished in fourth place for the last four years), recently renewed the Jewish-themed comedy for a second season. It joins black, Hispanic and Asian-themed comedies that the Hollywood Reporter said “ambitiously mine cultural and ethnic diversity.”
Lee, who is a British Jew, was asked if “The Goldbergs” needed to become more specifically Jewish. He responded that what aired was the vision of its creator, Adam Goldberg. “It’s Adam’s show. I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘From one Jew to another, I want a bar mitzvah.’”
(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.
Now available to stream online: the premiere auditions of the newest reality singing competition, Rising Star, based on an Israeli reality show, HaKovkhav Haba, or “The Next Star” in Hebrew. The first episode of the American version debuted Sunday, June 22.
Now, I’ve seen my fair share of reality television shows. I watched American Idol when it premiered more than a decade ago, and more recently I’ve dabbled with the X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice.
Basically, the premise for all these shows is the same. Sing a song, impress a judge or two, and then hopefully garner enough American viewers that the studio executives want to keep your show around.
Rising Star offers a new twist — or new twist to Americans, as it’s essentially a carbon copy of Israel’s original show — the public’s votes are counted via their smartphones. Oh, and there’s something about a two ton wall, too.
Viewers have to download the Rising Star application, and then swipe red for no and blue for yes in real time. If a singer attains at least 70% of yeses while they sing, then they move on to the next round.
Cool in theory, if not so cool in practice. Critics have noticed that some percentages seem staged to give voters on the West Coast a reason to vote. Rising Star airs live in three US time zones, but is pushed back for the West Coast. As a result, viewers in the California area can “save” contestants if they vote when they watch the show an hour later. Many contestants finished with ratings in the high 60s, and so needed West Coast votes to move on.
Celebrity judges Kesha, Brad Paisley and Ludacris counted for 7% if they swiped yes.
Like the case with many other celebrity judges, I am always skeptical in their ability to judge a person’s potential to become a ‘Rising Star.’ From what I’ve gathered from magazines and celebrity interviews, to succeed in the entertainment industry, you need talent, connections, and a whole lot of luck.
Celebrity judges might be able to make connections with contestants, but that’s just about it. On Rising Star, their advice mimics other reality-show judges and relayed the standard, “watch the pitch” and “I loved your attitude.”
As a result, if I ever watch judges’ commentary on these sort of shows, it’s for their anecdotes and jokes. On Rising Star, the judges lack the entertaining camaraderie of The Voice, and don’t have the definitive personalities of the newest season of The X-Factor. But, to be fair, it is Rising Star’s first season, so I’ll give them a little leeway to get their bearings.
As to the talent factor, frankly, most of the contestants were mediocre at best. Nobody seemed like the next Kelly Clarkson or the next Carrie Underwood. Rather, they seemed on par with Danielle Bradbury, who won The Voice two years ago, or Tate Stevens from The X-Factor. Remember them?
I didn’t think so.
One contestant chose a song that was half in Italian, which alienated her from the audience. The others were barely memorable.
Only the last contestant seemed to leave some kind of impact. Macy Kate, 17 from St. Petersburg, Florida, won the highest percentage at 93% of votes. She belted out a good cover of “Me and My Broken Heart” by Rixton.
Kate participated in a nation-wide audition via Instragram. To generate hype for the show, Rising Star, officials asked for people to submit clips showing why they are “Rising Stars.” Kate was told to come to the premiere, but just to watch.
Twenty-five minutes into the show, Kate was picked out from the audience to perform the finale.
Yet, she could have sprouted leaves for how planted she felt to the audience. After all, she seemed incredibly well composed for someone who didn’t know they would be on national television five minutes. Plus, she preformed phenomenally for someone who had maybe an hour to prepare.
I don’t deny that she’s got talent; I do call out the producers for staging the thing.
Overall, my opinion of Rising Star does not match the optimistic title. If you want funny banter from the judges, look to The Voice and if you want more, say, colorful acts, you’re better off with America’s Got Talent.
You can catch up on “Rising Star” at http://abc.go.com/shows/rising-star
“Nathan For You” is built on an undercurrent of mundane desperation: most of us will go along with anything if it means 10 minutes of face-time on TV. We’ll serve (artificial!) poo flavored yogurt at our FroYo shop; court lawsuits for the publicity; deceive the public with bogus animal videos; and camp with unknown men in the wilderness. Shove a camera in someone’s face and they are no longer wary of strangers. They’ll go on dates, spill their hearts, betray secrets. It’s as riveting and hilarious as it is uncomfortable. It might be the best half-hour on television this summer.
