The Arty Semite

David Letterman Exposed Our Mass Psychosis

By Eitan Kensky

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.

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Seth Rogen Tells Detroit Mayor To Smoke Crack

By Forward Staff

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.

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Uncovering the Remains of Treblinka

By Curt Schleier

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.

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Fran Drescher Is More Than 'The Nanny'

By Curt Schleier

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?

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Is 'Family Guy' Anti-Semitic?

By Mark I. Pinsky

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.

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Theology of 'True Detective'

By Steven I. Weiss

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.”

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Netanyahu Plays Tour Guide

By Curt Schleier

Peter Greenberg has what may be the world’s best job. He is travel editor of CBS News, a post he’s held for the last 13 years. Before that he spent a combined 21 years in the same job at the Today Show and Good Morning America. He also has a syndicated radio show on travel and, for PBS, hosts “Royal Tour” specials, where Greenberg visits a nation with an unusual tour guide — the nation’s leader.

On previous Royal Tours Greenberg, 64, visited Jordan, Mexico, Peru, Jamaica and New Zealand. His latest special, which premiered March 6, was to Israel, where his escort was Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister proves a gracious host and takes Greenberg and his large crew to a host of traditional tourist sites — the Dead Sea, Masada, Caesarea — as well as providing personal insights about his experiences in the military.

Greenberg spoke to the Forward about his job, the show, and the secrets of a frequent flyer.

Curt Schleier: How much traveling do you do?

Peter Greenberg: I travel almost 400,000 miles a year. Today is the only day this week I’m not an airplane.

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Why TV Writing Is Like Parenthood

By Dorri Olds

Writer and showrunner Jason Katims is best known for his rich and realistic characters, and for a long list of television credits including “My So-Called Life,” “Boston Public,” and “Friday Night Lights,” which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award. On February 22 he premieres a new TV series on NBC called “About a Boy” and on February 27 his long running hit show “Parenthood” returns for a new season. And Katims also just finished a stint as keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. The Arty Semite caught up with the assiduous Katims for an exclusive interview.

Dorri Olds: What is your new show about?

Jason Katims: “About a Boy” is based on the book and the movie. It’s about this guy Will [David Walton] who’s in his early thirties but hasn’t grown up. He’s a womanizer, plays video games, and loves his single life. Then Will meets this quirky kid, Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who looks up to Will like a father, like a god, like an everything.

What is Minnie Driver’s role?

Max’s single mom Fiona, who is kind of a hippie but also overprotective and controlling. We’re almost halfway done shooting the first season. It’s been fun already because during the pilot episode, where the three first meet, the adults are both loggerheads. As Marcus [Benjamin Stockham] works his way into Will’s life, the adults develop a sort of mutual respect. It’s incredibly charming.

What is the key to creating so many shows that have a cult-like following?

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Meet the Broads of 'Broad City'

By Curt Schleier

The cable television universe isn’t necessarily being taken over by female comics, but it seems that way: Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and now Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, stars of the new Comedy Central series, “Broad City,” an outgrowth of their popular YouTube series.

The two ladies share at least two characteristics with their comedic antecedents. They are Jewish and they push the comedic envelope very much towards the very edge. Push? They kick it over the goal line. In the opening minutes of the first episode, Ilana Skypes Abbi while having sex.

The two slackers’ main ambition seems to be to get money for pot and Li’l Wayne concert tickets. To help raise funds, Ilana places a Craigslist ad that reads: “We’re just 2 Jewesses tryin’ to make a buck.” They’re hired by a gentleman who wants them to clean his home while they are in their underwear — and he’s in diapers.

Abbi (straight hair) and Ilana (curly) spoke to the Forward about summer camp, being a “double Jew,” and having sex on Skype.

Curt Schleier: Can you tell me a little about your Jewish backgrounds?

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Haredi TV Drama Poised as Breakout Hit

By Renee Ghert-Zand

“Shtisel,” the Israeli television drama about a Haredi family in Jerusalem, is a breakout hit not only in Israel, but now also internationally.

