Summer TV: A host of Jewish stars shine in new and returning shows


PREMIERING THIS SUMMER

David Schwimmer follows “The People v. O.J. Simpson” with “Feed the Beast,” about two friends’ struggle to open a Greek restaurant in the Bronx (AMC June 5 at 10 p.m.; Sundays). Ellen Barkin plays the matriarch of a dysfunctional crime family in the drama “Animal Kingdom” (TNT, June 14 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). Winona Ryder portrays the single mother of a young boy who has disappeared in the supernatural mystery “Stranger Things” (Netflix, July 15). Sketch comedy veteran Maya Rudolph joins forces with Martin Short in the variety show “Maya & Marty” (NBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.).

Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things”

RETURNING SERIES

Shiri Appleby  in “UnREAL”

Mark Feuerstein stars in the eighth and final season of the concierge medicine series “Royal Pains” (USA, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), with Ben Shenkman and Henry Winkler in supporting roles. Howie Mandel is back at the judges’ table for the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent” (NBC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m.). Scott Wolf deals with thorny personal issues as chief surgeon at a Texas hospital in Season 3 of “The Night Shift” (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.). Shiri Appleby faces more moral dilemmas as the producer of a “Bachelor”-like reality show in Lifetime’s “UnREAL” (June 6 at 10 p.m.; Mondays). And Rashida Jones reassumes the title role in the spoofy TBS  cop show “Angie Tribeca,” (June 6 at 9 p.m.; Mondays). 

James Wolk in “Zoo”

Michaela Watkins returns in Jason Reitman’s brother-sister comedy “Casual” (Hulu, Season 2’s two-episode premiere on June 7; Tuesdays) and Eric Dane gets a promotion to Chief of Naval Operations in the pandemic drama “The Last Ship” (TNT, June 12 at 9 p.m., Sundays). David Duchovny reprises his role as an LAPD detective investigating Charles Manson in “Aquarius” (NBC, June 16 at 9 p.m., Thursdays). Jill Kargman juggles career and motherhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in season 2 of “Odd Mom Out” (Bravo, June 20 at 10  p.m.; Mondays). James Wolk is still dealing with an outbreak of mysterious animal behavior in “Zoo” (CBS, June 28 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). 

Michael Rosenbaum in “Impastor”

Moran Atias in “Tyrant”

Power plays and family intrigue continue for Moran Atias in Season 3 of “Tyrant” (FX, July 6 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays), set in a fictional Middle East nation. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are BFF New Yorkers navigating life, love and showbiz in the second season of “Difficult People” (Hulu, July 12). Still on the run from loan sharks, Michael Rosenbaum continues posing as a gay priest in TV Land’s comedy “Impastor” (June 26 at 10 p.m.; Sundays) and Carly Chaikin is back in USA’s cyber-hacking drama “Mr. Robot,” (July 13 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays). Corey Stoll fights a vampire epidemic in the third season of “The Strain” (FX, Aug. 28 at 10 p.m.; Sundays.).

MOVIES, SPECIALS AND EPISODES

Seeking to escape their ho-hum lives, Adam Sandler and his buddy (David Spade) fake their deaths and assume new identities in the comedy “The Do-Over,” now streaming on Netflix. Comedian Ben Gleib’s stand-up special “Neurotic Gangster” premieres June 3 on Showtime. Paul Rudd plays a writer-turned-caregiver on a road trip with his teenage charge in “The Fundamentals of Caring” (Netflix, June 24).

‘Homeland’ creator to direct film on Israel’s rescue of Ethiopian Jews


Since adapting his Israeli show “Prisoners of War” for U.S. audiences in the form of the Showtime hit “Homeland,” writer and director Gideon Raff has seen his Hollywood career take off.

After creating the series “Tyrant” for FX and “Dig” for USA, the Israeli Raff has now sold a pitch for a film on Israel’s early 1980s rescue of Ethiopian Jews to Fox Searchlight Pictures.

According to Variety, Raff will write, produce and direct “Operation Brothers,” which will be based on Israel’s efforts in the ’80s to airlift Ethiopian Jews who were trapped in refugee camps and discriminated against in Sudan. Raff’s film will follow the story from its beginnings in 1977, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the Mossad to devise a plan to save the Ethiopians. It is unclear yet whether the film will depict either of Israel’s two biggest rescue operations: Operation Moses (1984 -1985 ) or Operation Solomon (1991), which combined led to the rescue of over 20,000 Ethiopians.

A French film from 2005 named “Live and Become,” which centered on a young Ethiopian’s journey during Operation Moses, won a Cesar award (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for best screenplay and garnered several other awards in international festivals.

Alexandra Milchan, who was an executive producer on the 2013 hit “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is set to produce alongside Raff.

Raff has been arguably the most successful Israeli crossover filmmaker in recent years, bringing Israeli and Middle Eastern themes and political issues into the Hollywood mainstream. “Homeland” and its progenitor “Prisoners of War” both involved soldiers who return home after being held captive by Islamists. “Dig,” which got poor reviews and was cancelled after one season, followed an American FBI agent on an archaeological mission in Jerusalem. “Tyrant,” which has reached moderate success, follows the son of a fictional tyrannical Arab ruler in a fictional Middle Eastern country. The latter two shows had to be filmed outside of Israel during the summer of 2014 when the conflict between Israel and Hamas flared up.

