Mining Family for Comedy in ‘9JKL’

After going against type to play the villain in last year’s “Prison Break” reboot, Mark Feuerstein is comfortably back in his “nice Jewish guy” wheelhouse as the creator and a cast member of the CBS comedy “9JKL,” which was inspired by his family.

“It’s nice to step out of your comfort zone and play the darker side, but it’s also nice to return to laughing and playing characters who are kind and represent the best of humanity,” Feuerstein said.

The premise of the show, which premiered Oct. 2, has its roots in a real-life, sitcomish situation the Los Angeles-based actor, now 46, once found himself in. He occupied the middle apartment between his parents — Audrey and Harvey — and his brother’s family during his eight-year run on “Royal Pains,” which was shot in New York and ran from 2009 to 2016.

Feuerstein’s character, Josh Roberts, is reeling from both a divorce and the cancellation of his series, “Blind Cop,” and returns to New York seeking comfort and support from his family. The problem is, his well-meaning but meddling parents don’t understand the concept of boundaries.

“The family is getting in the way of him realizing his goals to get married, have children and get working again,” Feuerstein said.

“It’s an amalgam of stories that put our characters in ridiculous situations. It starts with my history and personal source material. But the characters are very different from who Audrey, Harvey and my brother Eric are.”

Nevertheless, Elliott Gould’s Harry Roberts is a lawyer with a predilection for bow ties, just like the elder Feuerstein. The Roberts apartment set approximates the Feuersteins’, down to the mass of Post-it notes on the refrigerator. Despite their ethnically neutral surname, the family is indeed Jewish, though it’s not specifically stated at first.

“We didn’t consciously avoid the fact that we’re Jewish, we just want to ease the audience into it,” Feuerstein said. “We don’t want to turn people off who might not have as open minds as people in New York and L.A. I am very proud to be a Jew. And we will take our time with how we treat those things, whether it’s mentioning Chanukah or a bar mitzvah.”

Feuerstein created and executive produces the show along with his wife, Dana Klein, who serves as showrunner. In the roles of his parents they cast Jewish actors Gould and Linda Lavin, who played Feuerstein’s mother in “Conrad Bloom” two decades ago. David Walton and Liza Lapira, who are not Jewish, play his heart surgeon brother and the brother’s non-Jewish wife, who is a pediatrician.

Although the show’s family arrangement is at times too close for comfort, Feuerstein said he cherished the time he spent living close to his parents.

“I was a guy in a stage of life where you don’t often get to spend that kind of quality time with your family, because you’re supposed to have moved on and be focused on your own family,” he said. He’d married Klein in 2005 and they had three children they raised in Los Angeles during the run of “Royal Pains.” He flew back to L.A. on weekends to be with them.

“Because of the nature of our business and the fact that I had to shoot it in New York at that time, I got all of this wonderful quality time with my mother, sitting at the table, talking about the day’s events with my father, my brother and his wife and their children. And I wouldn’t have had that otherwise,” he said.

Feuerstein no longer needs to commute long distance, as “9JKL” shoots at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, in front of an audience. Feurstein’s resumé includes comedies (“Caroline in the City,” “Good Morning, Miami”), dramas (“The West Wing,” the film “Defiance”) and a comedy-drama (“Nurse Jackie”), but this is the first time he has collaborated with Klein, whose producer credits include “Friends” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”

While the show comes from his personal experience, Feuerstein said he believes it can have broader appeal.

“I hope everyone feels that this is their story on some level,” he said. “This family dynamic is international and universal. Everyone can relate to a mother and father who aren’t afraid to get in your business.”

NFL viewing guide: How to watch without cable

The NFL season is arguably the best time of the year for football fans. It’s when football Sunday becomes a reality and you get to watch your favorite teams and players every week. It seems like every season is more and more exciting as the talent seems to get better and better. Also, the beauty of the NFL is teams can go from terrible one year to great the next year, which means your team always has a chance of having a breakout season no matter how last year went.

As many people cut cable, one of the main questions people have is how to still watch football. There are multiple options out there to watch and with the right setup you can watch just about every single NFL game. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Best Ways to Watch Football on Sunday

There are a few different ways to get live access to Sunday football. Here’s some information about each of them:

Antenna: This is one of the easiest and probably the cheapest way to watch football. You don’t need a cable package, but still get access to any games on ABC, NBC, CBS, or FOX. This covers just about every single game that will be coming on during Sundays. The antenna connects to your TV and lets you watch football in incredibly clear high-definition picture. Plus, once you make the investment for an antenna, watching is absolutely free.

Sling TV: Another option is subscription streaming service Sling TV. In certain locations, Sling TV’s Sling Blue package offers live streaming access to FOX. This will be how you can watch some of the games on Sunday through the service. The starting package for these areas is $25 per month and includes over 40 cable channels to live stream including TBS, TNT, FX, FS1, NBCSN, AMC, and FOX Sports regional networks.

PlayStation Vue: A similar option to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue also lets you watch FOX games live in certain locations. But, it improves by also letting you live stream any games on NBC, CBS, or ABC in these same locations. There are also around 60 channels available to live stream, but the real difference is the price since it starts at $39.99 per month in the locations where these channels are offered.

Watch Monday Night Football Online as Well

The Monday Night Football games are broadcast on ESPN each week. All of the above services have ways for you to watch MNF games without cable. The antenna lets you watch the Monday night game if your local team is playing by broadcasting it on ABC. 

If you want to use Sling TV, you can choose the Sling Orange package, which doesn’t have FOX channels, but includes ESPN and ESPN2. The package only costs $20 per month and in total has around 30 channels.

PlayStation Vue has ESPN in all of its packages, but that means even if you don’t get access to FOX with your location you can still watch Monday Night Football. Plus, the locations without FOX have a price of only $29.99 per month for over 50 streaming channels.

You Can Even Get Thursday Night Football Streaming

Thursday Night Football games are actually quite easy to watch without cable using the other services. Sling TV recently announced it will include NFL Network in its package, which will be broadcasting every TNF game. PlayStation Vue should be adding the network soon as well, which means it may also be a viable way to watch.

Additionally, CBS and NBC simulcast most of the games on Thursdays. So, the antenna can be used to watch in HD. And, the easiest one is to utilize the deal the NFL just struck with Twitter. Ten of the Thursday night games will be live streamed on Twitter absolutely free. This is a phenomenal way to watch any games on Thursday nights for no cost at all!

As the trend of cable cutting has grown, so too have the options. Each night of NFL coverage has multiple ways to watch and other sports have just as many options. We are glad there are so many ways out there for you to watch without cable, but if you still have any questions, leave us a comment below.

Morley Safer, ’60 Minutes’ newsman, dies at 84

Morley Safer, a “60 Minutes” correspondent for 46 years who as a reporter helped turn American public opinion against the Vietnam War with his coverage showing U.S. atrocities, died Thursday.

Safer, who died a week after his retirement from the CBS newsmagazine was announced, filed his last report, his 919th, in March and reportedly had been ill. He died at his Manhattan home; the CBS announcement announcing his death gave no cause.

On Sunday, the network screened an hourlong retrospective about his career. Among the highlights noted by Safer, the winner of numerous journalism awards and 12 Emmys, was his 1965 dispatch that showed Marines torching the homes of villagers in a Vietnamese hamlet.

“Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever,” CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said in the announcement of Safer’s death. “He broke ground in war reporting and made a name that will forever be synonymous with “60 Minutes.”

Safer, a Toronto native born to an Austrian-Jewish family, wrote a book, “Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam,” in 1990.

In a statement last week he said: “It’s been a wonderful run, but the time has come to say goodbye to all of my friends at CBS and the dozens of people who kept me on the air.”

Safer reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before joining CBS News in 1964. He first worked as a correspondent in London, and in 1965 opened a Saigon Bureau for CBS News.

He became London bureau chief in 1967, and reported from Europe, Africa and the Middle East before returning to Vietnam to cover the war.

Safer won top journalism honors, including three Overseas Press Club Awards, three Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, two George Polk Memorial Awards and the Paul White Award from the Radio/Television News Directors Association. He also received the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac College, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards First Prize for Domestic Television, according to CBS.

Obama calls for bipartisan effort to address shootings

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a bipartisan effort “at every level of government” to address mass shootings, such as the one that injured as many as 20 people in San Bernardino, Calif.

“We don't yet know what the motives of the shooters are, but what we do know is there are steps we can take to make Americans safer and that we should come together in a bipartisan basis at every level of government to make these rare as opposed to normal,” he told CBS News.

“We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn't happen with the same frequency in other countries,” he said.

Israel’s soaring population: Promised Land running out of room?

Israel's birth rate, the highest in the developed world and once seen as a survival tactic in a hostile region, could be its undoing unless measures are taken to reverse the trend.

The average Israeli woman has three babies in her lifetime, nearly double the fertility rate for the rest of the industrialized countries in the OECD. That, accompanied by heavy Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, has seen Israel's population double in the last 25 years.

The birth rate is even higher among Israel's Arab community and more than double among its Orthodox Jews, two groups that also have low participation in the workforce, dragging the economy down.

Today's population of 8.4 million is forecast to reach 15.6 million by 2059 and 20.6 million in a high case scenario, meaning the small country could simply run out of room.

“Israel is on the road to an ecological, social and quality of life disaster because as the population density rises it becomes more violent, congested and unpleasant to live in and with absolutely no room for any species other than humans,” said Alon Tal, a professor at Ben-Gurion University's Institutes for Desert Research and founder of the Green Movement party.

Israel has 352 people per sq km, up from 215 in 1990, and forecast by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) to reach 501-880 in 2059.

Excluding the nearly empty Negev desert, which occupies more than half of Israel, population density jumps to 980 people per sq km, just a little below Bangladesh.

Perhaps most troubling, activists say, is that there is no national discourse or recognition that a problem exists. On the contrary, government policies are geared to encouraging a high birth rate.

The reasons are various, from the biblical command “Be fruitful and multiply” to the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, to fears of being outnumbered by Arabs.


“Historically, Israeli demographic policy was formed by hysteria with regard to fear of an Arab demographic takeover, fueled by the rhetoric of politicians,” Tal said.

The number of Jews in the Holy Land is now roughly equal to the number of Palestinians – each around 6.3 million.

In the case of the Palestinians, that includes 1.75 million who are Israeli citizens and 4.55 million in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupied territories are also home to half a million Jewish settlers.

Palestinian population growth easily outpaces Israel's, with the average woman in the Palestinian territories having four children.

Israeli government policy encourages population growth with benefits such as child allowances, free schooling from the age of three and funding for up to four in vitro fertility treatments a year.

It also offers incentives to Jews abroad, and even to Israeli emigrants, to move to Israel, measures needed when Israel was founded in 1948 but perhaps less crucial when the population is surging.

“We forecast not to predict disaster but how to see the cliff that is coming up ahead, and there's a cliff if we don't change our behavior,” CBS demographer Ari Paltiel said.

Often a fast-growing population spurs the economy. But in Israel's case the growth is in populations where employment rates are lowest. Among both Israeli Arabs and Orthodox Jews, workforce participation is around 40 percent, far lower than the 61 percent for Israelis overall.

In the case of Israeli Arabs, the figure is dragged down by women, traditionally encouraged not to work. Among the Orthodox Jews, it is dragged down by men, many of whom devote themselves to religious study while their wives hold low-paying jobs.

“From an economic viewpoint, the current reality is not viable,” President Reuven Rivlin told a recent conference.

Assaf Geva, a senior economist at the Finance Ministry, notes that by 2059, people aged 65 and over will make up 17 percent of Israel's population compared with 10 percent now. Over the same timeframe, the percentage of Arabs in the population will grow to 23 percent from 20 percent.

Without adjustments, such as raising the retirement age and increasing Orthodox and Arab employment rates – measures the government is seeking to implement – he said the debt burden will jump to 88 percent of GDP by 2059, from 65 percent in 2022.

