In March of 2015, your very own TV Addict (Pictured above, inside Jerusalem’s Holy/Old City) was given an amazing opportunity. I was invited to Israel to take part in the INTV (Innovative TV) conference and learn more about the amazing innovations and entertainment that were transforming this tiny upstart nation.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Ummm TV Addict, it’s like… June! Why are you just now writing about all of this?” and (b) what exactly does Israel have to do with television?
Well, (a) as the title of this blog suggests, my addiction to television doesn’t leave me as much time as I’d like to write. And (b) Turns out, quite a lot! Contrary to what the cable news networks might have you believe, there is a lot more to Israel than a seemingly never ending conflict. Israel has carved out quite a name for itself in both the world of television and technology over the past decade or two. But hey, don’t take my word for it, see for yourself, below.
After spending the day touring Jerusalem’s Holy City (Our intrepid band of travellers, pictured above, included (l to r) Tubefilter’s Joshua Cohen, the TV Addict, Showrunner Magazine’s Romy Kraus, Synopsis Media’s Jessica Reese and The Wrap’s Jordan Chariton…. WiredUK’s Oliver Franklin-Wallis would arrive on Day 2), eating local fare in the old market and stumbling back to my old, albeit beautiful hotel nestled at the foot of the aforementioned Old City, our group met up for a very modern dinner. Alongside copious amounts of food and drink, we were regaled with tales from the hilarious and bizarre world of Israeli television by one of the country’s foremost experts, writer-producer Omri Marcus. Our dinner with Omri would kick off what would turn into a trend on our trip. Talented, funny, immensely friendly industry professionals taking time out of their busy schedule to tell tales from the front lines, many of which I recounted here. After dinner, we attended the opening of the INTV conference that featured a screening of USA Networks’ DIG (The pilot of which was shot on location in Jerusalem) and an introduction by the honourable Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. One of Barkat’s administarations’s goals is to re-brand Jerusalem as a first class tourism destination in addition to its status as a religious one.
Remember mere moments ago when I mentioned how the Mayor or Jerusalem’s goal was to tweak the perception of Jerusalem. Well he wasn’t kidding. Case in point, after your very own TV Addict successfully managed to avoid making a fool of himself while taking part in a panel discussion about the current state of television, I found myself stepping foot inside the beautiful home of none other than the Mayor himself (Pictured center, below). What followed was a fantastic food filled evening punctuated by some hilarious speeches by guests of honour Jason Isaacs and Morgan Spurlock. Suffice it to say, on the scale of mayors, Nir Barkat is pretty much the polar opposite of everything my former Thometown Mayor of Toronto represents!
Day three marked the end of the INTV conference and the start of the real adventure. Now don’t get me wrong, INTV was a very informative and fun conference filled with super interesting speakers such as HBO CEO Richard Plepler, but hello, I didn’t come to Israel to sit in a auditorium. Of course, little did I know how little sitting I’d actually be doing over the course of the next few days!
After boarding a shuttle bus to Tel Aviv and checking into our insanely cool boutique hotel, our group grabbed a drink with Hagai Levi. If the name Hagai Levi (Pictured above, next to the goofy TV Addict in the orange ensemble!) isn’t familiar to you, his work certainly will be. Levi not only recently won a Golden Globe as co-creator of Showtime’s THE AFFAIR, he is the brains behind one of Israeli televisions biggest success stories IN TREATMENT. Coolest part of the evening was Levi’s professional origin story. Namely, that his love and eye for film was born as a youngster living on a Kibbutz where one of his responsibilities involved editing films for questionable content (which back in the day involved actually cutting physical film!) prior it to be shown to the Kibbutz.
After a beautiful brunch on Jaffa’s amazing waterfront (Pictured above, the TV Addict with “Connected” creator and director Doron Tzabari) and some super cool presentations at AOL Israel from Israel start ups such as takeandmake.co (Fun Fact: Thanks to the country’s successful startup industry that has seen the development of such notable apps like Waze, ICQ and more, Israel is often referred to as “Silcon Wadi”), we were afforded some much needed free time which involved me walking along the beautiful beach of Tel Aviv. And while the rest of the day didn’t quite pan out how many of the folks we met were hoping (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected for a third term), it sure as heck was a party for our group. Thanks in no small part to a racious alcohol-fuelled party hosted by MTV Israel (Pictured below). Strange but true: Unlike their American counterpart, MTV Israel actually still plays music videos. Stranger still: Their technical team demoed an amazing second screen app called MTV Music Master which has helped attract an audience to the network that would otherwise be busy watching YouTube! Seriously. The app was super cool and something networks and broadcasters across the globe should be contacting MTV Israel about.
Day five of our adventure was far and away the most impactful and memorable… and not just because I threw up on a nauseating bus ride down to the Dead Sea… but we’ll get to that in a moment. The day started off at the crack of dawn with a shuttle ride that drove us to a sleepy town near the top of the Dead Sea. There we met the creator of the hit Israeli TV show “Yellow Peppers” Keren Margalit and series star Alma Zak. As I’ve already chronicled in a post titled “Attention Jason Katims, We Have Found Your Next Project!” the show was amazing (Correction: The first two episodes were amazing, I can only imagine the rest of the series is amazing if I ever get the opportunity to see it!). Not so amazing was the drive down to the Dead Sea! Evidently, windy roads on an empty stomach do not agree with me. So, while the rest of the gang went on what I was told was a roller-coaster ride of a Jeep adventure at the edge of the Dead Sea, I sat outside a nearby gas station and recovered from my own bumpy ride.
Following lunch at the base of the Dead Sea and not nearly enough time at the beautiful Synergy Spa, our group was shuttled back to a studio where we got to tour the set of “Game of Chefs.” Game of Chefs is a hit series produced by the slightly younger and seriously hipper Israeli TV Network Reshet. The Israeli born reality format puts a spin on the traditional cooking competition by pairing chefs with a team of talented amateurs who must impress the chefs and act as judges. Each chef forms his own teams, with the groups then competing in a series of challenges with one contestant voted off each week. It also served as my very own version of FEAR FACTOR, forcing me to try… for the very first time… Caviar. Much like my trip down to the Dead Sea, it also didn’t agree with me!
Our final day culminated with more shopping, food and a fantastic farewell cocktail event with our amazing hosts in the heart of Tel Aviv. My only regret, aside from that whole driving down to the Dead Sea on an empty stomach is that I didn’t have more time to experience this amazing country. After the non-stop week I had, I most certainly could have spent another lounging on those beautiful beaches!
* Small Print: This trip to Israel was based on an invitation from Vibe Israel. An amazing, not-for-profit organization whose goal is to show of Israel as a center of business, social entrepreneurship, environment, art, fashion, food, music, entertainment, technology and more. As always, everything that has been written has been based on my own personal experiences.
Photo Credits (with the exception of the panoramas): Eyal Yasski – Weiss