It was announced this week that foreign broadcast and distribution rights for the series have been acquired by Pretty Pictures in France and Axess TV in Sweden. The deal was carried out on behalf of the Israeli production by Dori Media and Go2Films.

“Shtisel” — which won 10 awards at the 2013 Israeli Television Academy Awards — is being shown this week as part of the 27th annual FIPA International Festival of Audiovisual Programs in Biarritz, France. In March, it will begin a tour of Jewish film festivals, beginning with the Washington Jewish Film Festival in early March.

The series, which portrays Haredi life in great detail, has struck a chord with viewers of all types of religious backgrounds. One secular Jewish viewer told the Forward last year that he was drawn to “Shtisel” because of the universal sensibilities it highlights despite its extremely particular setting. “The Haredim are portrayed as people with all the emotional struggles and difficulties as their secular counterparts,” he said.

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PBS To Air 'The Story of the Jews'

By Curt Schleier

PBS this spring will air “The Story of the Jews” with Simon Schama, a five-part documentary that examines the impact Jewish culture has made on the world.

Schama, an historian and award-winning writer, visits Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, Israel and Spain for the series, which was broadcast last year on the BBC to rave reviews.

Along the way, he meets with scholars and refugees and discusses everything from newly discovered archeological findings of the biblical period to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.

“If you were to remove from our collective history the contributions Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable,” Schama said. “There would be no monotheism, no written bible, and our sense of modernity would be completely different. So the history of the Jews is everyone’s history, too, and what I hope people will take away from the series is that sense of connection: a weave of cultural strands over the millennia, some brilliant, some dark, but resolving into a fabric of thrilling, sometimes tragic, often exalted creativity.”

The first two hours airs Tuesday, March 25, with the final three episodes on April 1.

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Alex Borstein on 'Family Guy' and 'Getting On'

By Curt Schleier

Alex Borstein interrupts her stint as a horticultural voyeur to take a phone call. “I’m standing on something to see my neighbour’s deck and her new flower pots,” she explains. “They’re really fancy and kind of put my deck to shame.”

Dale Robinette

It’s hard to believe that Borstein has time to smell or look at the flowers. She is a veteran of the sketch comedy show MADtv, on which she appeared for five seasons (1997-2002). She voices Lois Griffin (and has written and produced episodes) on “Family Guy,” written for and appears in the Showtime series, “Shameless,” and currently stars in the new HBO series “Getting On.”

The last is a very — make that extremely — dark comedy set in an extended care facility. Borstein plays Nurse Dawn, an insecure RN whose obsession with finding a boyfriend sometimes undermines her job performance.

Landscaping — or, more accurately, deckscaping — envy aside, Borstein spoke to the Forward about her still popular MADtv character, Miss Swan, why she took a role so different from anything she’d done in the past, and how she decided whether or not her son should attend Hebrew school.

Curt Schleier: I assume you are aware that thanks to You Tube, your character, Miss Swan, lives on. My grandchildren delight in showing me a new video of you every time I see them. I moved up a notch on the cool scale when I told them I was going to interview you.

Alex Borstein: I’m aware that it’s still out there, and I’m glad I could make your life better.

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Arab Writer Joins Haredi Family Drama

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Israel’s most famous contemporary Muslim Arab literary figure is set to join the production team of “Shtisel,” Israeli television’s hit drama series about a Haredi family in Jerusalem. It has been announced that Sayed Kashua, a journalist, author and screenwriter, will edit the second season of the show that chronicles the everyday trials and tribulations of the fictional Shtisels, who live in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

The announcement of Kashua’s joining the series’ crew comes shortly after the YES cable network green-lighted a second season of “Shtisel.” Filming is already underway, according to a Facebook post by Neta Riskin, a member of the show’s ensemble cast.

The series, expertly written by Yehonatan Indursky and Ori Elon, deals with the relationship between young Akiva Shtisel (played by Michael Aloni), an artistic heder teacher, and Elisheva Rothstein (Ayelet Zurer), the twice-widowed mother of one of his students. Audiences of all backgrounds relate to the characters because of the universal themes that the show presents despite its extremely particular setting.

