Israel’s Hollywood envoys hope TV hits will help national image

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A decade after its television industry inspired the American hits “Homeland” and “In Treatment”, Israel is stepping up its entertainment exports, with a diplomat and a talent agent acting as its envoys to Hollywood.

Though TV format sales account for a sliver of overall Israeli exports – $268 million, or 0.2 percent, in 2016 – they open another window into a country that has complained of unsympathetic news coverage in a conflict with the Palestinians.

Enter Sam Grundwerg, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, and Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). They have been promoting Israel as a wellspring of screen content worth adapting for U.S. audiences or airing abroad in translation.

Homeland and In Treatment have American storylines but Grundwerg said the fact that they are based on Israeli shows builds relationships with Hollywood that contribute to the country’s standing.

This week, the duo hosted more than 100 entertainment executives from 20 countries at a Tel Aviv conference sponsored by the government, where Israeli studios and writers vied for buyers. Their documentary and drama ideas were pre-packaged with idiomatic names and polished subtitles in English.

“This is something the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) has a deep appreciation for, as a creature of the media and someone who understands opinion-shaping,” Grundwerg told Reuters. “(It) gives the biggest bang for the buck in terms of reaching people. These are things that transcend the politics and the tribalism.”

Israeli political advocacy “doesn’t work with me and it doesn’t work with others,” he said. “This (entertainment outreach) is what creates, for people, an association with Israel at an experiential, emotional level.”

THRIFT AND GRIT

Grundwerg estimated 40 percent of his work involves courting Hollywood and the sports and music industries. He said he and Berkowitz took nine TV industry notables on a five-day tour that included the Syria and Gaza fronts.

FILE PHOTO – Claire Danes accepts the award for favorite premium cable TV show with “Homeland” co-stars Mandy Patinkin (L) and F. Murray Abraham at the People’s Choice Awards 2016 in Los Angeles, California January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File photo

Each executive paid for themselves and one of the guests, FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraft, later lauded Israel in a speech as a “soulful country”…

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