(JTA) — Novelist Gary Shteyngart has made his reputation with wry explorations of ambivalent, conflicted, often frustrated love. Now he is launching into a new affair with television, and it seems that he’s carrying a full freight of mixed emotions.
Last week came the news that Ben Stiller has signed on to executive produce and direct a television adaptation of Shteyngart’s most recent novel, “Super Sad True Love Story.” Shteyngart is co-writing the pilot with Karl Gajdusek for production company Media Rights Capital, which also produced the Netflix hit “House of Cards.”
“Super Sad True Love Story,” published in 2010, is set in a dystopian near-future where the economy verges on collapse, the search for love is channeled through an electronic device called an “apparat” that biometrically measures levels of attractiveness, and the practice of reading is an outmoded embarrassment. The tale follows the misadventures of Lenny Abramov, a balding, bookish, 39-year-old Russian-American-Jewish man who falls in love with a Korean-American woman. (Note: Shteyngart is a balding, bookish now-42-year-old Russian-American-Jewish man who is married to a Korean-American woman.)
The show is being described in the press as a one-hour dramedy, although The Telegraph hopes that the resulting show will retain more of Shteyngart’s acid wit than the term “dramedy” — typically applied to feather-light fare — implies.
More than almost any other event, it was the trial of Adolf Eichmann that, in 1961, brought the Holocaust into the public consciousness of the world. In both Europe and Israel, the trial marked the beginning of the end of a period, immediately after the Second World War, when the Holocaust was deliberately ignored and forgotten. The cause of the change: the medium of television.
A new 90-minute BBC drama, “The Eichmann Show” — which aired in the United Kingdom January 20 as part of a season of programming to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — captures the making of the Eichmann Trial as a television spectacle. It was an American producer, Milton Fruchtman (played by Martin Freeman), who persuaded David Ben-Gurion that “only television can show the world what Eichmann did,” and that the trial of Eichmann would be “the most important television event in history.”
Fruchtman hired Leo Hurwitz (Anthony LaPaglia), who was blacklisted in the United States during the McCarthy period, to direct his show. “The Eichmann Show” homes in on Hurwitz’s singular obsession with Eichmann, what the camera could do to inspect him, and his failure to get the much-desired close-up of him showing even a scintilla of regret. “Come on, do something!” Hurwitz bellows, as Eichmann watches stony-faced images of trucks plowing piles of skeletal corpses into mass graves. His face barely even twitches.
Photo courtesy ABC/Tony Rivetti
The family portrayed in the ABC sitcom, “The Goldbergs” — which finished its second season January 14 — spends a lot of time yelling and screaming. Mom is a busybody. Dad comes home from work and drops his trousers for comfort.
Though Adam F. Goldberg, creator, writer and executive producer, based the show on his real life and kin, he is quick to assure that the actual Goldbergs were not that bad. They were worse.
“My family is a lot cruder, a lot louder. All they do is yell at each other. My mom [Beverly] is at the point where she recognizes that. Wendi [McLendon-Covey, who plays her] brings a softness she doesn’t have. [My mom says] ‘everyone hugs her at the end of every episode. I never get hugs. She’s not me. She’s too nice. She’s too loud and always gets her way.’”
The show was not always “too nice.” When it first aired in the fall of 2013, the critics (including The Forward’s Ezra Glinter) were, well critical. When I mention that Goldberg suggests I’m the one being too nice.
“In the beginning, we were polarizing,” Goldberg said. “The either hated us with a passion or if they got it, it was because they came from a family like that.
CBS has just released the trailer for the four-hour mini-series, “The Dovekeepers,” which will air March 31 and April 1.
The series is based on the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Alice Hoffman novel of the same name which, in turn, is based on true events at Masada.
The Masada story is told from the perspective of three woman — the titular dovekeepers — who arrive at the besieged fortress with unique backstories, and secrets.
Among the stars are Cote de Pablo, the Chilean-born actress best known for playing the Mossad agent on NCIS; Sam Neil, as the Jewish historian Josephus, and Diego Boneta as a warrior.
The series is being executive produced by Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and her husband Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Voice”), who were also responsible for “The Bible” mini-series and theatrical feature “Son of God.”
Last year, a single promo clip — a total of 19 seconds in length — provoked a controversy over the content of the show it had been created to promote. What followed was a yearlong saga of politics, professional restructuring and grassroots marketing, as the show — an Israeli sketch comedy show called “HaYehudim Ba’im” (“The Jews Are Coming”) — languished in TV purgatory.
After the controversial promo launched online, Channel 1, the public station, had a problem. The show had already been produced, using taxpayer money; despite the controversy, it represented an investment of public funding that couldn’t be easily discarded. Channel 1 was undergoing restructuring, and the Knesset had to approve the network’s programming slate before it could air. With all these obstacles, it seemed that “The Jews Are Coming” show would never get to live up to its name.
The promo also provoked MK Ayelet Shaked (from the religious Habayit Hayehudi party) to speak out against “HaYehudim Ba’im,” pressuring Channel 1 to air a right-wing satire (a show called “Latma”) to balance it, show co-creator and writer Natalie Marcus recalls. “The presence of a satire can’t balance the presence of another satire; satire balances reality,” she said.
Photo Courtesy of WNET/Joseph Sinnott
Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” is invariably emotionally powerful. And tonight’s episode, which profiles the background of three leading Jewish Americans, is no exception.
Carole King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz are the subjects. As always, Gates and his research team have done an excellent job checking the roots of the participants’ family trees. They went back the furthest in King’s lineage, to late 18th-century Russia. But it is the Dershowitz and Kushner segments that prove the most fascinating.