Paltiel, of the statistics bureau, said Israel “would go bankrupt” unless the levels of employment and contributions to social security funds were changed.

Population growth has already created shortages in Israel's most precious resources – land and water – but the government is always looking for an easy solution, said Tammy Gannot, an attorney with the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

To alleviate a water crisis Israel has invested billions of dollars in desalination plants, but they consume large amounts of energy and land.

To cope with a housing shortage, the government wants to create fast-track approval for building permits that critics say will put aside environmental concerns without considering infrastructure and public space needs.

The authorities have given the go-ahead for 20,000 Chinese workers to be brought to Israel to speed up construction. While that may help house Israelis, it may not help employ them.

Virginia TV journalists killed in on-air shooting; suspect shoots himself

Two television journalists were shot and killed in Virginia on Wednesday morning while conducting a live interview, and authorities said the suspect appeared to be a disgruntled current or former employee of the TV station.

Police pursued the suspect and in the late morning, an ABC local affiliate and CNN reported the suspected shooter had shot himself, but it was not known if he was dead or alive. The suspect was identified as Vester Flanagan, 41, according to a dispatcher for the Augusta County, Virginia, Sheriff's Department.

After the shooting of the journalists, someone claiming to have filmed it posted video online that appeared to be from shooter's vantage point.

The videos were posted to a Twitter account and on Facebook but were removed shortly afterward. One video clearly showed a handgun as the person filming approached the woman reporter.

The shooting occurred at about 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT) during an interview being broadcast live from Bridgewater Plaza, a Smith Mountain Lake recreation site with restaurants, shops, boating and arcades and holiday rentals.

The area is in the south-central part of the state, about 120 miles (190 km) from the capital of Richmond.

The journalists were filming an interview for the morning news show of CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia. In the broadcast, shots were heard and the reporter and the person being interviewed screamed and ducked for cover.

The reporter Alison Parker, 24, and the cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, died in the incident, WDBJ7 said. The woman being interviewed was wounded.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said in interview on Washington radio station WTOP that the suspected shooter had been identified as a disgruntled current or former station employee.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office has taken the lead on apprehending the suspect, with help from state police and others, McAuliffe told WTOP.

“Heartbroken over senseless murders today in Smith Mountain Lake,” McAuliffe said on Twitter.

Asked on CNN if the station had been targeted or had been threatened, WDBJ7 President and General Manager Jeff Marks said, “Every now and then you get a crazy email or something and we'll look into it. Nothing of this nature than any of us could recall.”

He said the interview was to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Smith Mountain Lake, and the woman being interviewed was from the local chamber of commerce. She had been talking about the anniversary and tourism.

“We don't make a secret of where we report from, we may start now,” Marks said.

There was no word yet from the hospital on the condition of the woman, identified as Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The station's broadcast showed Parker interviewing Gardner about the lake and tourism development in the area. Gunshots erupted, and as Ward fell his camera hit the ground but kept running. An image caught on camera showed what appeared to be a man in dark clothing facing the camera with a weapon in his right hand.

The station said on its website that both the dead journalists were from the region.

Parker grew up in Martinsville and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University, while Ward graduated from Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station said.

They were both engaged to be married to other people.

Lindsay Sloane got a personal bid for role in new CBS comedy

Lindsay Sloane made her acting debut in a TV commercial when she was 8. Her mother had struck up a conversation at a shopping mall with a woman who turned out to be a talent agent, and one thing led to another. “It was a commercial for the Church of the Latter Day Saints,” Sloane said, laughing at the irony of casting “a nice Jewish girl” in the role. But what really stayed with her was one simple truth: “OK, this is what acting is,” she realized. “You get to pretend you’re someone that you’re not.”

Sloane is still happily pretending 30 years later. She has carved out a successful career in films such as “The In-Laws,” “Horrible Bosses” and “She’s Out of My League,” as well as dozens of television shows, both with recurring and guest roles — “Weeds,” “Grosse Pointe” and “The Wonder Years” among them. Her latest role is in CBS’ new version of “The Odd Couple,” playing a new character named Emily, neighbor to mismatched roommates Oscar Madison and Felix Unger and a love interest for the latter. 

Neil Simon’s 1965 Broadway hit about slovenly Oscar and fastidious Felix became a movie with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and a ’70s TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. This time around, Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon have stepped into the roles, and Sloane, who guest starred on Perry’s “Mr. Sunshine” in 2011, received a personal invitation to join them.

“It was so flattering,” she said. “Matthew said, ‘I’m doing this reboot, and I want you to be a part of it. I’m going to send you the pilot I wrote, but I want you to create this character with us.’ I didn’t have to audition. That’s always a lovely way to get a job.”

Emily’s religion has not been established yet, “But at this point, with anything I play, she always is, unless there’s a reason for her not to be. In my mind I never want to fight against my natural instincts,” said Sloane.

Born Lindsay Sloane Leikin on Long Island to New York-native parents, Sloane grew up in Tarzana in what she describes as a “very East Coast” Reform Jewish home. “I went to Sunday school, I was bat mitzvah, and I was confirmed. We went to Temple Judea. But for me it was about the tradition and culture of Judaism, and the neuroses and angst — those things that are inherent, whether we want them to be or not.”

Following her childhood agent’s advice to drop her last name is something she now regrets. “She told my mom that Leikin was ‘too Jewish.’ The older I get, the more [I’m] upset about it. It equated being a Jew with something I should hide. I don’t blame my mom, because she didn’t know enough to say no. But I felt that I was forced into denying my family’s heritage,” Sloane said.

For the last 10 years, she’s been married to Dar Rollins, a partner at ICM she’d met 14 years ago. “He was my agent’s assistant when we met. Now he’s a big macher!” she said. “It’s been really nice to watch him grow into who he is.”

Sloane put off having children until three years ago, when her daughter Maxwell was born. “We were young and just wanted to be married and not have that responsibility. And I’m so happy that I did. I would not have been ready before. Physically, I wish I were younger, because I’m so tired, but I think I did it at the right time.”

Sloane lives in Encino, chosen for its good public schools; her parents live nearby and attend every “Odd Couple” taping. She calls the sitcom’s work schedule “a great gift” for a mom, adding that Maxwell often visits her at the Studio City set. “Everything about it has been a dream come true,” she declared, confiding that she’d wanted to be on TV for as long as she can remember. “I had a neighbor that did it, and I thought that was so cool.”

She has no regrets about beginning her career so young. “I didn’t work consistently enough when I was a kid that I missed out on anything. It was the perfect balance. My grades always went up when I was working, because I had a private tutor on set. So it was nothing but a bonus. All upside, no downside.”

Reflecting on her career so far, Sloane named “The In-Laws” as one of her favorite experiences. “I filmed in Canada for 2 1/2 months, with Albert Brooks playing my dad. I learned comedy by watching this man’s movies, and then I got to act with him; he’s so kind and so wonderful. I was also really proud of ‘Grosse Pointe.’ It was so smart and such a great part to play. It was spoofing ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ but was on a bit too soon.”

Asked how she envisions her future career, Sloane said she remains “open to being surprised by whatever comes. There are so many directors out there that I would love to work with. I’ve been able to cross a lot of people off my list. I did work with Diane Keaton, but it was such a small part that I would love to do anything with her again. I want to do small, cool indie films like what the Duplass brothers are making, or Damien Chazelle, who directed ‘Whiplash.’ I think the young generation of filmmakers’ voices are so cool and dynamic and interesting.”

She also wants to visit Israel. “I’m bummed that I never did a Birthright trip,” she said. She thinks about taking piano lessons again, something she discontinued, along with dance and gymnastics, to pursue acting seriously. “Now that I have a daughter, I want to encourage her to commit to things, have follow-through, and it’s making me want to put my money where my mouth is,” she said. 

“Maybe we’ll take mother-daughter piano lessons.”

“The Odd Couple” premieres Feb. 19 at 8:30 p.m. on CBS. 

CBS to adapt British sitcom about Jewish family

CBS will adapt a British sitcom called “Friday Night Dinner” about a Jewish family.

The British show, created by Robert Popper, is about the Goodmans, a traditional Jewish family with two sons who come home each week for Friday night dinner.

According to entertainment publication Deadline Hollywood, it is unclear whether the family in the CBS adaptation –which Popper will write — will be Jewish. The show’s development is still in its early stages. Deadline reported that the show will have features similar to those of successful ABC sitcom “Modern Family.”

“Friday Night Dinner” premiered in 2011 and is in its third season. It was previously picked up for American adaptation by NBC for the 2011-2012 season, but the pilot did not become a series.


On a bike, on a jet ski, climbing Masada — the sporty Bibi gets his TV special

“Can you get me a sandwich?” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said aloud to no one in particular in the film crew as he emerged from the back of an SUV, stepping into a bright, egg-yolk-hued sunset over Jaffa, Israel. A swarm of security dudes in sunglasses and secret-service earphones immediately closed in behind him. “Lo humus” (“no hummus”), the prime minister added over his shoulder.

Netanyahu had come to shoot a scene with CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg — one of the last in a grueling week of shoots for “Israel: The Royal Tour,” the long-anticipated special set to air on U.S. public television beginning March 6. This will be the latest in the “Royal Tour” series, in which Greenberg tours various countries — including Jordan, Mexico, Peru, Jamaica and New Zealand — with each country’s head of state as his guide.

For the Jaffa scene, Greenberg walked along a beach promenade with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, as the trio admired the Tel Aviv skyline rising to the north and the Mediterranean shimmering to the west.

“When I first came here, there were no high-rises in Tel Aviv,” Greenberg tells the Netanyahus in the final cut.

The prime minister responds, coolly: “Well, that’s actually what my son told me. He was 5 years old, and he said, ‘Daddy, we don’t have a skyline!’ And I said, ‘Relax, kid. I’ll get you a skyline.’ ”

The Jaffa set had been pretty chaotic for the half-hour before Netanyahu’s arrival. Public-relations people from the Tel Aviv municipality, a bunch of extras on Segways who thought they were about to shoot a commercial for the Ministry of Tourism, and a couple of Israeli news crews darted about aimlessly, waiting for the prime minister’s motorcade to crawl through rush-hour traffic. Armed men, dressed in black, started to appear on hilltops overlooking the promenade. Greenberg himself paced nervously in a nearby parking lot, dealing with a helicopter problem for the scene at Masada the next day. “Let’s get this thing solved, man, right now!” he said into his cell phone.

When the SUV carrying the prime minister finally pulled up, chaos exploded into pure star-struck energy. Much to the crowd’s delight, after walking the promenade, Netanyahu and Greenberg hopped on two green bicycles, part of Tel Aviv’s prized bike-share program, and began to race.

“Hey guys, I hope you’re getting him on the bicycle, because that was totally unexpected — we won’t get that again,” John Feist, the show’s director, shouted at his cameramen.

The normally stony-faced prime minister, a gargoyle of strength for Israel and a divisive figure in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, seemed to embrace this breezy, candid persona he was shaping for American TV. After the bike race, he said to Greenberg: “You have to come here once a year and we do this program, so I get out — ride a bike, run a jet ski, have some fun!” (A few days before, they’d gone jet skiing on the Sea of Galilee.)

Sara Netanyahu agreed — as long as no soccer was involved.

She was referring to the ankle pop heard round the nation in June 2012, when the “Royal Tour” first began filming: On an outing to a soccer match between Arab and Jewish youth, Netanyahu sprained his ankle while taking a penalty shot.

“When he came to the United Nations and he had this special speech where he showed the [illustration of the Iranian] bomb, he was actually limping, but nobody saw it,” Greenberg said in an interview with the Journal while driving on the freeway from Jerusalem to Jaffa.

Netanyahu and Greenberg on Masada at sunrise. Photo by Tina Hager, courtesy of WNET New York Public Media

With its star in a leg cast, the “Royal Tour” was forced to pack up and fly home. However, Netanyahu and Greenberg picked up where they left off the following summer — rafting, jet skiing, boating, hiking, driving and bicycling across Israel.