“Nathan For You,” whose second season began July 1, is a business advice reality show. Nathan Fielder, a comedian who graduated from the University of Victoria with a bachelor’s degree in commerce, advises small businesses on how to grow. It’s like “Kitchen Nightmares” or “Bar Rescue” except Fielder doesn’t have experience and the advice isn’t good. It’s also not terrible advice (not typically, anyway). The advice has to land in the sweet spot of “bad enough to entertain the folks at home; good enough to get the business to try for a day.” It’s not a parody of business advice shows, but it frequently becomes a parody of other reality genres. The show is more confusing to describe than it is to watch.
“Tyrant” is a new series made possible by the combination of a network willing to take chances with a producer/writer/director who understands the Middle East and international intrigue.
The network is FX, which long ago decided that an audience for intelligent TV existed, and you didn’t need Kardashians to goose ratings. There followed a series of smart and occasionally quirky shows such as “Rescue Me,” “Justified,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Louis,” which drew audiences, advertisers and critical raves.
“Tyrant”’s mastermind is Gideon Raff, an Israeli, who created the TV series on which “Homeland” is based. Once again he’s teamed up with Howard Gordon (“24”) to come up with a concept that is smart, tense and brave.
Bassam (Barry) Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) is the son of a dictator of Abbudin, a fictional Arab country. He fled from there two decades ago and built a new life in the United States. Now he’s a California pediatrician with a gorgeous wife and two all-American kids.
When the show opens, he reluctantly returns to Abbudin to attend his nephew’s wedding. From the get-go, there is a sense of foreboding that he and his family won’t make it home. While there, his father, Khaled, dies and his older brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), is incapacitated in a car accident. While only the pilot was available for review, it seems clear that Bassam will need to stay there to rule.
“Third Person,” written and directed by Paul Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash”), tells three love stories about passion, trust and betrayal. “In any relationship,” Haggis said, “there is always a third person present in some form.”
Israeli actress Moran Atias, who starred in the TV series “Crash,” pitched the idea of a multi-plotline film about love and relationships to Haggis. “Third Person” is the result, and Atias plays Roman beauty Monika in the movie. Atias stars opposite Adrien Brody as one of the three fraught couples. The all-star cast includes Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Maria Bello and Kim Bassinger.
Atias had worked directly with Haggis and Neeson when she starred in Haggis’s 2010 crime drama, “The Next Three Days.” Born and raised in Haifa, Atias later moved to Italy where she starred in several Italian films including the thriller “Gas.” Additionally, she worked for modeling campaigns for Dolce & Cabana, Roberto Cavalli and Versace. After much success in Italy she returned to Israel. Currently Atias lives in Los Angeles and stars in the FX series, “Tyrant,” an American show that takes place in the Middle East.
The Forward caught up with Moran Atias for an exclusive interview.
Dorri Olds: What inspired your idea for “Third Person?”
Summer is the cruelest cultural season. With that in mind, ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) is a new occasional series highlighting movies, TV shows, books, comics and everything else we might have missed in the past few months that we can catch up on in the next few.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was last year’s best new sitcom. Watching is now a moral imperative.
Husks of series that ended too soon litter Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime: unwatched critics’ darlings; cult shows that never proselytized; dramas that took too long to find their rhythms; the doomed and the criminally “ahead of their time.”
TV economics never made sense. It was never easy to launch a show, find an audience, maintain quality, keep the cast intact and sober, and hit the cash money of syndication. Today it’s nearly impossible. Kevin Reilly, the programmer at Fox who championed “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the maddeningly inconsistent “The Mindy Project” is now the “outgoing chairman of entertainment.” The business is changing, but no one knows where it’s going. What will advertisers pay for streams and how will they count them? How many days after an episode airs are ads still effective? The one metric that everyone agrees on is how many viewers watch a show live, or (who can be picky!), the same day. Numbers of viewers that would have been laughable decades ago are now hits.
But unless you like business stories, ignore conversations on the future of television. Fans of TV who want to make the medium better should instead concentrate on this maxim: Watch what matters to you live. Do not wait until the season ends or when the DVD comes out or a show hits Netflix. Make watching the shows that matter to you the day they air a priority and pray that there are enough of you. Tell your friends when you think something is good. Otherwise “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” will die.