But if Raff’s new project succeeds, it might be the most quintessential Israeli work he has created so far.

‘Tyrant’ quitting Tel Aviv over rocket fire


The production of “Tyrant” is leaving Tel Aviv because of the ongoing rocket fire in Israel.

The television drama, which was co-created by Israeli writer Gideon Raff, will move its operations to Istanbul, Turkey, Variety reported Wednesday. Air raid sirens and ongoing rocket fire from Gaza have disrupted the production, and members of the cast and crew have posted on social media about the stresses of running to bomb shelters.

The show’s producers reportedly hope to return the production to Israel if the situation allows it.

“Tyrant,” which airs on the American cable network FX, is set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin.

Meanwhile, executives of the USA Network’s “Dig,” which had been filming in and around Jerusalem, are waiting to determine their next move, according to a report in TV Guide. The show delayed its return to shooting from a hiatus because of the current violence; the break will be extended by several days.

“Dig,” which also was created by Raff,  was on hiatus when Operation Protective Edge began last week.

“Our first priority is the safety of our cast and crew,” said a statement from Universal Cable Productions, according to TV Guide. “We will continue to assess the situation and plan accordingly.”

‘Homeland’ co-creator wants Israel to be prime spot for U.S. TV shows


The Israeli co-creator of hit spy thriller television series “Homeland” believes his native country should become a prime location for U.S. television shows about the Middle East and is working hard to make this happen.

Writer-director Gideon Raff is at the helm of Fox drama “Tyrant” and NBCUniversal archeological mystery “The Dig”, two U.S. productions under way simultaneously inIsrael – a first for the country's small but active entertainment industry.

Until a decade ago, Israel was shunned by foreign studios for fear of suicide bombings during a Palestinian uprising. But with the violence now abated and many neighbouring Arab states riven by strife, Israeli facilities enjoy a new appeal.

“To concoct the Middle East in Los Angeles you have to spend a lot of money. You need to get the cars, the attire and the faces right,” Raff said in an interview at his Tel Aviv office, its walls festooned with actors' headshots and storyboards.

“The Middle East is not just a desert, and Americans are increasingly sophisticated and expect a show set outside the United States to have been shot outside of the United States.”

He gave, as an example, the experience of filming in Jaffa, an Arab district of Tel Aviv, where “the moment you set up, everything you get on camera is worth millions of dollars”.

Raff said Israel, as a Middle East location, faced brisk competition from Jordan and Morocco, where filming can be cheaper. Israel does not offer significant tax breaks to foreign productions and its television crews charge close to U.S. rates.

But the 42-year-old Raff, who has a second home in California, said his American colleagues were drawn by the after-hours attractions of liberal Tel Aviv and “freewheeling Israeli creativity, which helps a lot in getting the job done”.

 

REVOLUTIONARY

“Tyrant,” which airs in the United States next month, portrays the Americanised son of an Arab dictator who, while visiting his family, finds himself in the midst of an uprising.

The drama's pilot was shot in Morocco and the remaining 10 episodes of the first season are being filmed, well away from public view, in a custom-built studio complex outside the Israeli town of Kfar Sava, as well as exterior locations.

Raff denied an Israeli newspaper report that “Tyrant”, set in the fictional country of “Abu Din”, drew inspiration from Syria's civil war-racked Assad dynasty. He described the show as a broader examination of a revolutionary epoch in the region.

“It aspires to bring the Arab world, the Middle East, to American society and American screens for the first time.”

Raff's partner in the $30 million project is U.S. producer Howard Gordon, with whom he collaborated on “Homeland”, an Emmy award-winning Showtime series about a CIA officer chasing a Marine POW turned al Qaeda sleeper agent.

That show, now in its fourth season, was based on an Israeli television drama created by Raff, “Hatufim”, and used several locations and actors in Israel.

Raff said the success of “Homeland” could prove a double-edged sword for Israel, raising the profile of local professionals but leading many to secure jobs abroad.

“So what I tried to do was to help the industry here by bringing productions here,” he said.

His Hollywood credentials helped Raff launch “The Dig”, two of whose six episodes he will direct when filming gets under way in Jerusalem next month. He describes that show, which is being co-produced by Israeli entertainment firm Keshet and is scheduled for broadcast by USA Network at year's end, as “a kind of 'Da Vinci Code' set in the world's holiest city”.

“The Dig”, whose hero is an FBI attache to Israel caught up in a murder mystery, is set partly in a archeological site in Arab East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim the territory as their own and worry that the show might validate Israel's hold on it.

“Such a production will legitimise the annexation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the authenticity and character of the occupied city,” PLO negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said in December.

Raff said that, though locations were still being sought, there were no plans to film in the East Jerusalem hot-spots.

“We are not doing anything to be provocative,” he said. “This is not a show about the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict.”

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Ang Lee doing TV


Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee will tackle television for the first time, directing a pilot for a show written by the Israeli writer who created the popular drama “Homeland.”

Gidi Raff's pilot for “Tyrant,” about an American family caught up in a Middle East country, was picked up by the FX cable channel. FX announced last month that Lee will direct the pilot this summer.

It is Lee's first project since the “Life of Pi,” Reuters reported — Lee won the Oscar for best director.

The Israeli TV network Keshet is collaborating on the series.