Friday, July 14
Literature takes center stage with The New Short Fiction Series, a host of evenings in which actors read from a published work of fiction. This year’s first featured writer is author and poet Carol Schwalberg, whose “The Midnight Lover and Other Stories” will be performed, tonight.
8 p.m. $10. Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-2220.
U.S. Studios Court Israeli Programmers
Danna Stern, head of acquisitions at YES, Israel’s only television satellite company, was surprised to see that Mark Burnett, reality TV guru and producer of hit shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” had only one framed press clipping in his office: a feature on him that had appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily.
Stern and her associates get wined and dined every year by television network executives at a weeklong Los Angeles screening of shows in May, during which 2,000 television executives from all over the world sit all day in front of studio screens to view the new fall season pilots for sale.
Hollywood exports are a big business, and U.S. studios sometimes rake in more from international licensing than domestic. Even though Israeli acquisitions account for only 2 percent of overseas television exports, Stern thinks Israel gets special attention.
“They’re always interested way beyond our share in the market — and the same goes for the talent,” she said. “Because we’re a very recognizable country, they’re very accessible to us.”
In addition, she added, most of the marketing people and executives are Jewish, and are “always interested in Israel.”
Stern has mingled with Geena Davis, Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, who take the time to meet with the foreign visitors at studio parties.
“The stars are really interested in hearing what works well,” she said. “They always promise to come [to Israel], but they never do.”
Last month, YES held its first-ever press screening at Israel’s largest cinema complex, Cinema City, in Herzilya, modeling it after the Los Angeles screening, to show-off its newest acquisitions. Among them are: “Prison Break,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Commander in Chief,” “The War at Home,” “Supernatural Invasion” and “How I Met Your Mother.” YES directors believed that the number and quality of acquisitions justified its screening, in which dozens of Israeli reporters got to watch U.S. television for an entire day.
While the new shows will be broadcast early next year, the turnaround time between a show’s U.S. premiere and its Israeli premiere is much shorter than in the past.
YES was founded about five years ago, increasing competition in the Israeli television market. Before that, only one cable company and two Israeli networks, Channel 2 and IBA, vied for U.S. and European shows. Now, YES competes with a whole slew of television outlets: a new Israeli network (Channel 10) and locally run niche channels for lifestyle, music, action, children, comedy, parenting, sports, documentaries and even Judaism.
Prior to this television growth spurt, visitors or immigrants to Israel were hard pressed to find their favorite U.S. TV show on Israeli channels, and if they did, they were stuck with shows from a season or two earlier. “Seinfeld” first aired only after the third season premiered in the United States.
“Everyone is trying to shorten the time because of piracy — people are already downloading shows the next day, so we can’t afford to wait as we usually did,” Stern said
The YES executive said that the current delay of a few months still has advantages. Israel does not air reruns, and a U.S. buzz around a show has enough time to echo in Israel.
YES has been the leader in importing U.S., as well as British, TV shows, including “The West Wing,” “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Comeback,” “Arrested Development,” “The O.C.,” “Hope and Faith,” “Scrubs” and more. Last year’s acquisition, “Desperate Housewives,” is the biggest hit. Other shows, like “Nip/Tuck,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Lost,” were picked up by other Israeli networks.
Sometimes Israeli buyers view new shows via broadband, but May is the time the big sales occur, when Stern and her associates choose among 30-40 programs. She noted that shows with religious themes, like “7th Heaven” and “Joan of Arcadia,” don’t do well in Israel.
“I think Israelis are a little more sophisticated than the average American viewer,” she said. “They tend to like things with an edge.”
Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tova’s Songs Good for Yiddish’s Image
The Real World: Warlord
Imagine an Uzbek warlord who takes time between mortar attacks to remove his clothes and display his manhood in the bunker. Now, imagine that he willingly does this for a camera operator, who films the chieftain and his family for an “Osbournes”-meets-“Sopranos” reality-TV show.
It sounds almost plausible in the age of “The Apprentice” and “Survivor.” But, in fact, this is the setup for a fictional reality-TV show at the heart of Peter Lefcourt’s new novel, “The Manhattan Beach Project” (Simon & Schuster, $24).
Lefcourt, who quips that he is “a card-carrying Jew,” will discuss his latest social satire at the Jewish Book Festival, which will run from Oct. 30 through Dec. 11. The event is organized by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys and will feature a wide range of writers.
It will kick off with Bruce Bauman discussing “And the Word Was,” his debut novel about the aftermath of a Columbine-type tragedy on the life of a doctor. Also appearing will be Ursula Bacon, author of “Shanghai Diary,” a memoir about a young girl’s journey from Europe to Shanghai at the time of the Holocaust.