Images courtesy of AMC
Watching “Mad Men” is like watching shades dance. The undead and the dying slouch at every corner.
This one was born in a concentration camp. Never sane, this season brought a self-immolating insanity. This one stole a dead man’s identity, legally killing his true self in the process. Now he works in a crime scene, an office where dreams of happiness and self-worth end with a rope. Fevered, the man with the stolen life dreams of killing a woman who tempts him. This one is an echo of Sharon Tate. She wears the same clothes and lives in the same, coyote-haunted part of the Hollywood Hills. In real life, Tate was killed by the followers of a mad man. This one is an orphan who has now essentially orphaned his daughter; this one is an old man who staves off aging with cocktails and psychedelic drugs and ever-more-meaningless sex; and this one is Betty, whose blood never ran warmer than ice, now wilting and freezing in her gothic Westchester crypt.
The undead and the dying were everywhere during part one of “Mad Men”’s seventh season, which ended last Sunday. It’s nothing new for a show whose title sequence features a man falling from a building (whether he jumped or was pushed is curiously omitted), and which once foreshadowed the season-long story of protagonist Don Draper’s descent into hell with a shot of a shirtless Don (Jon Hamm) casually reading Dante’s “Inferno” on the beach.
(Reuters) - The Israeli co-creator of hit spy thriller television series “Homeland” believes his native country should become a prime location for U.S. television shows about the Middle East and is working hard to make this happen.
Writer-director Gideon Raff is at the helm of Fox drama “Tyrant” and NBCUniversal archeological mystery “The Dig,” two U.S. productions under way simultaneously in Israel — a first for the country’s small but active entertainment industry.
Until a decade ago, Israel was shunned by foreign studios for fear of suicide bombings during a Palestinian uprising. But with the violence now abated and many neighboring Arab states riven by strife, Israeli facilities enjoy a new appeal.
“To concoct the Middle East in Los Angeles you have to spend a lot of money. You need to get the cars, the attire and the faces right,” Raff said in an interview at his Tel Aviv office, its walls festooned with actors’ headshots and storyboards.
“The Middle East is not just a desert, and Americans are increasingly sophisticated and expect a show set outside the United States to have been shot outside of the United States.”
Sometimes I catch myself muttering, barely audible (I hope): “If you need help, here I am.” Then, a few minutes later, I repeat it. “If you need help, here I am.”
“If you need help, here I am” is an idiotic phrase intoned by Renée Zellweger in the movie “Cold Mountain.” In February 2004, David Letterman played the trailer on his show and became obsessed by its melodrama and its sound. For weeks after he would repeat, “If you need help, here I am.” Sometimes he played an audio clip of Renée. Usually he just said it several times in a row and laughed to himself. Maybe the studio audience laughed too. Maybe the audience cringed. First time viewers of “The Late Show” could only reach one conclusion: David Letterman was insane.
David Letterman is insane, but that’s only tangentially related to why he repeated the Zellweger line over and over. David Letterman’s insanity is hosting a five-night-a-week television program. His insanity is the need to be funny night after night, week after week, year after year. His insanity is the need to entertain and the need to stay relevant. His insanity was not being able to walk away — though, thankfully, that fever has broken. On April 4 Letterman announced that he would retire in 2015, and on April 10 CBS announced that he would be succeeded by Stephen Colbert.
But that other people want to host a late night television show doesn’t make Letterman — or them — any less deranged. It only means that we’re suffering through a mass psychosis.
Smoking crack isn’t usually taken to be a civic leadership strategy but hey, it’s working out for Rob Ford.
That’s what Seth Rogen told Conan O’Brien, anyway. On Tuesday night’s episode of “Conan” the actor suggested that Detroit mayor Mike Dugan take a page from Ford’s book, since Toronto seems to be doing pretty well and Detroit, not so much.
“What’s weird is like, you go to Toronto and and it’s like it’s really a beautiful city that is very well-running, a lot better than a lot of non-mayor crack smoking cities that I’ve been to in my life,” Rogen said.
This isn’t just idle chatter, either. Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg have reportedly sold a movie about a crack-smoking politician, although they deny that it’s based on Ford specifically. Still, the Ford scandal didn’t hurt any — at least not for a couple of comedians making hay.
Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls is a British forensic archeologist. Much of her work is with police departments, often literally digging up missing persons — so she’s used to uncovering remains.
Still, what she discovered during her research at the Treblinka death camp was so emotionally wrenching, it forced her to tears. A riveting account of her work there, “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine,” airs March 29 at 8 pm on the Smithsonian Channel.
Treblinka was actually two camps. Treblinka 1 was supposedly a labor camp. Treblinka 2 was almost certainly the most efficient murder operation in the history of mankind. About 900,000 people fell victim there in a little more than a year. Camp commanders bragged about their efficiency.
But, facing an oncoming Soviet army, the Germans destroyed the buildings, dug up mass graves and burned the bodies, forced local people to spread the ash and planted trees to cover over what had been the camp.
An idiosyncrasy of the cavernous Broadway Theater in Manhattan — currently home to the hit show “Cinderella” — is that actors need to traverse the stage to get from their dressing rooms to the stage door. So it’s where I wait for Fran Drescher, who has very successfully traversed from lovable Jewish nanny to evil step mom.
But when she appears, it’s more like the fairy godmother — or at least someone with magical powers. Though it’s been 15 years since the finale of her hit TV sitcom, “The Nanny,” the 56-year-old actress hasn’t seemed to age a bit. And that’s not all that hasn’t changed.
There is, of course, the familiar voice, one the adjective nasal only begins to describe. No, she says, in response to a question, she is not comfortable “playing a character that you love to hate. I love playing characters you love to love.”
So the first time she ripped a fancy gown from Cinderella (Carly Rae Jepsen), she actually apologized to the young singer. Recalling that moment, Drescher laughs. That laugh. The laugh once called “the sound of a Buick with an empty gas tank cold cranking on a winter morning.”
Several days later on the phone, she continues the thread of that conversation, speaking also about how she got to Broadway and the perils of her very public life.
Curt Schleier: Did you really apologize to Carly Rae after the scene?
Sunday night’s episode of “Family Guy,” the long-running animated comedy, included a 25-second segment that illustrated once again creator Seth MacFarlane’s unapologetic anti-Semitism.
In the episode, main character Peter Griffin and his friends are off on a typically absurdist search to find God and to get Him to stop thwarting their favorite football team, the New England Patriots. In a Jerusalem square they spot Mort Goldman, the obviously Jewish pharmacist from their hometown of Quahog, Rhode Island.
Actually, they spot a “flock” of bobbing Morts, whom they attract by tossing pennies, as you might use popcorn to draw pigeons. The message being, Jews love money. MacFarlane used similar imagery in a much earlier episode, in which Peter’s anti-Semitic father-in-law tries to use a dollar bill tied to a string to distract his wife, who has just told Peter’s wife Lois that she was raised Jewish.
Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, made too quickly and too often. But as someone who has followed MacFarlane’s career, I think it is well past time to call him out. His star is clearly on the rise in Hollywood — he has hosted a major awards show, been writing and directing movies and, most recently, produced the Fox series “Cosmos.” And thus far he has been unimpeded by his consistent record of anti-Semitism.
You don’t have to go far to find people utterly disappointed in the season finale of “True Detective.” Many websites have spilled thousands of words expressing upset that the episode didn’t expose any remaining mysteries about the criminal acts driving its plot.
But those upset at the finale weren’t paying attention. This show didn’t follow the standard tropes of criminal drama, avoiding speculation about the crimes themselves. Very large swaths of who did what and why were revealed early on: as show creator Nic Pizzolatto told The Daily Beast, “if someone watches the first episode and really listens, it tells you 85 percent of the story of the first six episodes.” Essentially every major aspect of solving the crime was telegraphed at least an episode ahead of time — as was the case with the finale, because we met the ultimate antagonist at the end of the previous episode. Indeed, rather than focusing on crime-solving as an exploration of criminality, the entire season — and the entire season finale — is an exploration of how people confront criminality and evil.
Those who were disappointed took the wrong cue from the show’s early episodes. The book from which Pizzolatto drew the satanic-style ritual of his serial killer antagonist, Robert Chambers’s “The King in Yellow,” shot up to the #4 slot of bestselling books on Amazon. And yet, Pizzolatto revealed in an interview this week, the real lessons from the series speak to a very different book. Pizzolatto told journalist Alan Sepinwall that “if someone needs a book to read along with season 1 of ‘True Detective,’ I would recommend the King James Old Testament.”