November 19, 2018

Israeli Series ‘The Baker and the Beauty’ Headed to U.S. TV

American audiences will be seeing more Israeli series—and English adaptations of Israeli hits—in the coming year.

The hit Israeli comedy “The Baker and the Beauty,” which has two seasons available for streaming via Amazon Prime, will be turned into a one-hour comedy for ABC. Set in Miami, the remake follows the unlikely relationship between a supermodel and a regular guy who works at his Cuban family’s bakery.

Netflix has acquired Keshet International’s “When Heroes Fly,” Israel’s most-watched new drama, to air in subtitled Hebrew on the streaming service early next year. Inspired by a best selling novel and set in the Colombian jungle, it’s about four estranged Special Forces buddies who reunite to find a missing woman, the sister of one and the girlfriend of another.

The cast includes Tomer Kappon (“Fauda,” “Hostages”), Michael Aloni (“Shtisel”), and Oded Fehr (“24: Legacy,” “Once upon a Time”), now appearing in Hulu’s space mission series “The First.”

According to Keshet COO and president Keren Shahar, “It’s one of those series that instantly grabs you and keeps you hooked until the very end. Featuring breathtaking cinematography and a stellar cast, this series feels completely international and totally at home on a global platform like Netflix.”

‘The Leftovers’ and God’s Cosmic Hug

The month of Tishrei had always been a riddle to me until I saw HBO’s television series “The Leftovers.” 

In the heart-racing opening scene of the pilot episode, two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears in a rapture-like event called “The Departure.” The show then immediately jumps ahead to the three-year anniversary of The Departure and exquisitely explores the struggles of those left behind after The Departure.

Their core struggle can be distilled into the following: “Are you OK?” “I am OK.”
“It is going to be OK.” “You are going to be OK.” Everyone is broken by The Departure and feels a profound sadness that threatens to destroy them. There is no escape from this sadness. There is only trying to “be OK” with it. 

This is the soul of “The Leftovers.” It is also the soul of real life.

Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without faith that today’s work will pay off in the future, work becomes an overwhelming burden. People are driven by the need to feel they are going to be OK. We dress up our opinions with fancy arguments and airtight logic, but in the end we choose the option that makes us feel safest.

“Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without that, the work becomes an overwhelming burden.”

Pro-gun rights activists believe they are safer with fewer restrictions on gun ownership. For gun-control activists, the reverse is true. The racist is motivated by the (false) conviction that safety can be found only by living with his or her own race. The pro-diversity progressive is motivated by the conviction that we are safer when all people are treated as equal.

“The Leftovers” distills this idea by raising the stakes. Someone who feels safe now would have a much harder time feeling so if 140 million people suddenly disappeared.

Only one thing in “The Leftovers” can unburden others from their debilitating anguish: a hug. Holy Wayne, a cult leader and pedophile, exorcises the demons of ambiguous loss with a genuinely compassionate hug, as if to say, “I feel your pain, I share in your pain and I am here to help carry your pain. I cannot tell you everything is going to be OK, but you are not alone.” 

Like everything in “The Leftovers,” it is unclear if the hugs are magical or a placebo. Regardless, they work.

The month of Tishrei begins with the High Holy Days funneling Jews into their synagogues for long days of prayer and introspection. I call Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur indoor holidays. A few days later, Sukkot flings us outdoors. For one week, there is a mitzvah to eat, drink and sleep — to live — in a flimsy hut. Sukkot is an outdoor holiday.

The two halves of Tishrei are also a contradiction of emotions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are somber days as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Who will live? Who will die? Then, a few days later, Sukkot flips the mood completely. The Bible calls Sukkot “The Festival of Joy.”

How do such opposing pieces fit together in one single month?

Praying for our lives as we stand in judgment can leave us with a lingering sense of dread and fear. The melodies are haunting, the liturgy is dark and apocalyptic. Worst of all, our verdict is sealed in the Book of Life but we have no idea if we are written in it. We try to have faith that the coming year will be a good one but we do not know if we will be OK. The existential ambiguity can be paralyzing.

A few days later, when we enter the sukkah, we are surrounded by mitzvah, enveloped by its makeshift walls and meager thatched roof. The sukkah is God’s cosmic hug. God is not going to tell us we are going to be OK, but God’s hug has the power to unburden us.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

‘Manifest’ Mixes Mystery, Drama and Spiritual Questions

Josh Dallas, Melissa Roxburgh, Jeff Rake, Executive Producer at the 'Manifest' Press Room (Photo by: Todd Williamson/NBC)

An airplane encounters severe turbulence midflight and lands safely. When the passengers disembark, they’re astonished to discover that five years have passed. This intriguing scenario is the premise of the new NBC drama “Manifest,” but it’s only one element in a series that creator, executive producer and showrunner Jeff Rake likens to “Lost” meets “This Is Us.” 