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'Homeland' Writer Lands New Series Set in Jerusalem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

We’ve seen Tel Aviv stand in for Beirut in screenwriter Gideon Raff’s smash Showtime hit “Homeland” (based on his Israeli series “Hatufim”). Now, in his new series, “Dig,” we’re going to see Jerusalem stand in for… well, Jerusalem.

Raff has scored a six-episode deal with USA Network, a subsidiary of NBC Universal. The action-adventure-event series will be produced completely in Israel’s capital city by Keshet Media Group. Co-written by “Heroes” writer Tim Kring, it will be about an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem.

While investigating the murder of a woman archeologist, he uncovers “a conspiracy 2000 years in the making that threatens to change the course of history,” according to Deadline.com. The protagonist “finds himself falling down an archaeological rabbit hole,” as The Times of Israel puts it more dramatically.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hopes “Dig” is the harbinger of whole slew of American TV series shot in his city. “When we combine Hollywood’s creative potential with Jerusalem’s historic backdrop, it will result in the ability to connect hundreds of millions of viewers around the world to this unique and beautiful city,” he said in a press release distributed by Keshet.

Raff, who was born in Jerusalem, is drawn repeatedly to subjects related to his homeland. “Being Israeli is who I am, it’s part of my DNA,” he told The Times of Israel. “I write what I know, which happens to be Israel and the Middle East. It’s a raw nerve in a tricky part of the world, and it is fascinating to people.”

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‘Last Vegas’ Just the Beginning for Dan Fogelman

By Curt Schleier

If Dan Fogelman were any hotter, he’d have planets revolving around him. Fogelman is the screenwriter behind such hits as “Cars” and “Tangled” and “Crazy Stupid Love.” He’s also creator and producer of ABC’s “The Neighbors,” the subversively intelligent and subversively Jewish comedy.

ABC/PETER "HOPPER" STONE

He’s also in post-production of his first directing effort, “Imagine,” a film starring Al Pacino as Danny Collins, a successful but aging musician.

Fogelman does aging well. November 1 marks the release of his latest effort, “Last Vegas.” It’s about childhood friends — they call themselves the Flatbush Four — now all of Medicare age, who decide to throw a party in Vegas when the bachelor in their group announces he’s getting married — to a woman in her 30s.

It stars Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro and Kevin Kline. And while on the surface it might appear that the film targets seniors, at a recent screening filled with mostly young people, it has the entire audience laughing throughout. It will almost certainly be the comedy hit of the year.

Fogelman recently spoke to The Arty Semite about how his parents influenced his films, being the Hebrew School class clown and how his bar mitzvah screenplay started his career.

Curt Schleier: How did “Last Vegas” come about?

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Israeli TV Network Teams Up With American Producers

By Curt Schleier

Keshet International, the distribution and production arm of Israel’s Keshet Media Group, and DC Productions, which owns Dick Clark Productions, have formed Keshet DCP, which makes it likely that more Israeli shows make it across the Atlantic to a TV set near you.

Keshet, which owns a television network in Israel, is where the Showtime hit “Homeland” originated. That alone has made the company’s head honcho, Avi Nir, a Master of the International Television Universe. This deal only enhances his image.

The new company will focus on “unscripted programming,” according to the Hollywood Reporter — game shows, reality programs and the like. Keshet DCP gets the rights to all of KI’s current and future unscripted formats for both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S.

The first program that will probably make the trip is” Rising Star,” a live talent show that uses real time voting by audience members using an app integrated into the show. It was watched most recently by almost half the households in Israel.

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'The Neighbors' Celebrate 'Challoweenukah'

By Curt Schleier

Shades of “Chrismukuh.”

That’s the blended holiday celebrated by the blended Cohen family on the TV show, “The O.C.”

But Challoweenukah?

It’s the holiday that will be celebrated on the October 18 episode of “The Neighbors,” a show about blended peoples.

When the Weaver family moved into the gated Hidden Hills development last season, they discovered their new neighbors were aliens from the planet Zabvron. And the two cultures had a lot to learn about each other.