“His own security guard looked at me and said, ‘We have never, ever seen him like this,’ ” Greenberg said. “He and I went on dune buggies together, and he was driving like a madman. It’s great television.”

Although the Ministry of Tourism has taken credit for luring Greenberg to Israel, he said the segment was entirely his idea and was initiated through a friend of a friend who knew the prime minister.

No doubt, Israel stands to benefit from the show in a big way: According to Greenberg, tourism went up almost 20 percent in Jordan after his “Royal Tour” with King Abdullah II in 2002 and rose almost 10 percent in Mexico, Peru and Jamaica after his tours in those countries. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has predicted a boost of about 200,000 tourists thanks to Greenberg’s show, infusing an extra $285 million into the Israeli economy.

“Everyone who sees a program by Peter Greenberg, who is well known in the travel community — it’s going to be a major revelation, and hopefully it will lead to the creation of Israel as a desirable destination,” said Scott Feinerman, director of clergy and travel industry relations at the Ministry of Tourism’s office in Los Angeles.

Greenberg sees “Israel: The Royal Tour” as a chance for the world to get to know the nation through the eyes of its leader. However, he draws a firm line between travel reporting and PR: He said there has been “truly a separation of church and state” between him and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, which was not allowed to review the final cut.

“It’s not my job to promote Israel — that’s the job of advertisers,” Greenberg said. “If I’m doing my job right, it’s to present it in a way that’s credible and that’s real. You have two guys, like two guys on a road trip, and one of them just happens to be the prime minister. And he and I are talking to each other, like you and I are talking to each other. It humanizes the country.”

Although Greenberg succeeded in helping the prime minister let loose a little, chronic Israel critics are sure to attack the show for avoiding more contested parts of the country. Unlike food critic Anthony Bourdain, another half-Jewish TV journalist who toured Israel last year and covered all his bases — Gaza, the West Bank, the settlements — the closest Greenberg comes to controversy is when he enjoys a cheese pastry called kanafeh in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, sans prime minister.

“Look, there will be people out there who say I was too hard, and there will be a lot of people saying I was too soft. But that’s not what the show’s about,” Greenberg said.

At the beginning of the episode, Greenberg does sit down with Netanyahu for an eight-minute interview that addresses the elephant in the room: the Israel-Palestine conflict. “Every time I’ve come to this region, and I bring up the notion of peace, someone always says, ‘It’s not the right time in the Middle East’…,” Greenberg says. “So I have to ask you: When is it ever going to be the right time?”

Netanyahu’s response, in part: “I think when I bring a peace agreement to the people of Israel, they’ll believe me. Because they trust me to take care of that foundation of peace, which is: You can’t have peace without security in the Middle East. It won’t hold for a day. I’m a great champion of peace through strength. I insist on the strength; therefore, I can get the peace.”

The Israeli prime minister’s son, 23-year-old Yair Netanyahu (right), explained the Tel Aviv party circuit to visiting journalist Peter Greenberg. “We start the night around 1 or 2 [a.m.],” he said. “This is really early, so you call this the pre-game.” Photo by Simone Wilson

From there, the show takes a turn toward feel-good and never slows down. Netanyahu leads Greenberg to check out emerging technologies at Technion (“Israel’s MIT”), swim with wild dolphins in the Red Sea, raft the Jordan River, touch the little-known underground section of the Western Wall, climb the Masada fortress in the middle of the Negev desert and float in the Dead Sea.

“It’s best between the scenes,” said Mark Feist, the show’s lead sound guy, who was hooked up to Netanyahu’s feed. “When the mics are running off-camera, he gets really pushy.”

The shoot also coincided with a tense period of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, so Greenberg got to witness some residual state matters. “When I’m with Netanyahu, he’s on the phone taking a call from [U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry] at least once a day,” Greenberg said. “He and I have had a number of back-channel conversations about the issue.”

In front of the camera, though, Netanyahu never seems to fully let down his guard; ultimately, he remains the hard-to-pin-down politician the world knows him as. In a definitive Vanity Fair piece called “The Netanyahu Paradox” from 2012, reporter David Margolick called the prime minister of Israel “compulsively cautious” and “both its strongest and its weakest leader in memory.” Aside from revealing his more goofy, sporty side, the “Royal Tour” episode doesn’t do much to clear up the Netanyahu enigma. His one-liners often come off as slightly canned — perhaps because some were shot multiple times to avoid any stumbles in conversation.

On July 7, after filming a couple of scenes in Jaffa, the group headed to Vicky Cristina, a high-end, Barcelona-inspired bar on the edge of Tel Aviv.

“It’s become just a hub — it’s a high-tech city, fashion city, culture city,” Netanyahu says of Tel Aviv at the bar.

Upon arrival, the prime minister and his wife did a slow lap around Vicky Cristina to the tune of a lively Spanish guitar, posing for cell-phone pictures and shaking hands. And when they finally settled down at the bar, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s 23-year-old son, showed up to order a round of elaborate pink cocktails and talk about his area of expertise: Tel Aviv nightlife.

Yair, not as practiced a politician as his father, spoke freely, giving some context to Tel Aviv by critiquing its neighbors (“We’re surrounded by countries that stone people and execute women”) and lending some insight into Birthright (“All the Americans come here because you can drink when you’re 18”). 

But any indiscrete comments were cut from the episode — as was a midnight visit to a club next door. After Netanyahu and his wife headed home, Yair and a group of good-looking girls led Greenberg to a V.I.P. table for a few rounds of shots. 

It was an Israeli tabloid’s dream — not in small part because the group of clubgoers included Sandra Leikanger, a Norwegian college mate of Yair, who would later see her face plastered across the Hebrew media when she was outed as his non-Jewish girlfriend. (“She’s great,” Greenberg said of meeting Leikanger. “I think anybody should be able to date anybody they want.”) Hanging back in the crowd, Yair’s bodyguard, who did not give his name, said his job often consisted of staying out until dawn at nightclubs to keep an eye on his young boss.

But Greenberg and the crew soon left the youngsters to their own devices, as they were on a tight schedule: They had to be at Masada in a few hours for a sunrise shoot. “Nobody slept at all. It was pure adrenaline,” Greenberg later said.

The next morning, at the historical site of the Jews’ last stand against the Romans, the crew would film their opening shot for “Israel: The Royal Tour” — a swirling aerial view of Netanyahu standing atop the fortress, looking out across the Negev. Goldberg narrates: “He’s a man who lives and breathes the past and future of his people. And now, he leads his nation as it faces one of the most critical crossroads in its history.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend the Los Angeles premiere of “Israel: The Royal Tour” on March 4, after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. The show will begin airing on public television throughout the United States on March 6. 

Must-see TV: Sitcoms, sex top Fall lineup

It’s September at last, when summer reruns and C-level realty shows cede their timeslots to returning favorites and new contenders. This fall’s offerings include Jewish connections galore, on and off camera; prolific producers J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman are just a few of the series’ creators. Littman is behind “Hostages,” the CBS drama based on a concept producer Alon Aranya brought over from Israel about a female surgeon ordered to kill the president or her family will die. Fittingly, returning favorite “Homeland,” also based on an Israeli series, plans to shoot the last few episodes of its season in Israel. As for Jewish stars, these are some of the familiar faces you’ll see. 


James Caan in “Back in the Game.” Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC

Those who know James Caan from gritty dramatic fare like “The Godfather,” “Misery” and more recent turns on TV’s “Las Vegas” and “Magic City” might be surprised that he’s starring in a sitcom. “Unless there are 12 people dead on page 20, I don’t usually get the job,” he quipped. But having occasionally waded into comic territory with lighter fare like “Elf,” Caan said he is “really excited about laughing a little bit” as a curmudgeonly ex-baseball player and coach whose daughter and grandson move in with him in ABC’s “Back in the Game.”

The sports milieu is a comfortable fit for Caan, who played football in college at Michigan State University and coached his son’s Little League team. He also was known as “The Jewish Cowboy” when he worked the rodeo circuit. “In many ways, my whole life has revolved around sports,” he said, and he’s got the scars to prove it. “I’ve had 15 operations, screws in my foot, just had my elbow sewn back together from non-Jewish activities, choices that were not very Yiddish.” 

But if being an athlete was outside the Jewish norm, becoming an actor was even more unusual for a kid from a tough Bronx neighborhood. “I don’t think any actors came out of there,” he said. “That was an even bigger convention to break.”

“Back in the Game” premieres Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.


Andy Samberg in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/FOX

It should come as no surprise that Andy Samberg was voted class clown in school. “I got kicked out of class a lot for not being able to keep my mouth shut,” said the former “Saturday Night Live” mischief-maker, who stars as smart-ass, hotshot detective Jake Peralta in the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

“Jake goes into the crime scene acting like a maniac, but he’s great at catching bad guys. He’s serious when it comes to solving crimes, so when he’s being a jackass, you can forgive him,” observed Samberg, who is comfortable with the “irreverent and silly vibe” of the show. “To show up and be handed 25 great jokes is the best feeling you can have as a comedian,” he said.

The Berkeley native is from a long line of funny Jews. “I grew up in a funny family with a funny father, and his family was funny. We were always joking around and cracking each other up,” Samberg remembered. He wasn’t raised in an observant home. “I’m much more into the heritage and the history of it and remembering everybody that came before me more than the religious part” of Judaism, he said.

Samberg admits to missing his friends at “Saturday Night Live,” particularly the “camaraderie and the intensity of coming up with something on a Thursday or Friday and have it be on television on Saturday.” He’d be glad to make a guest appearance. “I’ll go back to host anytime they want me to.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine” premieres Sept. 17 at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.


Linda Lavin in “Sean Saves the World.” Photo by Chris Haston/NBC

Best known as the titular waitress on the long-running sitcom “Alice,” and later as Nana Sophie on “The O.C.,” and more recently, for movie roles in “The Back-up Plan” and “Wanderlust,” Linda Lavin returns to the small screen this fall as Sean Hayes’ pushy, meddling mom, Lorna, in NBC’s “Sean Saves the World.”

“It’s great to be back. I love being in this town with a job,” said Lavin, who was lured by the “smart, sophisticated” pilot script for the show about a divorced gay father and his relationships with his mother, teenage daughter and co-workers. “The generational differences are a source of comedy,” she added

Although the family’s religion has not yet been established on the series, Lavin finds that being Jewish, as well as female, “gives me a unique perspective on life. I bring what the script and tonality demands, whether it’s Jewish, European or New York humor. As an actor, I’m not the same in everything I do, but I bring myself to everything I do.”

“Sean Saves the World” premieres Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. on NBC.


Seth Green plays stoner Eli Sachs in “Dads.” Photo by Joseph Llanes/FOX

The premise of the Fox sitcom “Dads” is simple: A pair of best friends and business partners, played by Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, have their lives disrupted when their fathers (Peter Reigert, Martin Mull) move in with them. Green, as single stoner Eli Sachs, and Riegert, as his grumpy dad David, in a case of art imitating life, are Jewish. “Jewish negativity, guilt, pessimism — there will be a lot of that stuff,” said executive producer/writer Alec Sulkin, adding, “The other pair is as WASPy as they come.”

Green, (“Family Guy,” “Robot Chicken”), whose diverse comic influences include Mel Brooks and Don Rickles, finds depth in the played-for-laughs father-son arguments. “The relationship is so caustic. We say whatever we’re feeling. We may not be solving anything, but there are moments of tenderness and connection where we’re trying to find a way to each other despite so much acquired damage,” he said. 

Thankfully, Green’s relationship with his own father, Herb, a retired teacher, is drama-free. “My dad and I get along really well,” he said, adding, “I’ve definitely acquired more sympathy for my parents as I’ve gotten older and see things from a different perspective. I don’t know that I’m in a hurry to have kids, but I would do my best not to completely foul them up.”

“Dads” premieres Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. on Fox.


Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex.” Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME

Since starting out in the television cult favorite “Freaks and Geeks,” Lizzy Caplan has worked steadily in TV and film in everything from “True Blood,” “Mean Girls,” “Cloverfield,” “Party Down” and “127 Hours” to a role on “New Girl” last year. Her latest role is a distinct departure from what she’s done before, and certainly her most provocative: sex researcher Virginia Johnson in the Showtime drama “Masters of Sex.” 

Based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier, the series co-stars Michael Sheen as William Masters, Johnson’s boss and subsequent research partner and lover. Calling Johnson “by far the most layered and the toughest” character she’s played to date, Caplan says she was drawn to the contradictions in a 1950s woman and single mother with a progressive attitude toward sexuality. “She wasn’t tied down by society’s moral rules,” she said.

Lamenting the sexual double standard that still exists six decades later, Caplan feels “fortunate that I wasn’t raised in an ultra-religious household where I was told to abstain from sex and think of my body as evil.” A Los Angeles native, she did attend Hebrew school, Jewish camp, had a disco-themed bat mitzvah and went on an ulpan group trip to Israel at 16. She started acting professionally shortly thereafter.

While she’d been “quite comfortable” in the comedic, contemporary niche she’d carved out for herself, Caplan is relishing the opportunity to step out of that comfort zone. “I needed something like this,” she said, “I’m hoping that the audience will be accepting of me trying something new.”

“Masters of Sex” premieres Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.


James Wolk stars in “The Crazy Ones.” Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS

After memorable turns in the dramas “Political Animals” and “Mad Men,” James Wolk is putting his comedy and improv theater background to use in the CBS workplace sitcom “The Crazy Ones,” opposite Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as father-and-daughter owners of an advertising firm. 

Although he says it’s “nearly impossible” to keep a straight face in scenes with Williams, Wolk is relishing his role as young creative genius Zach Cropper. “He’s flying by the seat of his pants. He’s like Peter Pan — he never wants to grow up.” 

Wolk, who grew up in the Detroit area in a Reform Jewish home, was bar mitzvahed and has fond memories of celebrating the Jewish holidays and of one Jewish food in particular. “Detroit has amazing challah,” he said.

While Zach Cropper isn’t Jewish, Wolk plays a doctor named Noah Bernstein in the romantic comedy “There’s Always Woodstock,” due out later this year. 

Travel plans are also on his future agenda. “I’d like to make a trip to Israel at some point,” he said. “I never took my Birthright trip.”

“The Crazy Ones” premieres September 26 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Other offerings of note: The PBS documentary series “Genealogy Roadshow” includes the story of a Latina from Texas hoping to verify her Sephardic Jewish ancestry (Oct. 14). Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays reporter Jonathan Harker in NBC’s “Dracula” (Oct. 25), and Ben Rappaport joins the cast of CBS’ “The Good Wife” as a fourth-year associate who’ll join the new law firm Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) are secretly forming (Sept. 29).

CBS vs Time Warner Cable vs You

Here’s progress: Big media companies now think Americans are as gullible as politicians do.  It’s not just candidates who assume we’re nincompoops.  The cable operators and networks take us for pigeons, too.

Exhibit A is the current “>Another CBS ad, — showing clips of CBS Sports programming, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Under the Dome” playing on a TV set wrapped in chains — warns that “Time Warner Cable is holding your favorite shows hostage.”

Next thing you know, TWC will be taking away your guns.

You wouldn’t realize from these campaign-style ads that what’s really at stake is money.  Your money.  Both CBS and TWC want more of it.  They’re probably going to get it.  The only issue – which this battle is about – is how they’ll divvy up what they pick from our pockets.

The “>50 percent or more of the retransmission fees they get from cable operators.  Networks also have been gobbling up independent stations.  The more money that CBS’s six owned-and-operated stations in New York, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Los Angeles get from TWC in exchange for carrying their programming, the more money goes to CBS’s corporate bottom line.

That’s what’s at stake in this intra-titan dispute.  In those three markets, under a deal that’s expiring, CBS stations have been getting between 75 cents and $1 a subscriber per month.  In the new deal, according to “>nearly tripling between 2001 and 2011 – because the cable companies have been passing along to consumers the cost of the vigorish that the broadcast networks are extracting from them, especially for sports.  The result is that advertiser-supported networks like CBS have become de facto cable companies, concealing the subscription we pay to them within the subscription we pay for cable.   

And now they want us to be their stooges!  They want us to pressure TWC to give more money to CBS so that TWC can charge us more for the CBS programs we already get for “free.”

Forgotten in all this is the original rationale for permitting local stations to charge cable companies for carriage: ensuring budgets adequate for producing quality local news and public affairs programming.  But unless you consider scaring us witless with crime stories and medicating us silly with celebrity stories to be just the right ticket for good citizenship, if you actually watch local TV news you know how civically useless its content has turned out to be.

I run an awards program – the “>study that my colleague Matt Hale and I did of all stations in the Los Angeles media market found that in a typical half hour of local news, coverage of local government – including budgets, layoffs, education, law enforcement, prisons, lawsuits, new ordinances, voting procedures, government personnel changes, government actions on health care, transportation, immigration and so on – amounted to a grand total of 22 seconds out of 30 minutes.

I’m not surprised that the message of CBS’s anti-TWC campaign isn’t: They’re going to take away the news you need to be a good citizen!  But I am struck that CBS has the chutzpah to try to recruit us to raise our own cable bills.  On the other hand, if the Karl Roves of the world can get people to vote against their own self-interest, I guess networks have a shot at conning us, too.

Marty Kaplan won the LA Press Club’s 2013 Award for “>Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the

Mike Wallace: A dissent

Praise for Mike Wallace as a probing investigative reporter saturated news media immediately after his death April 7 at age 93. Virtually all tributes omitted the fact that when it came to anti-Israeli tyrants, terrorists and oppressors of Jewish minorities, Wallace son of Russian Jewish immigrants usually pitched softballs and parroted propaganda.

Wallace spent parts or all of seven decades in journalism, 38 as a correspondent on CBS Televisions 60 Minutes. He won 21 Emmys. This makes his record of failure when it came to covering Israel and Jews noteworthy and peculiar. Among the many examples:

* In a 1975 segment on a terrorized minority in Syria, Wallace reported that today, life for Syrias Jews is better than it was in years past. He described Syrias brutal dictator, Hafez al-Assad, as cool, strong, austere and independent.

* In 1984, a Wallace 60 Minutes segment rehearsed Syrias line about its regional interests. One thing Syria wants in Lebanon is a government representative of all the peoples of that country, he intoned, as if Damascus then recognized Lebanese sovereignty and sought a multi-party democracy there rather than imposed a police state occupation. Regarding Israel, Wallace said Syria wanted the Golan Heights back. He did not explain that Israel gained the Golan in self-defense in 1967 and retained it similarly in 1973.

* In 1987, Wallace glossed over oppression of Russian Jewry the way he had Syrias treatment of its Jews. He reported that the fact remains that one and a-half million Soviets identified as Jews apparently live more or less satisfying lives there. And theirs has been a story largely untold. This just before, under Mikhail Gorbachev, hundreds of thousands of Jews would emigrate, most going to Israel. In this segment Wallace suggested that the Jewish Siberian region of Birobidzhan where Jews were a small minority could be home for Soviets seeking a life of Jewish culture.

* In 1988, 60 Minutes examined pro-Israel activism in the United States, focusing on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Wallace claimed there are many who charge that AIPAC, with its sights set only on Israel, is just too demanding of U.S. politicians. Among other tilts in the segment, Wallace quoted George Ball, a former undersecretary of state known for his anti-Israel stance, but not George Shultz, the incumbent secretary of state. This even though Shultz had said that U.S. support for Israel shouldnt be called foreign aid because this money goes for our security first of all. It helps us that Israel is strong.

* In a 1989 interview of Yasser Arafat, Wallace failed to challenge, among other things, the Palestine Liberation Organization leaders misrepresentation of terrorism as resistance or his insistence that a PLO group intercepted by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon had been on its way to attack troops, not civilians. The late David Bar-Illan, then executive editor of The Jerusalem Post, wrote of the interview that had he treated America politicians this way, [Wallace] would have been drummed out of the profession.

* In 1990, Wallace probed an outbreak of violence on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. He aired interviews with seven Arab eyewitnesses but only one Jew, and cast doubt on the latters statements; skipped over the cause of the fighting efforts by Fatah and Hamas to reignite the first intifada; and did not interview the main Israeli investigators. Wallace referred to Temple Mount as Islams third most holy place but did not mention it is Judaisms most holy site.

* In 1992, Wallace returned for a 60 Minutes segment on Israels absorption of the 400,000-plus Soviet Jews who had arrived in the previous three years. Their unemployment rate was 11 percent and many worked at jobs beneath their level of education and training. Prominent refusenik immigrant Natan Sharansky painted a more positive picture, but his comments were cut. Wallace wrongly implied that a U.S. loan guarantee to assist Israel absorb the immigrant wave was a grant and that it would help Israel annex the West Bank, something the government did not plan.

* In 2006, Wallace fawned over another dictator, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Boston Globes Jeff Jacoby summarized the interview this way: Wallace let Ahmadinejad brush him off with inanities and lies he would have pounced on had they been uttered by a business executive or an American politician.

The lionizing of Mike Wallace epitomizes news media refusal to describe accurately, warts and all, those they hold out as journalistic exemplars.

The author is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. 

How Tel Aviv became big business in Hollywood

In December 2009, Avi Nir, the chief executive of one of Israel’s largest broadcasting and production companies, invited the Hollywood agent Rick Rosen to spend a day at Keshet’s Tel Aviv office. Nir, who has a reputation among his Hollywood counterparts for being an aggressive visionary, sensed an epic change afoot in the Israeli entertainment industry. Soon, it would be producing more content than the country could commercially support. So Nir turned his hungry eyes toward the American marketplace. Hollywood, he figured, could offer opportunities. Not only as an entrée into a lush foreign market, but also as a model for how to export entertainment around the world. And Rosen, he thought, could teach the Israelis a few tricks. With the right sell, Rosen, a partner at the renowned William Morris Endeavor agency, could even become an advocate.

After a handful of morning meetings, Nir took Rosen to lunch at an Italian restaurant, where he described a new Israeli series titled “Hatufim,” or “Prisoners of War.”

“Do you know who Gilad Shalit is?” Rosen recalled Nir asking, in a recent interview. “Well, imagine if there are three Gilad Shalits, and two come back as heroes, and then you find out that maybe things aren’t exactly as they appear to be, maybe one of them was working for the Mossad. Do you think that could work in the States?”

Rosen thought for a second. “Absolutely,” he said. “If the returning soldiers are Americans from Iraq or Afghanistan.” Before 9/11, Americans may not have had an appetite — or an understanding — of living in a nation perpetually at war, but suddenly, Israel and the United States had something psychically important in common. “I know the perfect person to do this,” Rosen told Nir. “Howard Gordon.”

Rosen remembers Nir’s excitement at the prospect of Gordon, the award-winning producer of “24,” working on an Israeli show. A few days later, when Rosen touched down in Los Angeles, he called Gordon from the airport. “I have your next show,” he said. And thus, “Homeland” was born.

“Homeland” is now the eminent example of how an Israeli idea can transform into an American sensation. The Showtime series, which completed its first season in December, is a psychological thriller about a mentally unhinged CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, who suspects returning Iraq veteran Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of having been “turned” by terrorists. Inspired by the Israeli version “Hatufim,” about three soldiers returning from 17 years of captivity in Lebanon, “Homeland” just won the Golden Globe award for best dramatic television series and has been responsible for a surge in the pay-cable channel’s subscribers, helping edge it closer to its rival, HBO. “Homeland’s” critical acclaim has been equally prodigious: The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley devoted an entire column to last season’s series finale, calling it “a clever, maddening and irresistible invitation to keep watching” — just the type of criticism every show craves. Mark Kaner, president of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, said “Homeland” has been sold into 31 major territories around the world, and he expects the show to produce profits comparable to Gordon’s previous hit, “24,” which Kaner described as an “enormous” financial success.