Bookended by scenes at a Debtors Anonymous meeting, “The Manhattan Beach Project” takes off when a bankrupt CIA agent convinces a down-on-his-luck producer — a fellow debtor — to pitch a reality-TV series about the daily activities of a warlord in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. The warlord has the typical dysfunctional family: a mistress, an angry wife who never leaves her room, a lesbian daughter, one teenage son who is an onanist and another who joins the Taliban. Unbeknownst to the producer, the rogue agent has turned the warlord’s basement into a safe house for pirated videos, the ultimate no-no in Hollywood.
With or without a Jewish theme, “The Manhattan Beach Project” skewers Hollywood the way Tom Wolfe lampooned Wall Street in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Lefcourt shows the callowness of these show biz Masters of the Universe.
Over the past 30 years, Lefcourt has written and produced television dramas like “Cagney & Lacey” and miniseries like “The Women of Windsor,” but it’s his novels that most closely reflect his comic sensibility. His best-known prior book, “The Dreyfus Affair,” depicts with dark humor a gay romance set in homophobia-ridden big league baseball.
“The Dreyfus Affair” has been optioned several times by movie studios but never produced, so Lefcourt is intimately familiar with the reptilian nature of Hollywood executives in the mold of Sammy Glick, and the difficulties in getting a project green-lighted.
Lefcourt cites no particular inspiration for “The Manhattan Beach Project,” but says that he was “so attached to” producer Charlie Berns, hero of his first sardonic novel on Hollywood, “The Deal,” that he wanted to bring him back. Berns, an erstwhile Oscar-winning film honcho, resurrects his career in “The Manhattan Beach Project” by entering the world of reality TV, which Lefcourt calls “the crack cocaine of the TV business. It’s addictive, debilitating and noninformative…. It seems to have peaked, but it will be with us, in one form or another, for a long time, like a flu epidemic.”
“The Manhattan Beach Project’s” overarching metaphor, show biz as a top-secret, clandestine society, where anyone can be whacked, has always been apt, particularly in recent times. He’s no fan of Michael Eisner and his ilk, and concludes his acknowledgments by sarcastically thanking Eisner for “going down with the ship.”
Would Mikey have green-lighted “Warlord”? According to Lefcourt, Eisner would have “yellow-lit it” — keeping it at arm’s length “in case it blew up in his face.”
Peter Lefcourt will read and discuss his book on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena.
Also at the festival: The Jewish Journal will co-sponsor a Nov. 30 event with author Ruth Andrew Ellenson, editor of “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.” For festival information call (626) 967-3656.
Filmfest Seeing Red
Change of Command on ‘Commander in Chief’
Was it sex, TV politics or controversial opinions about the Middle East? Or something else entirely?
News reports and sources cite conflicting reasons why Israeli-born Rod Lurie was booted or departed as show-runner of the successful new ABC drama, “Commander in Chief,” about the first female president of the United States. Lurie, the show’s creator, was replaced by TV veteran Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law”) last week — a highly unusual move on a show that is doing so well in the ratings.
Neither Lurie nor Bochco was available for comment on the backstage drama of who deposed the show’s real-life commander in chief and why.
However, rumors began circulating when well-connected entertainment columnist Nikki Finke reportedly told “The Drudge Report” that Lurie was sacked for wanting a “rough” limo sex scene between the president’s daughter and a Secret Service agent.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Lurie and his bosses had “creative differences” about future episodes. A source told The Journal that the pro-Israel producer had hoped to create episodes in which the fictional president grapples with the Middle East conflict — episodes that may have been too controversial for the network.
Lurie is the son of Ranan Lurie, the famed Israeli political cartoonist, who often entertained Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the family’s Herzelyia home. Young Rod moved with his parents to Greenwich, Conn., as a boy. He studied Middle East politics at West Point and worked for the U.S. military, before becoming a film critic and, ultimately, a director in 1999.
His first film, “Deterrence,” revolved around a Jewish president of the United States (Kevin Pollock) who must decide whether to drop the atomic bomb on Iraq.
The Post also surmised that Lurie was “stretched too thin trying to handle writing, producing and directing on the series, while juggling those helpful ‘notes’ from 25-year-old studio and network suits.”
Production reportedly fell so far behind that executives worried that they wouldn’t have enough episodes to push the show through sweeps month in November. Another potential looming problem is the show’s mixed critical reception: Some reviewers speculated that the appealing premise and stars – — Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland – — would not be enough to retain viewers, unless the quality or depth of the product improves.
