This theme week, connected with the publication of Global Television Formats: Understanding Television across Borders (Oren and Shahaf), presents posts from the editors and three contributors to the volume. Drawing on the strength of the collection and reevaluating its findings in light of recent developments, the posts consider new ways in which formats intersect with global industries, audiences, texts, and core theories in TV studies.
One such development is the phenomenal recent success of Israeli television formats in the U.S. Pioneered by HBO’s award winning In Treatment (adapted from Israeli BeTipul) and fueled by its success, this trend continues to grow despite some early failures (CBS’s The Ex List and Fox’s Traffic Light were quickly cancelled), gaining new momentum with the “buzz” surrounding Showtime’s new Homeland (based on Israeli Hatufim). Just over the last two weeks, a record number of four new Israeli/U.S development deals were signed, including a CW musical time-travel drama (Danny Hollywood); a CBS sitcom (Life Isn’t Everything) and two NBC shows (mystery drama Pillars Of Smoke and game show Who’s Still Standing?).
This success seems especially unlikely given the utter marginality of the Israeli television industry. Operating in stark cultural-linguistic and geo-political isolation with a local audience of roughly seven million Hebrew speakers, Israeli television producers traditionally entertained little hope for success in international markets dominated by "canned" or finished U.S. products. It was the rise of formats as a prime commodity in global television that enabled Israelis to break through these barriers for the first time. Their so doing seems to be one of the most radical manifestations to date of formats’ celebrated potential to “turn” the direction of media flows from the margin to the center.
Further research will be necessary to answer some of the obvious questions raised here: Is the Israeli case unique or exemplary? Exactly how did this marginal industry transform overnight into the hottest new kid on the Hollywood block? What does this tells us about wider processes of media globalization?
The clip selected, dealing with In Treatment, presents initial attempts by industry and critics to ponder these questions. It thus contains some emerging “explanatory discourse,” the bulk of which seem to suggest it is not the “universalism” but rather the particularity of the Israeli “mentality” and the Israeli-U.S. relationship that is seen as the cause for this Israeli-Hollywood success story.