“It’s sort of embarrassing at this point,” Gordon said of the effusive praise. “I only look at it as having further to fall.”

But here in Hollywood, and 9,000 miles away in Israel, everyone else is looking at “Homeland” as a paragon. As the Israeli entertainment industry becomes a font of innovation and creativity, Hollywood is serving as both mentor and marketplace, helping the tiny Middle Eastern country turn local ingenuity into an international commodity.

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in the Golden Globe-winning Showtime series, based on Israel’s “Hatufim.” Photo by Ronen Akerman/Showtime

Indeed, Israel’s popularity as a content creator has prompted a feeding frenzy in Hollywood; at least six Israeli formats (Hollywood jargon for story lines, on which adaptations are based) are currently in various stages of development, including the police procedural “The Naked Truth” at HBO, the time-travel musical “Danny Hollywood” at the CW, the divorce sitcom “Life Isn’t Everything” at CBS and the small-town murder mystery drama “Pillars of Smoke” (aka “Midnight Sun”) at NBC. Considering how hard it is to get any show on the air, some American writers have joked that they’d have better luck getting Hollywood’s attention if they hit in Israel first. Director Jon Turteltaub, for example, recently announced that he is attached to direct the remake of the popular Israeli film “A Matter of Size,” a smash on the festival circuit, which Paramount Pictures will produce. The activity back and forth has become so substantial of late that many of Israel’s writers, producers and even the major networks are now being represented by U.S. talent agencies. As content increases, so does competition.

“Every Israeli who ever put pen to paper — talented or not — now thinks they’re going to become millionaires in the United States, and it’s getting a little bit ridiculous,” Rosen said.

Inclined to play the part of the superior parent, Hollywood has responded to this escalating business relationship by downplaying it. At a recent event at UCLA sponsored by the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at which Gordon appeared as keynote speaker, he cautioned against unwarranted excitement. “Is there a story?” he asked. “Is there a pipeline between Israeli content creators and American producers? Because, sometimes stories tend to inflate themselves and become bigger than they are.”

What’s clear is this: Many in Hollywood believe it is too early to tell whether the current frenzy will last. Some say they have already begun to see the effects of commercialization on Israeli content. And so far, only two shows — “In Treatment” and “Homeland” — have succeeded in crossing over to an American audience. Others were utter failures: CBS’ “The Ex List,” which premiered in October 2008, lasted less than a month, with only half the produced episodes airing, and Fox’s “Traffic Light,” which premiered in February 2011, lasted only through May.

But anyone who knows Israelis knows that they are indefatigable. And they’re not likely to surrender to a little bad luck as long as the Hollywood connection presents a dual opportunity to triumph on the world stage. At the very least, these opportunities could inject serious cash into Israel’s economy, but the more monumental prospect lies in the ability of entertainment imagery to influence public discourse and opinion.

For people who have either a fixed or unformed image of Israel, the way Israeli life and Israeli values are transmitted through film and television could expand their impressions of the Jewish state. Because as any lover of film or literature knows, the pleasures of culture can be so powerful as to make a consumer feel connected to its creator. So imagine what it would mean for a viewer in Spain or France or China to discover that his favorite show originates in Israel, and to feel connected to the humanity of the stories Israel tells about itself. It could, as many dearly hope, illuminate Israel in a completely new way.

“God knows how many people have heard about ‘In Treatment’ and ‘Homeland’ being Israeli shows and are kind of thinking to themselves, ‘Maybe they’re not savages,’ ” the Israeli actress and “In Treatment” producer Noa Tishby said. “Maybe it’s not Afghanistan over there.”

Giffords votes in House; colleague says preparations readying for re-election run

Following her dramatic return to Congress for the first time since she was shot, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords announced that she would run for re-election in 2012.

Giffords (D-Ariz.) made the announcement Tuesday morning on “The Early Show.” The CBS program promptly tweeted the news.

The announcement that Giffords, the first Jewish women elected to statewide office in Arizona, would be seeking her fourth term in Congress came the morning after she surprised her colleagues in the House of Representatives by appearing on the House floor to vote for the debt ceiling package, which passed the $2.5 trillion deal. She received a standing ovation from the chamber, creating a brief moment of unity after weeks of fractious budget debates.

“The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight,” Giffords said in a tweet before appearing in the chamber, the first tweet made in the first person since she was shot Jan. 8 in an assault that killed six people while she met constituents at a strip mall in her congressional district in Tucson, Ariz.

Giffords walked onto the House floor accompanied by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and her closest friend in Congress, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), to building applause from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), like Wasserman Schultz a close Jewish friend and a fundraiser for Giffords, rushed over to hug her.

“This is a day for the history books,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “We saved our country from going into default, and my beloved friend and ever-optimistic colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the floor to cast her vote in favor of the future of our nation.”

Valedictorian to give taped speech to accommodate Shavuot observance [VIDEO]

The valedictorian at a northern California high school is planning to deliver her graduation address via a pre-recorded audio message in order to observe Shavuot.

Carolyn Fine worked out the arrangement with Vacaville High School officials, according to The Reporter, Vacaville’s local newspaper.

“They really took good care of me,” Fine told the paper, regarding her school’s administrators. “They’ve been very understanding.”

She decided to have her address recorded so as not to have to use a microphone. Fine intends to walk to the June 9 ceremony to avoid riding on the holiday.

Fine, who says she has gradually become more religiously observant, plans to attend Yeshiva University’s Stern College for women in New York in the fall and study math. This summer she plans to study at Machon Alte, a Chabad-run women’s seminary in Safed, Israel.

Video courtesy of CBS News.

One and a Half Men? Sitcom sacks Sheen

Actor Charlie Sheen has been fired from his hit CBS sitcom in the wake of a rant against the show’s executive producer that was called “borderline anti-Semitism.”

Sheen was fired Monday, effective immediately, from “Two and a Half Men,” for which he was paid $2 million per episode. The series was not canceled, however.

Warner Brothers said Sheen’s “statements, conduct and condition prevented him from performing his essential duties.”

Sheen, in a radio interview Feb. 24 and in a letter posted on the TMZ website, called “Two and a Half Men” executive producer Chuck Lorre a “contaminated little maggot,” said he was a “clown” and “stupid,” and referred to him several times as Chaim Levine. Lorre’s given name is Charles Michael Levine.

“By invoking television producer Chuck Lorre’s Jewish name in the context of an angry tirade against him, Charlie Sheen left the impression that another reason for his dislike of Mr. Lorre is his Jewishness,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in a statement. “This fact has no relevance to Mr. Sheen’s complaint or disagreement, and his words are at best bizarre, and at worst, borderline anti-Semitism.”

Sheen has called on ADL to apologize.

Charlie Sheen, John Galliano and the Jews

Expressions of anti-Semitism by public figures generally follow a certain script in the media.

The politician/actor/public figure says something construed as offensive/hostile/insensitive to Jews. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, issues a condemnatory statement demanding penance. The offender expresses regret. If he deems it sufficient, Foxman issues his kosher certification absolving the sinner.

The recent incidents involving Christian Dior designer John Galliano and actor Charlie Sheen didn’t quite follow the script.

In Galliano’s case, it was Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman, a Jewish darling and Miss Dior model, who took the lead in responding to a video of Galliano’s drunken rant in a Paris cafe extolling Hitler and disparaging Jews.

“I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments that surfaced today,” Portman said in a statement last week. “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

Galliano was peremptorily fired, and French authorities opened an investigation into whether Galliano should be prosecuted for violating France’s anti-racism laws.

Then there was the Sheen drama, whose script seemed lifted straight from the loony bin.

The actor, a notorious loose cannon and habitual drug user, unleashed a vitriolic tirade against Chuck Lorre, the creator of his hit CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men,” referring to Lorre by his original, Jewish name: Chaim Levine.

Foxman, apparently undecided about whether this was anti-Semitism or merely a personal spat between Sheen and Lorre, issued a statement declaring it “borderline anti-Semitism.”

Sheen then went off the rails, giving increasingly bizarre interviews, calling on Foxman to apologize and, after days of nonstop media coverage, announcing that he couldn’t be anti-Semitic because he is himself Jewish.

The coup de grace came Monday, when CBS fired Sheen and the actor then appeared on a Beverly Hills rooftop waving a machete and declaring himself “Free at last.”

What are we Jews to make of this?

For the most part, the Jewish reaction broke down in one of two ways: Either the incidents showed that anti-Semitism is alive and well, or they said more about celebrity stupidity—and Jewish overreaction—than about anti-Semitism.

Or both. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wryly noted “the disproportionate interest drunks and lunatics take in Jews and their meddling and mysterious ways.”

Coupling the Sheen and Galliano remarks together with Louis Farrakhan’s recent speech blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death and Muammar Gadhafi’s accusation that Israel is behind the Libyan rebellion, Foxman said the incidents are “a symptom of what we have been warning about for some time—that the inhibitions and shame about displaying anti-Semitism are eroding.”

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer said the swift reaction to the Galliano and Sheen remarks show just the opposite, “that anti-Semitism in the 21st century, despite what certain august bodies such as the Anti-Defamation League tell us, is simply unfashionable.”

The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle added into the mix Fox News host Glenn Beck’s recent remarks comparing Reform rabbis to radical Islam—an incident that followed the usual script of callous remark, ADL condemnation, apology, ADL acceptance—declaring them incidents of stupidity rather than anti-Semitism.

To “point the finger of the Jewish establishment and call Sheen anti-Semitic cheapens the weight of an ADL statement,” the Chronicle editorialists wrote. “Jews must be wary not to label every criticism, awkward comparison or stupid remark as anti-Semitic.”

To confuse matters further, Galliano reportedly told a “member of his inner circle” that he has Sephardic Jewish roots. That would give his anti-Semitic rant a Bobby Fischer-esque character—except that Galliano, unlike the late, self-hating Jewish chess champion, issued an apology by week’s end.

“Anti-Semitism and racism have no part in our society,” Galliano said. “I unreservedly apologize for my behavior in causing any offense.”

The ADL promptly declared Galliano forgiven.

“We look forward to working with him to move forward in helping to repair the damage so that he can contribute once again toward the fight against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination,” Foxman said.

Perhaps the greatest question about all this celebrity brouhaha is why the media is so transfixed by these episodes.

The same question, of course, may be asked of JTA and our decision to weigh in on the subject with a story of our own. The answer, of course, is you, dear reader: We’d probably stop writing such stories if you’d stop reading them.