Lurie will retain his executive producer title on the series, but will focus on developing new projects under his recent deal with Touchstone, a Touchstone press release said. Touchstone produces the ABC series.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Bochco’s for over two decades. I’m blown-away, excited to see how much more he will electrify ‘Commander In Chief,'” Lurie said in the release.
“I have always been a big Rod Lurie fan, and I’m excited about … helping to realize Touchstone’s and Rod Lurie’s vision,” Bochco said in the release.
This season, the Jewish Bochco unveiled Hollywood’s first TV drama on the Iraq War, “Over There,” which aims at a realistic depiction of war that Bochco insists is apolitical. One can only surmise whether Bochco’s approach will translate, for example, to dealing with an issue such as the Middle East in “Commander in Chief.” And whether the show will rise or fall as a result.
Kabbalah and the Modern Shrink
Channel Surf With the Tribe
Welcome to fall: The time of High Holidays, contemplation, repentance and really, really long services.
And did I mention TV?
OK, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure your calendar is marked with things like “bake brisket, 350 F for five hours” and “bring challah to Goldbergs for break the fast” and “climb neighbor’s palm for sukkah fronds.”
But just maybe you’re also tuned in to another new year. And you’ve also scribbled in: “Watch new ‘Will and Grace'” and “TiVo ‘Alias.'”
With so many returning and premiering shows, it’s hard to know what will make you want to celebrate or just repent the time wasted. Here’s the lowdown on what some of the Jew crew is up to: the shows, the times and, the nu, why you should care. Look fast — some of these won’t be around come Passover.
Sundays, 9 p.m.
Joely Fisher joins the cast this season as Nina, Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) boss, who is said to be the new “witch with a B” in town. But come on, do you really need a reason to watch this guilty pleasure?
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
Creator Rod Lurie brings a new look to the White House with a female president (Geena Davis) who takes over when the current prez dies in office. The buzz on this political drama could keep the show in office for a long time.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
After this David E. Kelley show was held to make room for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the cast is ready to go — which means less repeats and more hijinx from Denny Crane (William Shatner) in and out of the courtroom.
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Dead or alive, bad or good, Michael Vartan’s Vaughn is still hot. But is he a hot double agent? And is that bad or what?
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.
“Sex and the City” meets the world of real estate in more ways than one. Evan Handler (Charlotte’s hubby Harry Goldenblatt on the HBO series) plays the psychiatrist next door.
“How I Met Your Mother”
Mondays, 8:30 p.m.
Five hip 20-somethings on CBS. And they said it couldn’t happen. In this “flashback” show, cutie patootie Jason Segel plays Marshall, whose engagement prompts his friend, Ted (voiced as an adult in 2030 by Bob Saget), to jump on the get-married bandwagon. The sitcom tells us how it went.
“Out of Practice”
Mondays, 9:30 p.m.
What if the Fonz was married to Rizzo and both became doctors. Besides forming the greatest match in pop culture, you’d have a new sitcom starring Henry Winkler as a Dr. Dad with three Dr. Kids and a Dr. Ex-Wife. (Winkler is also putting in an appearance on NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” Sundays, 10 p.m.)
“The King of Queens”
Mondays, 8 p.m.
How will Arthur (Jerry Stiller) react when his daughter starts taking a pole-dancing class? Probably not so good. But will his displeasure be related to her skill at pole dancing or something else?
Wednesdays, 8 p.m.
This season Jami Gertz’s Judy has to deal with a son who just lost his virginity to an Italian con artist. Then there’s the neighbor who has a “Field of Dreams” complex — he builds a whiffle ball field next door. If he builds it, they will whiff?
Wednesdays, 9 p.m
Special agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) heads the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, after coming back from a sabbatical for post-traumatic stress. Yes it is another crime drama, but anything with Indigo Montoya is worth watching.
Fridays, 10 p.m.
Dad Alan (Judd Hirsch) watches as brotherly love turns to sibling rivalry between FBI agent Don (Rob Morrow) and his numbers-loving brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz). Oh, and the two investigate a possible terrorist attack on the L.A. subways. Hmm. Wonder where they got that idea?
“The War at Home”
Sundays, 8:30 p.m.
Michael Rapaport plays a politically incorrect father of three in this sitcom. Think Bunker meets Bundy, minus some much-needed laughs.
Sundays, 8 p.m.
Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) and the rest of the Springfield gang are back for a 17th season of spoof, satire and, of course, a new “Treehouse of Horror” special.
Sundays, 9:30 p.m.
The Griffins, including Lois (Alex Boorstin), Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis), are up against “Desperate Housewives,” but don’t think that means the folks behind this clever animated show are worried — they’ve got Phyllis Diller.