“It’s a serialized event mystery but also a grounded relationship drama,” Rake told the Journal. “I think people will see elements of both in ‘Manifest.’” 

Rake came up with the idea 10 years ago while on a family road trip. “I thought, ‘What if a family was traveling in two separate planes and one of them disappeared?’ I pitched it around town. Nobody bought it,” he said. Six years later, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished, “and my idea didn’t seem so outrageous after all.” When his series “The Mysteries of Laura” was canceled, he re-pitched the idea.

Although the pilot centers on passengers Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and her brother Ben (Josh Dallas), “almost every episode presents a window into the life of a passenger we may not have met before,” Rake said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we meet some Jewish characters along the way.”

Michaela and Ben also represent opposite sides in an age-old debate: faith vs. science. “She believes that faith explains the mystery of the disappearance and return and the inexplicable things that are happening to them,” including the voices they hear compelling them to act, Rake said.

“Ben, on the other hand, is a mathematician, a man of science and is convinced that there must be an earthbound explanation for everything. In a very organized fashion, he starts breaking down who is and isn’t experiencing these callings, how they’re experiencing them and if there are similarities and differences. It’s one of the puzzles of the show but that question will be answered.”

Rake pointed out that although Michaela’s spiritual reference is the New Testament, “we’ll discover other people from other cultures and different faiths have their own explanations of what is happening to the passengers of this flight. Everyone in the series asks themselves the same question: how and why did this happen? We are not presenting one religious point of view, but offering the idea of faith in the most universal sense. It’s my intention that any person of faith has a way into this conversation,” he said.

“As a Jewish writer, I’m inspired by Jewish themes of redemption, second chances and tikkun olam,” he continued “We come to discover that the characters are flawed human beings who’ve been given a second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves.”

Rake grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Los Angeles and hit the typical Jewish milestones: bar mitzvah, United Synagogue Youth, Camp Hess Kramer as a camper and counselor. He and his wife, Paulette Light, are founding members of IKAR, where her brother David’s wife, Sharon Brous, is the rabbi. Their four kids go to Camp Ramah, and the youngest will celebrate his bar mitzvah in February. “Judaism is a very important part of my life,” he said.

“I’m inspired by Jewish themes of redemption, second chances and tikkun olam. The characters are flawed human beings who’ve been given a second chance.” – Jeff Rake

Involved in speech and debate and drama in high school, Rake put creative interests aside to go to law school. Working for a law firm, he realized he’d made a mistake. He’d written a hip-hop musical about Elvis Presley and took a leave of absence from his job to mount the play at a theater in Hollywood. Soon after, “I quit my job and figured out how to write screenplays.”

He currently has a pilot in development with Warner Bros. for a Freeform show about a female assassin. “I’d love to get back to the theater some day,” he said. “I have a musical that I’d love to get off the ground. But right now it’s all ‘Manifest,’ all the time.”

Intricately plotted, high-concept shows are often hard to sustain and viewers are wary about getting attached to them. Rake acknowledged that fact but believes that “what ‘Manifest’ has going for it is it’s a triple hybrid: A combination of serialized event mystery, grounded relationship drama and procedural because there are closed-ended elements in most episodes that I think the audience will find satisfying as we inch along the mythology,” he said.

“Because we give a lot of real estate to emotional drama and procedure, it allows me to not have to burn through mythology so quickly. I think the serialized mysteries that haven’t worked petered out because they were so reliant on mythology that they had to burn through a lot of story very fast. That’s one pitfall we’ll be able to avoid.”

While the central mystery of the plane’s disappearance and return won’t be answered right away, “you have to turn cards over throughout the course of the series in order to make the audience feel rewarded,” he said. “A big card will be turned over in episode 13.” 

The initial order is for 13 episodes, with the option for nine more. “There will be goal posts along the way where we’ll make major revelations, but in every episode, there will be kernels of information,” Rake promised. “Putting aside the seemingly supernatural elements, I think the emotional drama is very compelling and reason enough to watch, but with the mystery, the procedure and the mythology, there’s something for everyone in this show,” he said. “I hope people will give it a watch and decide for themselves.”

“Manifest” premieres at 10 p.m. Sept. 24 on NBC.

What is the Marvelous May 2018 We Said Go Travel News?

Marvelous May News 2018 with We Said Go Travel:

Thank you for all of your support for We Said Go Travel and me.

Lisa Niver Top 5 Travel BLoggers May 30 2018I am so honored to share that I am a 3x finalist for the Los Angeles Press Club Awards and also the Top Female Travel blogger on the Top 1000 Travel Blog list!

“The 60th SoCal Journalism Awards Contest is the largest and most impressive in our Los Angeles Press Club’s recent history. Our judges sorted through nearly 1,400 entries. Our finalists represent the most talented and hardworking journalists in Southern California! Winners announced on June 24, 2018.”