The Zabvronian leader, Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) — all the aliens have taken the names of famous athletes — falls in love with the holiday of Hanukkah as soon as he hears about it. He decides he wants to combine it with his other favorite earth holiday, Halloween. When no one show’s up for the first seven nights, Larry decides to publicize the celebration by giving out candy to kids at the local playground.

This is not the first time Larry became obsessed with earthly holidays. Earlier this season he discovered April Fools Day, which he quickly and accurately describes as “a lot more fun that Yom Kippur.”

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Will Israel Yank Satire Over 'Murderers' Promo?

By Esther D. Kustanowitz

How long does it take for Israelis to form opinions about a TV show that hasn’t aired yet? The answer, in the case of “Hayehudim Ba’im” (“The Jews Are Coming”) – a new satire slated for fall air on Israel’s Channel 1 – is 19 seconds.

Last weekend, Channel 1 premiered a 19-second promo that was met with immediate outrage. The clip, styled like a song from a children’s show, featured three actors portraying murderers Baruch Goldstein (who killed 29 and wounded 125 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron, in 1994), Yigal Amir (who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995); and Yona Avrushmi (who killed one person and wounded nine, in1983). The trio, smiling and dancing, sang, “sometimes I assassinate and sometimes I butcher, but I am a right-wing murderer.”

The backlash was immediate, with comments on YouTube and Facebook denouncing Channel 1 and “The Jews Are Coming” creators Natalie Marcus and Asaf Beiser, calling them “Nazis,” and accusing them of painting all religious settlers as murderers. The response caused Channel 1, which is Israel’s public broadcasting network and is supported by taxes, to pull the promo, and — according to some reports — cut the song from the yet-unaired episode of the comedy. (To view the clip click here.)

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'The Goldbergs' Disappoints With '80s Nostalgia

By Jana Banin

(JTA) — Some were psyched for the nostalgia of “The Goldbergs,” a new ABC sitcom about a boisterous, outspoken American family set in the 1980s.

But the September 24 premiere was a little too loaded with references to that neon-colored, big-haired decade — think REO Speedwagon, Sam Goody, hair crimping and rabbit tail key chains.

Courtesy ABC

Such period gags aside, early on it looks in many ways to be just another formulaic sitcom. There’s Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the clan’s overbearing mom; Murray (Jeff Garlin), her brash on the outside/soft on the inside husband; and their three kids. Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is pretty and she knows it, Barry (Troy Gentile) is high-strung and Adam (Sean Giambrone) is a precocious cutie pie who records the family’s histrionics on his clunky old-school video camera.

In typical family comedy fashion, they find one another incredibly frustrating, but underneath it all there’s lots and lots of love.

Folks have been comparing “The Goldbergs” to “The Wonder Years,” and with good reason. Both are time capsules containing family stories told from the innocent-yet-knowing perspective of their clans’ youngest members.

But even deeper in the archives is another comparison: The first incarnation of “The Goldbergs,” which premiered on the radio in 1929 and moved to television in 1949 for an eight-year run.

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Versailles McMansion Couple Returns to Small Screen

By Curt Schleier

The Siegels are back.

David and Jackie Siegel, last seen in the Documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” are the first guests in a new CNBC program, “Secret Lives of the Super Rich,” premiering September 25 at 9 p.m.

Even in a show dedicated to conspicuous consumption, the Siegels are special. When last seen, the Siegel empire was in disarray and their Orlando-area mansion — designed to resemble Versailles — was in foreclosure.

But at least the Siegel economy has rebounded. David Siegel’s Westgate Resorts time share company is recording record profits, he says. Now he’s repurchased the manse from the bank and has resumed construction.

How big is the place? It has 13 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, 11 kitchens and a 20-car garage. It is so big that at one point in the tour, Jackie Siegel gets lost and doesn’t know what room she’s in.

“Nobody needs a house like that,” David says. He is right, of course.

While business is good, the family is cutting back. It is chartering out the two jets it owns and flying commercial some of the time.

To help support the family, Jackie wants to go back to work. Sort of. She hopes to land her own reality show — though there’s nothing real about her life.

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