Mondays, 8 p.m.
Jew-by-choice (sort of) George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is under house arrest in the third season (and his wife decides to do some dating). So plan on some interesting scenes as he attempts to circumcise — er, make that circumvent — the situation.
“That ‘70s Show”
Wedensdays, 8 p.m.
Josh Meyers joins the cast in what is likely its last season — otherwise it would have to become “That Early ‘80s Show.” Look for Jackie (Mila Kunis) to have a run-in with Mary Tyler Moore (who plays a perky news anchor) while Donna (Laura Prepon) tests her love for the missing Eric, who heads to Africa.
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
This season the bookstore-themed show focuses less on plot and more on character, so look for less Pamela Anderson chest jokes (Get it? Stacked?) and more background on Marissa Jarret Winokur’s Katrina and Elon Gold’s Gavin. Yeah, right.
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
So much drama, so little time. Creator Josh Schwartz says tragedy will mix in with the romance and fun this season — but let’s hope Linda Lavin’s Nana is back for some more guilt, too.
Mondays, 9 p.m.
After the Montecito imploded last season everything changed for surveillance chief Ed Deline (James Caan). He now has to worry about the “extreme makeover,” missing staff, a new boss and Vegas tourists who attempt to find this fictional casino, which is actually located in Culver City.
Mondays, 10 p.m.
Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette is back as a secret psychic who catches serial killers — say that five times fast — in this spooky sci-fi drama.
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m
The Dick Wolf franchise, which never gets tired of spin-offs, begins season seven with a bang — literally. It’s rumored that one of the detectives will get shot. (Hope it isn’t Richard Belzer’s detective John Munch, whose wry observations offset some of the squad room drama.)
“Will and Grace”
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.
Creators say after the live season premiere, the quartet — plus Karen’s maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison) — get back to their roots as this sitcom gets ready to say “Shalom.” Grace’s (Debra Messing) ex-husband, Dr. Leo, returns for four episodes and she still has that little problem of having kissed her very married ex-boyfriend.
Thursdays, 9 p.m.
The Donald is back for more fired-up fun, but keep an eye out for 22-year-old Adam, a risk manager from Atlanta, whose family is from Israel and said his background had a “tremendous influence on his values.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“The Poseidon Adventure”
Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.
This remake of the 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick version is missing the huge wave, Maureen McGovern’s “Morning After” and Shelley Winters. Instead, we get Steven Guttenberg and terrorists. Welcome to the new millennium.
“What I Like About You”
Fridays, 8 p.m.
Holly (Amanda Bynes) follows the love of her life on a cross-country trip. The problem is that he’s taking it with another girl. Also watch this season for a mini-90210 reunion.
“Living With Fran”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.
Fran (Fran Drescher) finally introduces her non-Jewish younger boyfriend to the rest of the mishpacha at a family bar mitzvah. Meanwhile son Josh (Ben Feldman) hits a quarter-life crisis.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
Rumor is Joan Rivers is back for more nipping and tucking. And just in the nick (and tuck) of time.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Sundays, 10 p.m.
Is Larry (Larry David) adopted? His father (Shelley Berman) seems to think so. But would either set of parents want to claim him. Plus, watch for Larry to have a religious experience beyond having “Hava Negilah” as his cell phone ringtone.
Kingsley’s ‘Twist’ on a Dickens Thief
Mensch Seeks Shayna Maideleh
The search is on for “a nice Jewish boy” — and no, this time it’s not your mother who’s looking.
A team of scouts is scouring the Diaspora for the ideal single Jewish man for a new Israeli reality television show. Once selected, the bachelor, who according to producers preferably will be good looking and “financially secure,” will come to Israel for the summer, when 15 young Israeli women will compete to capture his heart.
“We all grow up in Jewish houses and we know the dream of Jewish mothers is that their son finds a nice Jewish girl,” said Gadi Veinrib, a producer for the show, to be called — what else? — “A Nice Jewish Boy.”
The bachelor will be sent to Israel “to meet the nice Jewish love of his life,” he said.
The show’s producers will be holding casting calls for the show in New York, Los Angeles and a European city in the next few weeks. There may be teleconferences in Australia as well.
Producers are trying to get the word out via Jewish organizations.
Already they have been flooded by hundreds of queries from the United States, Europe, Australia and South Africa, many from Jewish women offering their brothers, friends and cousins for the job.
In Israel, there also has been a huge response from women hoping to be among the pool of bachelorettes. Scouts also are searching for female contestants at university campuses, clubs and bars. The show is also considering including Jewish women from abroad as contestants, said Veinrib, who was among the production team of the hit Israeli reality TV show “The Ambassador.”