Clues to family drama’s Jewish roots finally add up on ‘Numb3rs’

Add family drama plus FBI action, and the sum equals CBS’s hit drama, “Numb3rs.”The show, which just started its third season, is as much about fathers and sons as it is about using mathematics to solve crimes. Alan Eppes (Judd Hirsch) is the widowed patriarch to two disparate sons: son Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, and Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math genius who works as a consultant for Don. The subtext is that Charlie the prodigy, is the favored son, while Don feels abandoned and bitter and yearns to connect with his father. The Oct. 6 episode deepens this dynamic while “outing” the family as Jewish.
This time, the brothers investigate a piece of Nazi-looted art that may belong to a Holocaust survivor who lost her family in the camps. Don is deeply moved by her story and by his father’s revelation that a cousin of theirs also lost all her relatives in the Shoah. The agent tells his father he would like to investigate what happened to them — an unusually emotional statement for a character who tends to repress his feelings.
“This episode gives us a glimpse into Don’s soul,” Morrow told The Journal. “Don feels a yearning to connect to his heritage, which reflects his longing for his father and for connections in life.”
At a time when crime dramas abound on prime time (think “C.S.I.,” “Law & Order” and their various spinoffs), “Numb3rs” stands out for its focus on family and “unexpected shades of character,” according to Newsweek.
Yet one aspect of the characters has been neglected, at least until tonight’s show — their obvious Jewishness. After all, these actors are well known for playing members of the tribe: Hirsch, 71, was cabbie Alex Rieger on “Taxi”; Morrow, 44, played Dr. Joel Fleischman on “Northern Exposure,” and Krumholtz, 28, portrayed numerous “neurotic shlubs,” in his own words, before landing the “Numb3rs” gig.
“When they cast the show, an executive said the poster was going to show the three of us emerging from shul triumphant,” Morrow says with a laugh.
Even the series’ creators, Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, say they had envisioned the Eppes as Jewish since casting the show in 2004. (The first hire was Krumholtz, partly for his uncanny ability to make math sound cool, even though the actor had flunked algebra twice.) The producers say they were waiting for the right story to “out” the characters, and they found it in the headlines about Nazi-looted art. They feel the onscreen family chemistry works, in part, because the actors share culturally Jewish New York roots. A subtler dynamic helps the performers create the favorite son/black sheep son nuances on the show.
Neither Hirsch nor Krumholtz have previously worked with Morrow (although they enjoy doing so now), but they share a rich performance history together. Krumholtz got his big break playing Hirsch’s son in “Conversations With My Father” on Broadway 15 years ago.
Krumholtz was 13 at the time and had no previous acting experience, nor had he ever been to the theater. He auditioned on a lark — “something to do on a Saturday afternoon” — and landed the role, in some measure, because of his resemblance to Hirsch.
“I was frightened for David,” the older actor recalls. “His first production was going to be this extremely violent, emotional play, and he was going to be an ‘object’ in it.”
Hirsch’s character, a volatile Jewish immigrant, chokes, grabs and smacks his son, and also chases him around the stage with a strap. Hirsch worried the production might overwhelm the ebullient, novice performer.
Hirsch’s solution, Krumholtz recalls, was a form of theatrical “tough love.”
“Teasingly, he pointed out every little thing I did wrong,” the younger actor says. “I was extremely unprofessional; I had an opinion about everything, and every time I was loud or said something when I was supposed to be quiet, or missed a line, he was right there with a big ‘shut up’ or ‘That’s you, kid,’ or ‘get with the program.’ It was rough, but I knew he was doing it because he believed in me. By the end of the show I had learned about professionalism, and I loved Judd with all my heart. I now call him my ‘acting father,’ because I feel I owe him my career.”
When Krumholtz eventually left “Conversations” to pursue movies, he cried so effusively that Hirsch sat him on his lap to comfort him.
The father-son dynamic is still apparent as the two sit side by side over lunch in a studio cafeteria. The boyish Krumholtz avidly listens as Hirsch tells long stories, with relish, about thwarting anti-Semitism in the Army and how his own father chased him around the house with a strap. Both recount growing up in working-class homes (Krumholtz’s “Conversations” salary paid for his bar mitzvah reception) and describe Morrow as “more of a Westchester County [a.k.a. wealthy] Jew.”
In a phone interview, Morrow laughs ironically when told of the “Westchester” remark.
“I was as working class as they were,” he says, sounding a bit like his misunderstood “Numb3rs” character. Actually, he grew up comfortably middle class in White Plains, N.Y., until his parents divorced when he was 9, and his father, an industrial lighting manufacturer, moved to Manhattan and later to Florida. Morrow stayed behind with his sister and his mother, who went to work as a dental hygienist to support the family.
“Suddenly money was a real issue, but my mother was determined to keep up appearances, so we moved to Scarsdale and we were living on the fringes of this wealthy enclave,” he recalls.
Like the fictional Don, he says he felt somewhat abandoned by his father (“suffice it to say I spent a lot of years in therapy”), and he has channeled those feelings into his “Numb3rs” character.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 20

High school teacher Eddie Friedman has made it his mission to take students on the March of the Living, as a way of teaching them about the Holocaust. Over the years, he accumulated a collection of photographs depicting the experience. UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts has mounted an exhibit of his work, titled, “From Destruction to Rebirth: A Photographic Journey by Eddie Friedman.” It is on view through June 29.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Sunday, May 21

We’re not sure what Thai massage has to do with celebrating your Jewishness, but don’t let that stop you from attending today’s Santa Barbara Jewish Festival. Event organizers also have plenty of traditional activities and entertainment, including musical performances by the Moshav Band and Kings on Holiday, kosher food vendors, children’s carnival rides and Israeli dancing.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oak Park, 300 W. Alamar Ave., Santa Barbara. (805) 898-2511. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, May 22

Opening this week, the thriller film, “Hate Crime,” tells the story of Robbie Levinson (Seth Peterson), a young, gay CPA targeted for harassment by his new next-door neighbor. When Robbie’s lover is brutally murdered, he becomes a suspect, and must investigate the case himself to be exonerated.

Laemmle Sunset Five, 8000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 848-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, May 23

It’s a CBS kind of night, over at the JFS gala. The Jewish Family Service annual fundraising dinner honors three community leaders this year, among them, CBS exec Deborah Barak. And keeping the evening all in the CBS family, this year’s masters of ceremonies are actors Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, of the series “Numb3rs.”

5:30 p.m. Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1220.

Wednesday, May 24

Opening this week is another exhibit that challenges us not only to never forget, but also to act. “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie” presents some 40 black and white and color images taken in 2002 post-genocide Rwanda and in a 2004 Chadian Bahai refugee camp, where exiles of the Darfurian genocide take shelter. The exhibition is presented by the Skirball Cultural Center, with a number of related programs scheduled during its run.

$6-$8 (general), Free (members, students and children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Thursday, May 25

We’d hoped “paloozas” would die with the ’90s, but here’s one worth checking out, despite the hackneyed name. “Identi-palooza” is a five-week comedy series at the Skirball, in which top comedians and writers present their unique points of view. It begins tonight with Beth Lapides, Kevin Rooney, Cindy Chupack, Rob Cohen and Stephen Glass commenting on “The Ish Factor.”

Ages 21+. 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday, May 26

When Mark Goffman’s grandfather’s wife of 50 years passed away, he suffered a heart attack, a stroke and then fell into a coma. As he lay in the hospital bed, he was visited by the cellist in his quartet, who came to say a private goodbye, and confessed her love for him, which she had kept secret all the years he’d been married. He awoke within minutes of her visit, and married her soon after. The story inspired Goffman, a television writer and producer, to write a play incorporating his grandfather’s story, as well as his own stories of dating and falling in love. “Me Too” runs through June 25.

8 p.m. (Thurs-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $23-$28. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-7745. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

‘Heaven’s’ Mysterious Spirits

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has done his part to keep the Jewish people, well, literate, by publishing such erudite tomes as “Biblical Literacy” (William Morrow, 1997) and “Jewish Literacy” (William Morrow, 1991). But it seems he also wants to keep us amused on airplanes, which is why he moonlights as a mystery novelist. He recently published his fourth mystery, “Heaven’s Witness” (The Toby Press), a page-turning whodunit about a creepy serial killer who has a thing for young, pretty girls stuck on Los Angeles canyon roads.

On the killer’s trail is psychoanalyst Jordan Geller, who is drawn into the case after a woman he hypnotizes assumes the identity of one of the murder victims — who was killed several years before the woman’s birth. The book, which Telushkin co-wrote with Allen Estrin, is peppered with talmudic and biblical axioms, and raises some lofty questions about the nature of the afterlife and what happens to us after we die.

Telushkin said that he was inspired to write the book, which CBS plans to bring to the small screen in fall 2005, after he conducted a hypnotic regression with a friend of his who went back to a life in the year 1853.

“She spoke in 19th century American English using odd terminology,” said Telushkin, who has also been the spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts since 1993. “When I asked her if she was married, she complained ‘that the men here are so refractory.’ She used names of relatively obscure 19th century figures, who, after months of research, I was able to trace.”

Telushkin said that he is “open” to the idea of reincarnation, and that writing mysteries does have religious implications.

“The genre of mysteries, like the world of religion, still insists that there is a right and wrong, that not everything is relative,” he said. “You might be able to explain the reason why somebody has committed a crime, but, still, it is imperative to the genre that the person is caught, and that justice should prevail.”

For more information on “Heaven’s Witness,” visit

Carlyle Discusses Dangers of ‘Hitler’

Robert Carlyle, of "The Full Monty" and "Angela’s Ashes" fame, gives a striking performance in the title role of the CBS miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil." The film, which airs Sunday and Tuesday (May 18 and 20) at 9 p.m., focuses on Hitler’s life from Munich beer hall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his hands. Speaking with a pronounced Scottish burr (which he suppresses in the film) from his home in his native Glasgow, the 42-year-old actor discussed the challenges and rewards of his role with The Jewish Journal.

Jewish Journal: What were your thoughts when you decided to take the role of Hitler?

Robert Carlyle: At first I was frightened because I realized the potential dangers and pitfalls. But I decided I wouldn’t do a carbon copy of Hitler. I would do my own interpretation, that I could explore him like any other character. Then a window opened up and I wasn’t frightened any more.

JJ: One of your fellow cast members, Peter Stormare, said, "I can’t imagine being Bobby [Carlyle] and having to look at himself as Hitler every day because of all the images that flash before your eyes, all the time." What were your feelings?

RC: Once shooting began, in my quiet moments, I tried to empty myself of the character on a daily basis, rather than store it up for four months. Also, as Hitler, I didn’t look at all like myself. I had the mustache, a false nose, cheek pieces and more weight as Hitler got older.

JJ: What was your working day like when you were shooting the film in and around Prague?

RC: It took around one-and-a-half hours for the makeup and I worked 14-15 hours on an average day. As we went further along, the days got even longer.

JJ: I understand that you were offered the role of Hitler three times before you took this one.

RC:Yes, the first time was about three years ago but it didn’t come to anything. Another time was for the film "Max" [in which Hitler was played by Noah Taylor]. Five months before I started the CBS job, I worked for three months on a BBC television production which started with Hitler in the bunker and we flashed back to his earlier life. So I had already learned a good deal about the character.

JJ: I believe the BBC project was canceled, partly due to strong Jewish protests.

RC: I’m not sure. I heard that there were funding problems because the American studio partner backed out. I don’t know about Jewish protests, but if there were any I would understand that.

JJ: One of the concerns raised when CBS announced the project was that any good actor would try to find the human elements in Hitler and therefore make him more sympathetic.

RC: It wasn’t a question of searching for the human traits. I didn’t have to find that to get close to the character. I thought Hitler was very cunning and had a belief of you’re-either-for-me-or-against-me. I tried to focus on these things.

JJ: Were you aware of the objections raised by some Jewish spokesmen and organizations in the early stages of the CBS project?

RC: Not at all. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But I knew from the beginning that if I gave as honest a portrayal as I could, it would be all right. I didn’t want to upset anyone.

JJ: After you finished shooting, did you go through a decompression stage?

RC: Yes, I took off and spent a month in the country. A few weeks ago, I went back to London for some final dubbing and suddenly saw "my" Hitler on the monitor. And I said to myself, "Jesus, what a pompous little prick" and then, "You’ve done your job."

Moonves: No Sympathy for Hitler

President and CEO of CBS Television Leslie Moonves came in
for a good deal of flak last year following news that the network was planning
to make a two-part miniseries from British history professor Ian Kershaw’s
book, “Hitler: 1889-l936: Hubris” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), which
covers the prewar life and times of the Führer.

Some Jewish leaders worried that a too- sympathetic
portrayal of the early life of the man responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews would feed into today’s current wave of anti-Semitism
and that a prime-time portrait of the youthful Hitler might paint him as a
misunderstood youth rather than an evil madman to millions of young viewers
with scant knowledge of Hitler’s terrible legacy.

