I agree Vincinius. Formats provide a site for cultural relations. I am repeatedly amazed by how a formats can at the same time seem so familiar and so "foreign." With user driven platforms such as youtube I have more access now to programming from outside the United States than ever before (and thanks to devoted fans who provide subtitles in many cases I no longer have have to deal with language barriers). I can watch the Finnish version of The Voice or the Dutch version of Big Brother and feel both connected to the familiarity and intrigued by the differerces each program offers.
I am really curious Vinicius if you could elaborate on how the references to american musicals "complicated" the format. Does complicating refer to undermining the limits set in the format, and if so, what were the limits?
Interesting question, especially on the reverse side — why Israeli culture might seem proximate or relevant in the USA. I grew up in rural middle America with a very strong sense of cultural affinity or proximity to Israel. Images from movies like Exodus, etc. of a heroic, Kibbutz oriented place. Despite not even having met anyone Jewish until I moved to California at age 18. So it was an entirely mediated phenomenon. (Needless to say it got more complicated when I started studying international relations ;<) But I just want to make the point that cultural proximity usually has to work on at least two levels: between decision makers in industries (as Tim Havens points out) and between audiences sharing certain repertoires of meanings or sets of imagery that each can recognize wth some degree of pleasure and understanding.
THE people responsibel for THAT are not as talented Tasha:-)
Yes, this gets a bit touchy: I recall hearing Howard Gordon say in an interview that he thought Israel’s success had to do with a certain cultural affinity with US—and that he felt closer to NYC and LA in Tel Aviv than he did in Middle America (whereever that is) hmm. I don’t know if that quite explains it all though, as Israel has been very successful selling telanovellas and gameshows to Europe and Latin America, too. I think you’re really right when you suggest that it’s specifically Israel’s physical isolation that makes its programming so aggressively transportable (in a kind of counter example to geo-cultural programming, an "aspirational geography"of sorts). Also, there’s the professionalization issue (so many Israeli TV producers are US and UK trained) and the fact that Israelis grew up hungrily watching international commercial TV while they had none until 1990. All these factors together may well produce a kind of skill at crafting mobile formats. Still, there’s something so ironic about Israel’s great success at selling formats and fictional narratives while its own political narrative has so few buyers these days…
The industrial connections are fascinating and require much more research, but, interestingly In Treatment, which opened the door, benefited greatly from the writer’s guild strike (!) as HBO was looking for ways to go around it.
There are several players in this growingly lucrative field trying to bring formats from Israel and I am in the process of interviewing them …So stay tuned.
Anyways, seems like it wasn’t an easy overnight success but definitely, after the initial “lucky break” of In Treatment, that was brought to HBO successfully by “connected” Israeli actress Noa Tishbi who lives and works in LA – there was definitely some activity from Israeli/Jewish organizations "banking" on the Jewish connection. For example there are reports that The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles has taken some TV executives to Tel Aviv
Sorry if this is beginning to sound like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” or something… lol
Indeed the issue of what may constitute “cultural proximity” here seems very fruitful for theorizing these new developments. A very interesting emerging discourse here is the “Jewish connection” especially as it relates to cultural beliefs about writing and story telling (given the prominence of “scripted” script based formats as Israeli imports. A favorite quote I found from the Homeland showrunner (24 executive producer, Howard Gordon): “"Whatever culture of storytelling that might be specific to Jews and made them prominent in Hollywood makes it understandable that 8,000 or 9,000 miles away a lot of Jews in a small place would be good storytellers.”
Whether this is true or not, what seems more important here is the willingness of Hollywood executives to normal”>believe this is true.
On another note, recent work on regionalization and the multi-directionality of products like Telenovelas (e.g. Juan Pinon’s or Joe Straubhaar work) lead me to wonder if the old guard nationalistic fears of media globalization as “Americanization” turning Israel into “the 51st” state are getting a new interesting twist. In other words, given that the culture of the U.S is so available and influential in most other locals – can “Americanization” be turning back on America. Is Israel’s local culture’s supposed “weakness” making Israeli TV folks good enough at imitating U.S. products that they can now sell them back to the source? Here a favorite quote here, gleaned from an online response to a news story about Pillars of Smoke:
"If this is in fact referred to as “Israel’s Lost”, and now it’s being adapted by American TV, isn’t that just Lost?”
Sharon, you raise some interesting questions here. Primarily, why Israeli TV? Why are US TV development excutives drawn to Israeli formats when they’re looking for new programming? Where did this trend start? And is it scalable to other countries or is there something unique about Israeli programming that makes it easily adaptable and palatable for US audiences?
Luahona also brings up an interesting question, what are the industrial links between US and Israeli TV that may be contributing to popularity of the formats?
This is really interesting because it makes me think of how the Millionaire format when reproduced in Israel was found "culturally similar" to the U.S. version in a study. And as you point out, the similarity was described as the particularity of US-Israel relationship and cultural affinity between the countries, despite geographical distance. In such transnational scenarios, what qualifies cultural proximity?
I am also curious if there is a pattern to be spotted here - of smaller industries creating a space for themselves with niche cultural-aesthetic products (Japan and anime? or Japan and TV formats, for that matter?…)
Finally, I wonder about the industrial linkages - are the companies producing these shows or adapting them in Hollywood linked?
Thanks for your response, Michael. I definitely think that the use of particular terms is part of this branding and re-branding on the part of the studios and producers. I’m also interested in how the fan culture of special effects (and their auteurs) intersects with conventional public relations and advertising for films. Access to behind-the-scenes materials seems more available than ever (with DVD extras and online info), so the knowledge about and fandom around both technologies and practitioners may be ever greater ( or at least more accessible) than before. In terms of what Bob was talking about, though, this seems like it could boost directors and franchises as much as actual special effects artists, depending on how it is packaged and sold.