The reality series is to take place over the course of three months. It will be set in a luxurious villa, complete with a pool and a lush garden, in central Israel. The young women will live there, and — as in the American ABC show “The Bachelor” — will be courted by the man on individual dates. Every week another bachelorette will be eliminated, and by the end of the show, producers hope, the man will have found his future mate.
The producers are looking for women in their early 20s to mid 30s and for men from their mid 20s to mid to late 30s. Interested? Send photos and a C.V. to the show at email@example.com.
Deep Throat: Not a Jew
The Gold and the Beautful
“They hated me, didn’t they, because they barely laughed,” Elon Gold said fretfully after his audition on the new Fox sitcom “Stacked,” starring Pamela Anderson.
“That’s exactly the neurosis your character needs,” Executive Producer Steve Levitan told the 34 year old comic-actor (“You’re the One,” “The In-Laws”).
The anxiety factor is why Gold was hired as a last-minute replacement for Tom Everett Scott, who was deemed too laid back to portray Gavin, the tense bookstore owner employing party girl Skyler (Anderson).
In the promising pilot — which one critic called “‘Frasier’ with boobs” — Gold proved a hilarious comic foil for the vacuous yet surprisingly insightful Anderson. The ex “Baywatch” beauty whose, er, body of work has rendered her America’s iconic blonde bombshell, is the latest celebrity to essentially play herself on TV, albeit not on a reality show.
Gold, in part, is playing himself, too. The character “needs to be an uptight, neurotic intellectual, and I think that Elon can portray that,” Levitan told the New York Daily News.
The comic agrees that his “head is filled with all kinds of crazy problems”; the latest is Levitan’s idea about creating a Marilyn Monroe-Arthur Miller style affair between Gavin and Skyler.
“I’m almost hoping they don’t make my character Jewish, in case romance sparks and I get in trouble from all my relatives for marrying a shiksa,” said Gold, an observant Jew.
The relatives no doubt approve his take on landing the show to “a Purim miracle,” however. On that holiday, Levitan called him in for a meeting and the next night he was surprised in his synagogue parking lot by a Fox executive, with Gold’s contract in hand.
The comic said he was excited to land the sitcom because it’s “a throwback to shows like ‘Cheers’ and ‘Taxi'” and also because of ex-Playboy model Anderson, whom he had ogled on “Baywatch.”
“It doesn’t matter what she wears, she’s provocative,” he said of meeting her on the “Stacked” set. But he’s madly in love with his wife, Sacha, who does not feel threatened by Anderson.
“Her theory is, the more beautiful the actress, the less chance I’d ever have,” Gold said.
“Stacked” airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.
How Funny Is Passover?
How to Get Jews on TV
In 1989, Richard Rosenstock created an ABC pilot based on the film, “The Flamingo Kid,” which was ostensibly set in the Jewish beach club scene of the 1950s and ’60s.
“I’d grown up among the Westchester County, N.Y., version of those clubs, so it was a chance to draw on autobiographical elements and to write what I knew,” said Rosenstock, now an Emmy-winning co-executive producer of Fox’s “Arrested Development.”
Yet when he tracked down the original script of the 1984 movie, he noted that the filmmakers had changed the hero’s name from Jeffrey Weiner to Jeffrey Willis and “had de-Jewed the material,” he said. “So I actually made the pilot even more Jewish than the movie, on purpose, because that bothered me.”
Rosenstock is one of six Jewish screenwriters who will appear on a panel to discuss how Judaism affects their work as part of The Jewish Screenwriter Speakers Series on March 29 and May 3 at B’nai David-Judea. Participants at the young professionals event, sponsored by The Jewish Journal, will include Michael Borkow (“Roseanne,” “Friends,” “Malcolm in the Middle”); Mike Sikowitz (“Friends,” “Veronica’s Closet”); Howard Gordon (“The X-Files,” “24”); David Sacks (“The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle”) and Michael Glouberman (“Third Rock from the Sun,” “Malcolm in the Middle”).
Sikowitz, for one, could call his connection “revenge of the Jewish nerd.” When the 38-year-old did stand-up comedy early in his career, he identified with Woody Allen.
“Allen was aware that he was a scrawny, bookish, horny young man, and I felt like, ‘yes, I’ve been the guy who just wishes he could get the beautiful girl, although she’s not looking at him,'” Sikowitz said. “I was drawn to his smart self-deprecation, and the ability to find not only the pain but the amusement of the situation.”
While writing for “Friends” in the mid-1990s, Sikowitz helped bring that sort of pain and humor to the character of Ross, whom he describes as a “shlimazel.”