Dershowitz’s mother’s family came from Galicia in the 20th-century when pogroms wrecked havoc there. His grandfather, Naftali Ringer, came first, followed two years later by his grandmother Blima. There was a problem at the dock when she arrived — Naftali had shaved off his beard. As a result she didn’t recognize him and, according to family legend, at first rejected him.
Blima ruled the roost in the Dershowitz household, and she remained observant. Dershowitz claims when he came home from Ebbets Field and declared “The Dodgers won,” she would ask “But was it good for the Jews?”
But she was also very American. “She made my brother and me recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day… America was everything Poland was not.”
WNET/ Joseph Sinnott
If you’re not familiar with it, “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates is in part a PBS response to the genealogy craze, people increasingly curious about where they came from.
The next episode is all Jewish, as we learn about the ancestors of three celebrated Americans. Tony Kushner delves into the history of the Holocaust to discover his ancestors’ fate; Carole King learns the origins of her family name and confronts the reality of the discrimination her ancestors faced in America, and Alan Dershowitz finds out that the first Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn, started by his great-grandfather, played a secret role in World War II.
The episode airs November 4 at 8 p.m., though it’s always best to check local listings.
“The Rise of ISIS,” the latest documentary from the award-winning Frontline PBS investigative series, is likely to leave you with one major takeaway.
Despite the best of intentions, pretty much everything the U.S. has done in the Middle East has contributed to the chaos. We are Westerners lost in a strange land with absolutely no idea what we are doing or the consequences of our actions.
The film starts in late 2011, when American troops withdrew from Iraq. Presumably, we left behind a stable government with a functioning military. Both assumptions were incorrect.
The nation’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, promised an inclusive government, but soon began a campaign of terror against Sunnis, including Sunni officials in his own cabinet. Shia militia were particularly violent and Sunni bodies piled up on the streets.
The then-U.S.ambassador, James Jeffrey, warned President Obama that Maliki needed to be constrained, but he adopted a hands-off approach, claiming it was an Iraqi internal problem. Leon Panetta said U.S. the response was to keep “their fingers crossed [hoping] that Maliki would step down.”
The President’s position seems defensible. We just got out of that country and he didn’t want to be the man who put us right back in. And at the time Al Qaeda was a small broken force unable to mount a serious insurgency.
Photo: Virginia Sherwood
USA Network has ordered four additional episodes of “Dig,” an Israeli-set crime thriller. This brings to 10 the total number of episodes of the series, which premiers in March.
Jason Isaacs stars as FBI agent Peter Connelly, who has his share of heartbreak and demons he want to leave behind. So he accepts an assignment in Israel, where his new supervisor, Lynn Monahan (Ann Heche), is also, as luck would have it, an occasional love interest.
But investigating the murder of a young American embroils them in an ancient mystery.
The series also features a number of well known names, including David Constabile (“Breaking Bad”), Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) and Israeli actor Ori Pfeffer (World War Z).
Also remarkable are the number of bold face names behind the scenes, including Gideon Raff and Avi Nir, who are responsible for a number of Israel shows that have crossed borders to European and American television.
Judd Hirsch has packed a lot of success into his 79 years on the planet. He is of course known as Alex Rieger, cabbie extraordinaire in the long-running television sitcom “Taxi.” The role earned him four Emmy nominations and two wins.
He’s also starred in a number of other successful series, including “Dear John” and, more recently, “Numb3rs.”
That’s only television. He’s appeared in 20 feature films, ranging from his role as a psychologist in “Ordinary People” (Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor) to playing himself in “The Muppets,” which garnered him no awards but the affection of thousands of young people.
Then there is his true love, theater. He’s appeared in three Broadway productions, was nominated for three Tony Awards as best actor in a play and won two — for “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Conversations With My Father.”
Hirsch spoke to the Forward about his latest project, the new ABC series “Forever,” how he almost didn’t want to take “Taxi” and why he’s still doing the grind of a TV show at age 79.
Curt Schleier: Getting ready for this interview, I was taken aback by how much you’d done and how much I’d forgotten. What a career! What’s your reaction to my ignorance?
Photo: Trae Patton/NBC
The last time we saw Ben Feldman, he’d just cut off one of his nipples. Now, he’s head-over-heels in love with a girl he spied — but never met — years earlier at a rock concert.
Perhaps an explanation is in order.
For the last three seasons, Feldman has played Michael Ginsberg, the somewhat acerbic, somewhat crazy Jewish copywriter on “Mad Men.” Ginsberg chose a most unusual way to declare his love for a co-worker.
Starting October 2 (and every Thursday forever thereafter, he hopes), he’s Adam Laughlin on “A to Z,” the besotted bachelor who believes in destiny and true love and a more traditional approach to wooing. The object of his affection is Zelda Vasco (Cristin Milioti), an attorney whose hippie, multi-partner mother soured her on the idea of romance.
The show’s pilot, at least, is funny and sweet and if nothing else an antidote to television zombies. It is also more than a little reminiscent of “(500) Days of Summer,” a similarly themed romance that at least in the cinema ended badly.
According to the voiceover here though, Andrew and Zelda go out for “eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour.” After winning kudos for her role in the Broadway musical “Once,” Miloti went on to become the title character in “How I Met Your Mother,” an issue that took nine seasons to resolve. So it may take a while to find out what the end of that near nine-month period has to offer.
In the meantime, Feldman spoke to the Forward about “the one,” defending a Jewish character’s right to be a little nuts, and going all-in on a bar mitzvah or not having one at all.
Curt Schleier: Do you believe in “the one”?
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.