This month, CBS, along with the producers, Alliance
Atlantic, began shooting the miniseries in Prague and might air the show as
early as the May sweeps. Scottish actor Robert Carlyle — best known for “The
Full Monty” and “Trainspotting” — plays Adolf Hitler, while Stockard Channing
(first lady Abby Bartlet on “The West Wing”) portrays his mother. The cast also
includes Julianna Margulies, Peter O’Toole, Liev Schreiber and Matthew Modine.

The Jewish Journal read an early script — which CBS now says
has been totally junked in favor of a completely new version by Jewish
playwright-screenwriter John Pielmeier (“Agnes of God”). Pielmeier has drawn
upon other books, periodicals and archival material for the new version.

The Journal recently spoke to Moonves about the new face of

Jewish Journal: You’ve said there’s more incident in the new
script. Do you mean more action?

Leslie Moonves: I wouldn’t say more action. There are more
things involved in Hitler’s personal life that may not have been in the Kershaw
book. In no way do I want to put down Mr. Kershaw, who clearly is a genius and
a wonderful writer. But sometimes, when you’re sticking to one work and dealing
with a historical figure it’s often good to have a variety of sources.

JJ: Where does this version begin and end?

LM: There are a very few scenes dealing with his childhood
to try to get the flavor that this is an odd young man from the time he was a
little boy. He was an outsider. He was a strange fellow. By and large, most of
the movie begins with him as an unemployed artist in Vienna, trying to get into
art school, living in poverty, being homeless and his exploits in World War I.
And from there, that’s where the bulk of the movie takes place.

JJ: Where do the first two hours end?

LM: I can’t recollect the first two-hour ending. Clearly the
whole thing ends when Hitler has taken over total power of the country in 1938
on the eve of World War II. We will also be showing a postscript. That’s very
important. Once again, we do take some of the comments we’ve received very
seriously. And one comment I took to heart: if you are showing the rise to
power — and part of why we’re doing this is that everybody knows how the story
ended but few people know how it began — some people said, “Well you’re not
showing the atrocities that this man committed. And you may be giving an
incorrect impression of him.” So it’s important to know where this led seven or
eight years later.

JJ: How will you do this?

LM: We’re not 100 percent sure. It may be with
documentary-style footage.

JJ: Will you run public service announcements during the

LM: Throughout the show, and in the preceding weeks.

JJ: We heard CBS is making a donation to a Holocaust

LM: Yes, to the Shoah Foundation or something like that.
It’s not quite pinned down yet.

JJ: Who’s going to buy ad space for this movie?

LM: You don’t sell it the way you sell anything else. It’s
got to be a careful sale. People have to realize that this is an important
piece that is going to be done with quality, class and sensitivity. We haven’t
yet begun to approach the people. I think it will be easier once we have
something to show them.

JJ: Many critics worried that Hitler as the protagonist of
the story has to be shown as a human being. But by doing that you automatically
make him sympathetic.

LM: In no way, shape or form is this man in this film a
sympathetic figure. He is a monster. And it’s how he got to be that way. At no
point do you feel sympathy for this man and just say, “Oh, I understand, I feel
bad this is why he did what he did.” That emotion should never occur.

JJ: What made you chose Robert Carlyle?

LM: It was very funny, when his name first came up. He was
very charming in the “The Full Monty,” but this is Adolf Hitler.

Then I saw pieces of him in “Trainspotting.” I saw “Angela’s
Ashes,” then I saw a British film, where he played a cold-blooded killer. And
it was chilling. And when I saw that side of him I said, he can do this. And it
was who the producers supported right from the beginning.

JJ: Has Rabbi Harvey Fields from Wilshire Boulevard Temple
vetted the script?

LM: He read the first two hours and gave us extensive notes.
Those notes have been incorporated into some of the changes and he’s reading
the second part as we speak. He’s an unofficial friend in court, but once
again, certainly he’s amongst the most widely respected religious leaders in
ours or any community.

JJ: Did you agree with the criticism of the first script?

LM: When we were receiving the criticism, we didn’t like the
first script. It was dreadful. And the fact that it was being passed around we
felt was blatantly unfair.

JJ: Wasn’t your own wife opposed to the project?

LM: I don’t want to talk about my personal situation. There
has been a lot of discussions with friends and relatives. It certainly is a
lightning rod for a lot of people.

JJ: Did you lose family members in the Holocaust?

LM: I lost many relatives on both sides of the family. My
grandparents are both from Poland and they lost a number of siblings and
cousins, a great many family members during the Holocaust. They escaped from
Poland before the war began. But there were some who did not escape.

JJ: Have you seen early footage of the movie?

LM: I’ve seen a very little bit of it — some very
preliminary dailies.

JJ: How’s it looking?

LM: So far so good … you never like to comment until
things are put together. Once again there’s a director who I’ve worked with
before, who I have great trust and faith in and a script that is a lot more —
very solid certainly. I’m very pleased with the quality of the cast.

JJ: Have you seen the movie “Max?”

LM: Yes. I don’t want to give any criticism. I thought it
was a very, very interesting movie. I thought John Cusack was terrific. I
thought it shined certainly some light on what we were doing and certainly on
the subject matter. I did think it was a decent film.

JJ: May we read the new shooting script?

LM: No. No.

JJ: Can we visit the set in Prague?

LM: That might be possible. I really want your readers to
know that this is something we are not treating lightly. It’s one of the most
important projects we’ve been involved in and we are trying to do it with great
care and great thought.

Television Jews: How Jewish Is Too Jewish?

The new television season is upon us. African American and Latino groups are making the expected protests about the lack of people who look like them before and aft of the camera, and the Jews are — as usual — adding up their TV IQ on the fingers of one hand.

If there aren’t many “brothers” out there, there are even fewer “Members of the Tribe,” and those that are there are not particularly Jewish Jews, if you know what I mean.

Take 40-something, newly divorced father “Danny,” played by Daniel Stern. In CBS’ new series, Danny looks like he’s Jewish, sounds like he’s Jewish, but his live-in father is played by Polish American Robert Prosky, and his kids Sally and Henry come across as just, well, kids.

Ah, but wait, Danny is described in the program notes as “adapting to his single life one neurotic step at a time.” Neurotic is television-speak for Jew — just like “New York” as an adjective means “Jew” in the Midwest.

The whole subject makes the producers of the show, which, by the way, is set in that hotbed of neuroses, Portland, Ore., a trifle nervous. “It’s implied,” one of the show’s producers told The Journal. “It’s not an overt kind of thing. You don’t get it rammed down your throat. It’s not about his Jewish life — it’s about his life.”

Actor Daniel Stern himself, however, seems more relaxed about the idea of playing a Jewish man with a thing about basketball. “I was happy to be Jewish on the show,” he said. “And I like sort of putting it out there. And I want to put it out there in a sort of funny way. I thought that might be something that I hadn’t seen.”

That’s because he hadn’t seen the pilot for “Inside Schwartz” (see below). Adam Schwartz is also Jewish and a basketball nut. It’s not implied — he tells you that right off the bat, even though he’s played by non-Jew Brekin Meyer.

“I want to be the first Jew to win the slam-dunk contest,” Schwartz declares in the pilot episode. His more realistic dream is to become a sports announcer. Even if he hadn’t told us, we’d know he was Jewish, because his sidekick is a perfectly marvelous young Jewish woman played by Miriam Shore, who is ready and waiting for him to make his move on her. (We know she’s Jewish because she’s smart-mouthed and quirky.)

Executive Producer Stephen Engel says he wasn’t sure how the network would react to a show built around a Jewish character. And he wasn’t the only one.

“My father called while I was doing the show,” Engel said. “He said, ‘You know I don’t interfere in your work, but this show you’re doing, are you sure about the title? You know Schwartz is a Jewish name. I don’t know how the rest of America [is] going to respond to this.'”

Of course the central joke only works if the character is Jewish. Jews and sports — an oxymoron, right? And that was the point, as far as Engel was concerned.

“I like to consider myself a fairly good athlete,” he said. “I’m not a professional yet, but I haven’t given up hope. But there are Jews across America in sports. One right here in right field in Los Angeles.” (For those not into sports, that would be Dodger Shawn Green.)

Jason Alexander, one of the Seinfeld crew — the most successful Jews-who-dare-not-speak-their-name in TV history — is playing a Tony Robbins-style guru in ABC’s “Bob Patterson.” Patterson may or may not be Jewish — but he is kind of a lovable jerk. If in a future episode we find out the name used to be Futterman, be prepared to cringe.

Mike Binder, however, former stand-up comic star and creator of HBO’s “Mind of the Married Man,” is undoubtedly Jewish, although it’s never stated, and he’s married in the show to a gorgeous blonde Englishwoman, played by Oxford-educated Sonya Walger.

Binder grew up in a Jewish community in Detroit, and made a 1993 movie about his summer experiences at the Jewish Camp Tamakwa in Ontario (“Indian Summer”). He even wears a Tamakwa sweatshirt in one scene in the new show. But the character is just another narcissistic, sports- and sex- obsessed American male. And you don’t have to be Jewish to be that.

On the other hand, Max Bickford, professor of history in CBS’ “The Education of Max Bickford,” doesn’t know from sports. His is the ivory-tower world of old European white males to whom scholarship and love of the past is life.

And while he’s staggering under the pressure of apathetic students and political correctness, he’s doing it (from the evidence of the pilot, at least) as a slightly over the hill, all-purpose ethnic. So — is he Jewish?

“I think so, yes,” says Bickford’s alter ego, Richard Dreyfuss. “He’s got an edge; he’s a curmudgeon. The way I keep describing him is Walter Matthau, but shorter.”

He’s also the most potentially interesting of the ‘Jewish’ characters on this season’s new shows, if only because Dreyfuss is noted as that rare Jewish actor who enjoys being Jewish on screen: think Moses Wine, ace detective in “The Big Fix,” Duddy Kravitz, and even Meyer Lansky.

But since this is essentially a serious show, well written and dealing with intelligent issues, just hold your breath that it will enjoy a long run. Even if it is, don’t expect Bickford to deal with his Jewishness. Having an overtly Jewish character as the lead on a drama is still seen in Hollywood as a surefire way to cut yourself off from the American mainstream viewer.

Serious shows with Jewish content have a history of wiping out before you can say, “Nielsen, Shmielsen.” Remember “Brooklyn Bridge,” Gary David Goldberg’s loving tribute to his Brooklyn bubbie? Or how about “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” in which Rosie (Sharon Gless) answered to a kippah-wearing, public-defender boss played by Ron Rifkin? Neither lasted long.

Comedies have a longer shelf life. Jewish humor on television is the one thing that has been accepted with open arms by the rest of America — witness “Seinfeld.” Because, whether they know it or not, just as Jewish music became Tin Pan Alley, Jewish humor, as filtered through the Catskills, Hollywood and Las Vegas, is now American humor.

Bob Hope once quipped, “Hollywood is the only town where they give up matzah balls for Lent” — a line written by one of his many Jewish writers. The point being that everyone in Hollywood is Jewish, whether they were born into it or not. Hollywood has been shaped by Jewish culture — by now that’s a sociological truism — but the only place you’d know it on television is in comedy.

From “Seinfeld” to “Mad About You” to “Dharma and Greg” to “The Larry Sanders Show,” Jewish humor has infiltrated popular culture. On television, Jewish humor is the Trojan horse sneaked into the living rooms of non-Jewish America to acquaint them with the fact that Jews are pretty much like them, only more so.

“Northern Exposure,” for example, worked because America identified with its hero — a nice Jewish doctor (Rob Morrow) plunked down in small-town Alaska, where he was the least weird of the bunch. “Picket Fences,” created by Irish American David E. Kelley, introduced the conniving Jewish defense attorney played by Fyvush Finkel. (Kelley’s in-joke was that Finkel’s character bore the WASP-ish name of Douglas Wambaugh.) In one episode, he was called before a beit din to answer charges that his sleazy behavior was damaging his people’s good name.

Ironically, Kelley wrote the episode after receiving letters complaining that Finkel’s character perpetuated the stereotype of the shyster lawyer.