Sikowitz cites an episode in which Ross (David Schwimmer), buys a monkey in an effort to appear mysterious and Mediterranean to potential dates, only to have the animal attack a pretty woman on the subway.
Sikowitz was part of the writers group that decided to label Ross Jewish in a holiday episode that opened with him picking the wax out of his menorah. While some observers have complained about a dearth of other Jewish details for Ross, Sikowitz said, “the series was a pop fantasy about attractive, funny people in their 20s hanging out, and I don’t think it had a responsibility to be any more than that.”
He is taking a similarly universal approach with his current pilot, “Grown Men,” based on the friendships and rivalries he experienced with buddies at the Jewish fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The show will focus more on the fraternity behavior than the Jewishness,” he said.
Nevertheless, a central character, David Horowitz, is a member of the tribe and shares Sikowitz’s Woody Allenesque sensibility. When the character kvetches about being less successful than an old frat pal, it’s partly Sikowitz speaking.
“I’ve done fairly well in entertainment,” Sikowitz said, “yet when my buddy who I started out with invites me to his Malibu beach house, part of me goes, ‘Good for him,’ but there’s this sort of Dave Horowitz character part that goes, ‘Why shouldn’t I have this? I’ve worked hard, and if I had gotten this break instead of him, he’d be visiting me at my beach house.'”
If Sikowitz has been inspired by Woody Allen, Rosenstock looks more to Philip Roth. His penchant for Jewish subjects began, he said, when he viewed the movie version of Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” upon its release in 1969. Based on Roth’s work about class warfare between nouveau riche and working-class Jews, the film “astounded” Rosenstock with material that felt so familiar to his own upper-middle-class Conservative Jewish childhood in Yonkers, N.Y.
Rosenstock was also influenced by a late 1960s zeitgeist in which Dustin Hoffman and Richard Benjamin were leading men, and in which Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky made commercial films with varying degrees of Jewish content.
“All this inspired me — that you can actually put overtly Jewish characters onscreen,” he said.
Rosenstock did just that when he created his own TV series in the 1990s; 1992’s “Flying Blind,” which he describes as “‘The Graduate’ meets ‘After Hours,'” tipped the hat to Roth with a protagonist named after “Columbus'” Neil Klugman.
Meanwhile, Gordon, a Reform Jew active at University Synagogue, waited four years to create the perfect “X-Files” episode based on the Frankenstinian Jewish legend of the Golem.
“It was an opportunity to delve into the mythology of a culture and a religion I identify with strongly,” he said. “It definitely meant more to me than my episode about an African melanin vampire.”
In his current job executive producing the real-time counter-terror drama, “24,” Gordon’s Judaism emerges, if more obliquely, in the dialectic tradition he brings to the characters. Points argued include whether torture is permissible under certain conditions, a thread that has helped make the show popular in Israel, Gordon said. A recent trip to the Jewish state has inspired him to consider introducing an Israeli character on the show, as well as to plan missions to Israel for people in the entertainment industry.
“I’m very interested in finding ways to communicate how wonderful that country is,” he said.
For Orthodox screenwriters, integrating religious observance with sitcom schedules has been a major issue. When Sacks got his first job after he began observing Shabbat in 1987, the producers essentially told him “either work on Shabbos or you’re fired,” he recalled.
His agent said he would not work in television again; eventually, the producers agreed to keep Sacks on the sitcom, but with a lesser salary and title.
The writer has since proved himself on shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Third Rock From the Sun.”
“Now before I accept a job I always discuss Shabbos,” he said. “These days I find people are not quite as concerned about whether you think the dead are going to be resurrected at the end of days. They want to know if you can solve the story problem at the act break.”
Sacks is now a consulting producer at “Malcolm in the Middle,” where three of 11 writers are observant Jews and a kosher lunch menu circulates in the writers room. Nevertheless, he said, he is not a “crusader for Judaism” at work but only in his private life. To this end, he teaches two classes at the Happy Minyan and is a founder of Jewish Impact Films, which aims to improve public relations for Jews and Israel by empowering novice filmmakers to produce positive films on these subjects.
He apparently has paved the way for other observant Jews in the sitcom world. Glouberman, for one, said Sacks indirectly helped him secure his first job, at “Third Rock,” a decade ago. At the time, Glouberman’s agent advised him to mention the Shabbat issue only after he had been hired: “So I called the showrunner and I was very anxious and I said, ‘I’ll work 24 hours a day, but I can’t work Shabbat or Jewish holidays,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, David Sacks worked on our pilot, and we loved him.'”
