Avi Nir and his Israeli production company Keshet came up with the show that inspired "Homeland," and now they're looking to do it again and again
Even the team behind "Homeland" was stunned by its upset victory at the Emmys Sunday night, executive producer Avi Nir admitted to TheWrap.
They had purposefully set their expectations low going into the ceremony so they wouldn't be disappointed, but they started to feel the ground shift after star Damian Lewis upended the heavily favored Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") to capture the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series trophy.
"When Damian's name was announced, it was such a surprise that it started crawling into our consciousness that we might get to the stage," Nir said.
On Sunday, the second season of the newly minted best drama in television kicks off, promising more twists in turns as it follows Carrie Mathison, the brilliant but mentally unbalanced CIA analyst unforgettably portrayed by Claire Danes, on her quest to unmask a terrorist mole.
However, the show that announced Showtime as a major player along with HBO and AMC in the "golden age" currently unspooling on television, would not have been possible were it not for Nir and Keshet, the Israeli production company that backed "Hatufim" ("Prisoners of War"), the show that inspired "Homeland."
In 2009, Nir teamed up with Rick Rosen, head of WME's television department, to find a person who could make the show — about two soldiers who are freed after being imprisoned for 17 years in Lebanon — resonate with an audience 9,000 miles away from the Middle East.
They found the perfect translators in Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who had previously plumbed high-voltage political issues in "24." The pair played up the thriller aspect of the story, added Danes' analyst character and focused less on domestic issues dealing with returning veterans and bolstered the story's national-security element.
By not being precious with the material, they helped Nir discover a formula for fielding other successful exports.
"What we’re looking for is someone who will get what the show is about, but take it his way," Nir said. "As soon as I read the script for ["Homeland"], I knew that this American team knows what they're doing. They took the themes of the show and went somewhere different."
For Keshet, "Homeland"s' success is helping them develop a lucrative new revenue stream, exporting reality shows and scripted series they produce in Israel to foreign countries.
The company is currently working on bringing four of its shows to the American market; one of which, an espionage drama called "The Gordin Cell," is being reformatted for U.S. audiences by Peter Berg’s Film 44. Retitled "M.I.C.E.," the show was given a pilot commitment by NBC this month with Berg writing and directing the first episode, something he hasn't done since "Friday Night Lights."
Nir, who says that Keshet's revenue from its foreign deals is doubling annually, sees this as an important growth opportunity for his 300-person media company.
"It is becoming a very substantial part of of our business," Nir said. "We understand that Israel is a very limited market economically, but we are prolific in our creative abilities."
Nir believes that shows like "Homeland," along with other past U.S. programs that were inspired by Israeli serials like NBC's "Who's Still Standing?" and HBO's "In Treatment," portend a new period of broader exchange between the two countries.
Although it might be tempting to see parallels between the issues of domestic terrorism bedeviling both Israel and the U.S. as a reason that audiences stateside are so receptive to dramas like "Homeland," Nir think the answer isn't political. It's about a storytelling.
"Human themes are human themes throughout the world," Nir said. "There are moral dilemmas on this show, but there is no right way to resolve them and that's what makes it complicated. That's what makes it interesting."