HBO’s “Larry Sanders Show,” which told the truth about so many aspects of American television, also warned about the perils of being too Jewish. In one episode, Larry’s sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) became a born-again Jew, and insisted on wearing a kippah on the show. Larry’s creator, Garry Shandling, noted his favorite line in that episode was when a Jewish network executive said it was OK for him to be Jewish because, unlike Hank, “he was behind the camera where the audience couldn’t see him.”

Larry Gelbart, one of the funniest comedy writers today, says of Jewish humor, “I think it’s our cultural heritage to find some relief from intolerable situations with laughter. To use it as both a sword and a shield, as an offensive and defensive weapon against those who are being hostile to you.” It seems that in a more dangerous and difficult America, the rest of the country increasingly wants to borrow the weapon.

The good news this season — yes, there is some — is that with “The Nanny” and “Suddenly Susan” (the JAP stereotypical Vicki may have been married to a decent sort of rabbi, but she was definitely cringe material), having passed into the lucrative afterlife of syndication, parodies of spoiled shopaholic Jewish women on primetime television have given way to spoiled shop-a-holic Italian women on “The Sopranos.”

And despite rumors to the contrary, the girls on “Sex and the City” can’t possibly be Jewish: Carrie only shops retail, Samantha is a nymphomaniac, Miranda is too thin, Charlotte is married to the only Scottish doctor on Park Avenue, and they’re always picking at a salad and getting tanked on cosmopolitans at lunchtime.

In short, Jewish viewers are likely to find this season as unsatisfying as countless others. As in real life, Jews on television this year are still married to, or dating, non-Jews. It cuts down on interesting sources of conflict, according to the writers, if two characters both celebrate Chanukah and know the difference between a matzah ball and kreplach — as if the writers never noticed the surfeit of conflicts within the Jewish community.

And there are still many Jews who, while they have Jewish names and look Jewish, never identify themselves as such. But, of course, we’ve never heard of that in real life, have we?

Basketball and Life

"Be Quick — But Don’t Hurry: Finding Success in the Teachings

of a Lifetime" by Andrew Hill with John Wooden

(Simon & Schuster, $20)

Andrew Hill should be considered a very lucky man. The 50-year-old Los Angeles native played basketball at UCLA in the 1970s under the auspices of John Wooden, one of the school’s greatest coaches. Hill won three championship rings with UCLA but left the university with a chip on his shoulder and a deep misunderstanding of the coach who would later become his greatest mentor.

Hill went on to become president of productions at CBS and president of programming at the student-oriented Channel One Network, never fully conscious of the role that the coach’s teachings had played in his life.

One sunny day while facing down a 210-yard, 2-iron golf course, a friend told him to keep his balance, something that Wooden had always stressed. Hill, who described his experience on the golf course as an epiphany, wanted to reconnect with the man he had so deeply misunderstood in his youth.

Hill picked up the phone and tracked down Wooden. The coach embraced his former pupil as though he had been waiting for him all along.

The reunion went so well that Hill took to calling Wooden "coach" and was inspired to share Wooden’s teachings and philosophies with others in his new book, "Be Quick — But Don’t Hurry."

"Life is precious," Hill says. If you have an opportunity to "reach out to the older people in your life, [you should]."

"Be Quick" begins with a forward by Wooden outlining his "Pyramid to Success" based on his years of coaching — loyalty and friendship are two elements that form the foundation, while faith and patience sit at the zenith due to their deep moral value.

Hill outlines 21 secrets he’s learned from experiences with Wooden and explores how each relates to basketball and life.

Secret No. 9, titled "A Great Leader Cannot Worry About Being Liked," focuses on the very crux of Hill’s early contentions with Wooden.

Hill writes candidly about how Wooden was not well liked by his players and that Wooden expected his players not to like him. The coach’s focus was on the greater picture, winning national championships. He didn’t care about the feelings of the players who sat on the bench and whined or those who didn’t like the way Wooden talked to them.

According to Hill, Wooden had realized that "feelings get hurt and lives are disrupted, but the ability to make those tough choices is essential to being an effective leader."

If he had to pick one secret from his book to emphasize, Hill says, "focusing on effort, not winning" is the most important, because "we live in a society in which we always keep score."

A basis of Wooden’s teachings, according to Hill, is that the focus on the effort required to do something "frees you from the result." But Hill continues to struggle with aspects higher on Wooden’s pyramid, like patience.

Each of the 21 secrets helps elaborate and provide examples for Wooden’s philosophy, adding imagery and establishing connections between his concepts and the two men responsible for the book.

Hill says that you must buy into Wooden’s whole idea of the pyramid in order to achieve balance in your life, adding that if "you gave your best effort, you have succeeded."

Feting CBS President

Television and film star George Clooneypresents Leslie Moonves with the Sherrill C. Corwin Human RelationsAward

“Jewish people have always been in my life,whether I wanted them there or not.”

So joked Bill Cosby to the capacity crowdattending the American Jewish Committee’s annual Sherrill C. CorwinHuman Relations Award Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Thehonoree that Thursday evening: CBS President Leslie Moonves,recipient of the AJC’s distinguished Corwin Award.

Originally established in 1906 in response toczarist Russian pogroms, the AJC has long fought to protect civilrights and celebrate those who have vocally fought discrimination.Honorees of previous star-studded AJC affairs have included StevenSpielberg, Clint Eastwood and Ted Turner.

A plethora of CBS suits and celebs turned out tohonor Moonves, as well as people connected to his previous tenure aspresident of Warner Bros. Television, where he helped launch hitshows such as “ER,” “Friends” and “Lois and Clark: The New Adventuresof Superman.” Jane Seymour, Steven Bochco, Robert Stack, John Ritter,Elliott Gould and cast members of “Everybody Loves Raymond” wereamong the friends and fans visibly enjoying the evening.

But none were more proud of Moonves than his ownfamily — including his wife of 20 years, Nancy; his parents; brotherJohn; and children, Adam, Sarah and Michael.

After dessert, a “60 Minutes” parody, hosted byMike Wallace and Lesley Stahl, appeared on the video screen,comically recapping the actor-turned-executive’s career. Cosby’saddress came next, followed by some words by longtime friend GeorgeClooney, and Moonves’ own acceptance speech. A well-receivedhighlight of the night was a videotaped message by President Clinton,which was received with a roomful of supportive applause.

AJC leader Rabbi Gary Greenebaum cited Moonves'”long history of involvement in bringing the community together.”Celebrities in attendance echoed Greenbaum’s praise. Fran Drescher,who on “The Nanny” arguably portrays the most unabashedly ethnicJewish character in television history, shared her high esteem forMoonves with The Jewish Journal. She labeled the Eye Network chief “apillar of the community…” and praised his firsthand philanthropicinvolvement in important causes. “He doesn’t just write out a check.He really gets into life [and] works very hard.” Indie film queenIleanna Douglas singled out Moonves’ “sense of loyalty.” TeriHatcher, perhaps the only woman ever coveted by the Man of Steel andAgent 007, glowed: “He makes every person feel special.”

Brad Garrett, Ray Romano’s towering TV brother onCBS’s hit comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond,” duly noted that, unlikeother network programmers, Moonves’ word is bond. “When he says he’sbehind [a show], he’s behind it,” Garrett said.

Moonves himself told The Journal: “It isimportant, whether Jewish, Irish or Italian, to maintain [culturalidentity in programming]. Assimilation is a dangerous thing, and itis important to portray diversity on TV.”

He opined that, by and large, depictions of Jewsare handled responsibly by the networks. He also recalled a dinnerwith his granduncle in Israel 28 years ago as a defining moment inhis life “that will stay with me always” — particularly noteworthysince his granduncle happened to be first Prime Minister of IsraelDavid Ben-Gurion.

Moonves’ contributions to television andJewish-American culture did not escape the young Jewish minds behind”Diagnosis: Murder.” Executive producer Lee Goldberg evaluatedMoonves as “one of the most creative people in the business…[notyour typical] stand-offish, icy exec,” to which partner WilliamRabner concisely pointed out: “And he put ‘The Nanny’ on theair.”

Touch and Go

Touch and Go

TV writer and CBS executive Eugene Stein exposes a darkerside in his latest book of fiction

By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer

Eugene Stein calls himself a Jewish writer, a gay writer, aprogressive writer.

He is also a successful TV writer and the vice president of comedydevelopment at CBS, where he develops sitcom scripts and pilots,including one for next season that will feature a cheerful nanny fromouter space.

But when the workday is done, Stein, 37, explores a darker part ofhimself, a biting, sardonic side that is featured in his second workof fiction, “Touch and Go” (Rob Weisbach Books, $22.). The oftenwickedly funny volume of short stories is about as far away fromsitcom as you can get.

The characters are mostly lost, lonely souls who wander bleak,absurd landscapes, from Belize to Fairfax Avenue. The stories arereminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut and Brett Easton Ellis, and, no, theywon’t play in Peoria.

A bedridden grandmother turns into a murderous giantess in “TheGrandma Golem.” A gay Jewish teen-ager is jealous of his straightbrother in “Mixed Signals.” Even the criminals are served freshcoffee at “Mom’s Diner.”

“What my protagonists have in common is that they are outsiders,”says Stein, who has something of an outsider’s perspective as a gayand Jewish man.

Yet the friendly, low-key executive seemed much the corporateinsider during a recent telephone interview, which he conducted fromhis busy CBS office. His hectic schedule goes around the clock: At 6a.m., he sits down to write his own fiction for two hours; he goesinto the office from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; at night, he often attends acomedy club or a sitcom taping.

Growing up near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Stein, who says thathe was first drawn to sitcoms while watching “Get Smart” and “The OddCouple,” was imbued with “Jewish left-wing” politics and a love forliterature. His grandfather was a barber and a Yiddish journalist,his father was a union organizer, and his mother was a librarian.

The author draws upon his childhood memories in illustrating theBronx Jewish middle-class families that appear in “Touch and Go.” Healso touches, however unconsciously, upon the family trauma thatoccurred when he was 15 — the beginning of his older brother’sdownward spiral into mental illness.

Several characters in the short stories are tormented byrelationships with troubled brothers: In “Death in Belize,” a gay manjourneys far from home to avoid the pain of watching his siblingwaste away, but remains wracked by guilt.

In “Close Calls,” the pill-popping protagonist is pushed intobecoming an overachiever because his brother is not. “[He] can’t holddown a job, and I was always the one who succeeded, always the onewho set goals, always the one who had to do everything perfectly,”the character says, lamenting. “I take pills perfectly, too. I don’teven need water to swallow them.”

Stein dealt more directly with his brother’s illness in his firstnovel, “Straightjacket & Tie” (1994), in which the elder brotheris a schizophrenic who believes gays are taking over the world, andthe younger brother is struggling with the growing awareness that heis gay.

All this hasn’t stopped Stein himself from becoming anoverachiever. He graduated from Yale and from the Columbia GraduateSchool of Journalism and worked his way up the corporate TV ladderwhile still in his 20s. He has written episodes of “Cheers,” “MurphyBrown” and “The Golden Girls.”

Yet he isn’t above poking some vicious fun at his day job in”Touch and Go.” In “Close Calls,” the mortified protagonist has topitch a show to Fox about a black rabbi: “Go Down, Moses.” “They lovehigh-concept,” his boss assures him.

Once, Stein really did hear a pitch for a “‘Go Down, Moses,’ butwe passed on it,” he says, laughing.

Actually, the writer likes balancing the “intensely communal”world of television with the “intensely solitary” world of fiction.And he doesn’t see any conflict between calling himself a “gay-Jewishsocialist” and working in the capitalistic world of network TV.

“It is not unprogressive to give people pleasure,” says Stein, whois proud of his upcoming series, “George & Leo,” starring JuddHirsch and Bob Newhart as the mismatched machitonim (in-laws)of a mixed marriage. “I just hope I can work on shows that givepeople as much pleasure as ‘Taxi’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’have given me.”

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