Today, Glouberman works with Sacks on “Malcolm,” about a quirky family with a genius middle child (Frankie Muniz) his three hooligan brothers, clueless dad and drill-sergeant mom. It’s the universal family, Glouberman said, but he was drawn to the show because the pilot read like someone had hidden a camera in his Orthodox childhood home. To write one episode, he drew on the time his parents accidentally left his brother standing in the corner all night long.
Although the show is rife with gross-out humor and sight gags, Glouberman believes it jibes with his Torah values. He points out that Malcolm’s parents actually love each other, unlike the bickering parents on shows such as Fox’s “Married… With Children,” and that “the children honor their mother and father, although not necessarily in classic terms.”
When the boys take on four clowns who have dissed their mother, for example, “She watches them with this proud smile on her face while they fight and knee clowns in the groin,” Glouberman said.
It may not be classic Torah, but it comes from a Jewish place. As Gordon put it, “My Judaism informs me so deeply it’s hard to unbraid my [writer’s] identity from my Jewish one.”
March 29 and May 3, 7:30 p.m. (cocktails), 8:30 p.m. (speakers). Free. B’nai David-Judea, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. with the number of people in your party to RSVP@jewishjournal.com.
Sugar, Spice and a Binary Device
A Graceless Will?
Is Jewish the new gay? That’s how it’s looking this season on NBC’s "Will and Grace." Grace’s (Debra Messing) romance with hunky Jewish doctor Leo Markus (Harry Connick Jr.) has been a source of conflict between her and gay best friend, Will (Eric McCormack), ever since Leo rode in on a white horse in last year’s season finale. On the Nov. 21 episode, Grace and Leo got married, suggesting a threat to the very survival of Will and Grace’s friendship.
Mixed in with the usual bawdy jokes and witticisms has been an unusual amount of seriousness this season, as the two friends have struggled with the changing nature of their relationship. They ended last season thinking they were going to have a baby together, but Grace’s new romance changed everything, causing a bitter fight between them in one episode. The recent wedding episode (filmed in part at Temple Israel of Hollywood) was especially bittersweet. Amid jokes that included Will using kippot as shoulder pads, came heartfelt exchanges between the two, as Will worked through his resentment and tried to be happy for Grace.
Show co-creator and executive producer David Kohan conceded the marriage is a problem for the dynamic between the best friends. "I’d love her to find a Jewish love interest, but that relationship might actually work, and then there’d be no more ‘Will & Grace’" he told The Journal last year. Kohan has since changed his mind.
"They had to move forward in their lives in some way," he said, noting that the writers have had to deal with making the two "vital to one another."
While remaining unspecific, Kohan implies it’s unlikely the Jewish husband will displace the gay best friend. "Let me put it this way, at some point down the road, something is going to have to intervene," he said.
"Will & Grace" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Bust a Jewish Rhyme
Out of Africa
What started out as a joke between friends fast became a million-dollar goal for a retired Jewish soccer player.
Ethan Zohn emerged as the sole survivor of the third installment of the CBS reality show "Survivor" during the two-hour Jan. 10 finale, defeating Kim Johnson, a 57-year-old retired teacher from Oyster Bay, N.Y.
"I was happy to do our tribe proud," Zohn told The Jewish Journal.
"Survivor: Africa," plagued this season by dwindling audience share in the United States, was recorded last summer in Kenya’s arid Shaba National Reserve. Sixteen contestants faced off in a variety of contests over 39 days, braving 100-degree heat, wild animals and conspiracies.
"It’s one of the most difficult games out there," Zohn said. "It touches upon every part of one’s being, every part of one’s self — emotional, psychological, physical, social."
Throughout his life, the curly-haired 27-year-old has held tightly to his Jewish faith, traditions and culture, seeking out synagogues to pray at during Jewish holidays when the soccer teams he played with were on the road.
"It’s a huge, huge part of my life," he said.
A committed soccer enthusiast, Zohn’s journey into the harsh African terrain had a lighthearted beginning.
Zohn played goalie for soccer teams in Zimbabwe, Hawaii and Massachusetts and with the U.S. soccer team in the 1997 Maccabiah Games. Realizing that he wasn’t going to be the next soccer superstar, Zohn hung up his cleats in 2000 and took a job with a product-naming firm.
But a sudden hiring freeze ended his foray into full-time employment a day before he was scheduled to start. When he asked friends for job advice, they joked that he should try out for "Survivor."
"We made the video, sent it in, and the next thing you know, I got on the show," said Zohn, who earned a reputation for being a nice guy and an introvert as the series unfolded. Like the winner of "Survivor: Australia," Tina Wesson, Zohn emerged victorious without a single elimination vote.
