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America finds its Ex List on Israeli TV

Posted By David Brinn On June 18, 2008 @ 9:35 am In | No Comments

“It’s an historic moment – the first Israeli-inspired show to be made into an American network series,” said Arik Kneller, head of Kneller Artists Agency, which represents Mythological X creator Sigal Avin.

The CBS version – called The Ex List - follows Avin’s premise about a woman who tracks down all of her ex-boyfriends after a psychic tells her that she has already met the man she is going to marry. Writer Diane Ruggiero (Veronica Mars) and executive producer Jonathan Levin (Charmed) were hired to ‘Americanize’ the series, which is produced by 20th Century Fox Television. The cast includes Rachel Boston, Alexandra Breckenridge, Elizabeth Reaser, Adam Rothenberg and Amir Talai.

According to Kneller, who first pitched Mythological X to Keshet, he was sure from the first time he heard the plot that it was tailor-made for American TV.

“Sigal had already created some of TV’s biggest telenovellas, like Mis’hak Hahayim, Michaela and Telenovella Inc., but she wanted to do something different. When she came up with the idea of Mythological X, Keshet bought it immediately. When she started working on it, I told her that this show is going to America,” said Kneller.

Mythological X, which starred Tali Sharon as Michal, ran on Channel 2 last year. While the Endeavor Agency in Los Angeles brokered the deal with CBS to transform the show into The Ex List, Kneller said that a personal connection with Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment, helped make the network aware of the show.

“We have a very special relationship, and when she bought the rights to Mythological X, she made sure that Fox hired Sigal as a consultant,” said Kneller.

“I was pitched a one-liner over the phone and I bought it on the spot,” Tassler said. “I think maybe the litmus test for me was watching an episode – in Hebrew with English subtitles. It was so funny and relevant and enjoyable. I thought ‘if I can enjoy it from reading subtitles, imagine how appealing it’s going to be in English.’”

Avin recently returned from filming the pilot in Los Angeles, and may get more involved in other aspects of the production, according to Kneller.

“Sigal has a say, as an adviser. After Tassler met her, she understood that Sigal had the DNA of the show in her, and that her English was excellent. Every time they write a script, they send it to her for her comments. They might even want her to direct a few episodes,” he said.

Kneller also represents a slew of Israeli artists whose work has broken into international arenas, like Ron Leshem and Joseph Cedar of Beaufort fame, and he’s shepherded the stories of writer Etgar Keret into celluloid versions, including Wristcutter, Happy Campers and 999. He said that the small, personal scope of the Israeli entertainment industry is helping to create innovative story ideas and crack-acting performances – which in turn make Israeli productions appealing to other countries.

“The main problem with our local entertainment industry is lack of budget. But talent-wise, we’re amazing. Sometimes I believe that when you have art with limitations, then interesting things can happen,” he said.

In Treatment was like that – they asked themselves ‘how can we make a show that’s going to be inexpensive to produce but that’s based on good acting and writing?’ Someone in America might have had an idea for a show like that, but they wouldn’t leave it in the therapy room – they’d have more resources and take it other places too, which would alter the show. Sometimes limitations challenge people to create special things.”

With other Israeli shows recently picked up by American cable TV – like Touch Away (Merhak Negiya) by HBO and Loaded (Mesudarim) by Fox – it seems like there’s a trend developing, which Kneller doesn’t deny.

“There are many other shows we’re negotiating about now. But I can’t talk about them.”

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.
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