"I’m not the guy who is going to stand up and bark orders and tell people what to do," Zohn said. "I’m more the guy who is going to sit back, observe things — and then based on my observations I’m going to make my moves."
Zohn has nearly gained back the 26 pounds he lost during the show’s filming and is getting back into shape. On Dec. 3, the show’s producers asked Zohn to regrow the beard he’d shaved off following his New York City homecoming for the surprise series finale.
When "Survivor" host Jeff Probst revealed the winner, live from a reconstructed "tribal council" set in Hollywood, the family-oriented Zohn called out to his mother, Rochelle, two brothers and girlfriend, Diana, in the audience, "I’m the favorite son now."
Zohn’s win wasn’t a total surprise. Past "Survivor" winners Wesson and Richard Hatch had picked him to win during a Jan. 9 "Early Show" appearance, and Las Vegas sports book manager Andy DeLuca had Zohn’s win at 6-1 odds early in the game.
His rugged looks, reticence and honesty made him a fan favorite throughout the season.
"I wanted to play the game like I play life — be honest, be fair, play hard, play to win. It was important for me to come home from ‘Survivor’ with my dignity and my self-respect," Zohn said.
But the lack of soap opera-style drama and conflict that characterized the first two seasons has reduced enthusiasm for the show. Television critics point out that the show’s audience is shrinking.
The first season’s finale drew 51.7 million viewers, while the second season’s pulled in 36.4 million. Despite the lower turnout of 27.3 million viewers, "Survivor: Africa" still helped CBS win the Thursday night rating war, trumping NBC’s 21.6 million viewers.
"I think hundreds of shows would dream to have their ratings as ‘bad’ as this year’s ‘Survivor,’" Zohn said.
For Jews, Zohn’s pride in his faith and culture was a refreshing change from the evangelical Christians cast in the show’s previous seasons.
One of this season’s most controversial moments involved what appeared to be a blatantly anti-Semitic comment directed at Zohn.
Fellow contestant Tom Buchanan, a goat and cattle farmer from Rich Valley, Va., called Zohn a "Jew boy" after the two won a reward challenge. Instead of taking offense, Ethan looked on it as an opportunity to educate.
"He didn’t mean any harm by it and didn’t mean it in a derogatory term, and he wasn’t being a racist," Zohn said.
"Tom had never met a Jew before," said Zohn, who also was the first Jew that contestants Clarence Black and Frank Garrison had met. "It was almost like a blessing. I got the opportunity to educate someone about Judaism.
"I’d tell him what it’s like to be Jewish. He’d tell me what it’s like to live on a farm, how to herd goat and sell cattle. It was a learning experience," he said.
Zohn, who attended the Conservative congregation Temple Emunah while growing up in Lexington, Mass., fondly remembers his Jewish upbringing.
And despite the harrowing challenges thrown at Zohn by "Survivor," none could rival the ultimate challenge this newly minted millionaire faced growing up.
It’s something Zohn, who freely discussed his Jewishness on camera, hasn’t talked about publicly — the loss of a parent to cancer.
After his bar mitzvah, Zohn’s involvement with the congregation slowed after his father, Aaron, was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The entire family switched to a macrobiotic diet in the hope of prolonging Aaron Zohn’s life, a regimen Zohn continues to follow.
Aaron Zohn died the following year; Ethan was 14.
"I went and I did minyan for the year after," he said. "It was important for me."
In 1997, Zohn qualified to play for the men’s U.S. soccer team in the Maccabiah Games. Playing soccer in Israel was a dream come true, Zohn said.
"In my mind, it was probably was one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve made in terms of my soccer," he said. "We played Brazil, France, England and Denmark. It’s probably some of the best soccer I played in my life."
He was slated to play in 2001 until the soccer portion was canceled when the Maccabiah was scaled back because of the Palestinian intifada.
Since 1998, the Vassar-educated Zohn has been the assistant coach for the Fairleigh Dickinson University men’s and women’s soccer teams in Teaneck, N.J. He is considering a variety of other soccer options, including a youth-development program proposed during the "Survivor" finale, and joining soccer’s upcoming World Cup in some capacity.
"Staying involved in soccer is important to me," he said. "Being an ambassador to the game would be great."
Zohn has kept in contact and visited with the other "Survivor: Africa" contestants since the series wrapped last summer, especially Johnson, Buchanan, Black, Teresa Cooper and Lex van den Berghe. Zohn’s visit to Buchanan in Virginia made an indelible impression.
"It was crazy," he said. "I tripled the population of Jews when I walked into that place."