I will let you know in June what happens with the LA Press Club awards dinner. Here is more information from last year’s event.

Lisa Niver is a catalyst at MAVERICKI am a catalyst for MAVERICK. Click here to see my challenge! And this link will take you to download the app which is a creator network that connects and inspires Gen-Z girls and young women and engages them through a blend of digital and live experiences. Founded on the belief that they not only can but will rule the world, Maverick’s mission is to help build the next generation of creators, innovators and changemakers. #DoYourThing

May was a very exciting month! Besides being a 3x finalist, a catalyst and the top female travel blogger, I spent nearly three weeks in Canada and was on TV in NYC! I am working on the videos from my adventures which I plan to share with you very soon. You can follow along on my social media to see the photos now.

Here are some of the TV links about Monterey County:

Lisa Niver on TV in NYC May 2018



Here are links to my video channels on YouTubeAmazon Fire Tv, and Roku Player. My views on Roku alone are now over one million! My total video views across all platforms is now over 1,860,200 (nearly 1.9M)! ! Thank you for your support! What should I do to celebrate when I get to 2 MILLION views?

Recent videos:

Video #755: Sky Diving for my birthday with GoJump Oceanside!

Video #767: Scuba Diving with Scuba Diving with Bull Sharks

Coming soon: Adventures Across Canada: Click here to see the 15 draft videos! I have more to add.

Lisa Niver on TV In NYC May 10 2018

I loved filming for TV in NYC!

I am now planning and booking travel! Where do you want to wander? Find more information about me and my luxury travel advising as an independent affiliate of CRUISE and RESORT, Inc with Virtuoso Luxury Travel Network on my new microsite!

My fortune cookie said “The Smart Thing is to Prepare for the Unexpected.”

Thank you for your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at My social media following is now over 100,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.


All of the entries from our first Travel Photo award have now been scheduled. After July, when all the entries are published, we will announce the winners.  Thank you to everyone who participated and to our judges, Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere and Jeana from Surf and Sunshine. We hope you will submit a photo in our next award starting SOON!


Thank you to everyone who has participated in our 13 We Said Go Travel Competitions! Find the winners for all of them here.

The sunny view at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in May 2018 by Lisa Niver

The sunny view at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in May 2018

First published on We Said Go Travel.

Where Jewish stars are shining this season

With Andy Samberg emceeing the Emmy Awards on Fox (Sept. 20) a week before his return in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” style maven Rachel Zoe hosting the weekly Lifetime talk show  “Fashionably Late” (Sept. 24), plus former kid stars Josh Peck and Fred Savage in the back-to-back Fox comedies “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder” (Sept. 29), and David Krumholtz in drag as a Boca Raton Jewish grandma in IFC’s “Gigi Does It” (Oct. 1), it’s clear the fall TV season will have a full dose of members of the tribe.

Funny ladies? Check! Zoe Lister-Jones plays a new mom in CBS’ “Life in Pieces”F (Sept. 21); Michaela Watkins is a dating divorcée in Hulu’s “Casual” (Oct. 7); and Rachel Bloom becomes an obsessed “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on the CW (Oct. 12). On a more serious note, Amazon’s drama “Man in the High Castle” posits the chilling hypothetical of what the world would be like had the Germans and Japanese won World War II (Nov. 20). 

As the profiles below reveal, there will be something for every viewing taste.

Jennifer Grey, “Red Oaks”

As one of the 1980s’ biggest movie stars, with “Red Dawn,” “The Cotton Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Dirty Dancing” to her credit, it’s no wonder Jennifer Grey has a fondness for that decade. Her latest project, the Amazon series “Red Oaks,” takes her back to that heady time, and for some viewers, a nostalgic milieu: a Jewish country club in New Jersey in 1985. 

“It’s as if ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’ had a baby, but it was brought up by John Cassavetes,” Grey said of the series, which was shot in New Jersey and New York, where she grew up. “It feels truly innocent and truly funny.” 

Joining a cast that includes Paul Reiser and Richard Kind, both of whom are Jewish, Grey plays a woman who has been defined by her role as wife and mother, and experiences an awakening that finds her asserting her independence and seeking her own happiness. “She gave up her dreams as a young woman. Her son was her whole life, and all her self-esteem came from how good a job she was doing with him. But with her son out of the house, she’s going to advocate on her own behalf.”

Grey can relate to the overprotective parent aspect. Once reluctant to leave her only child, Stella, she turned down work, especially out-of-town projects. But now that her daughter is 13, Grey decided this was a perfect time to get back to work. 

The daughter of actor Joel Grey and granddaughter of comic Mickey Katz, Jennifer Grey has recently reconnected with Judaism. “I love being a Jew,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot more Jewish in the last five years because of my daughter’s bat mitzvah, and I realized I really care about being a Jew.”

“Red Oaks” begins streaming Oct. 9 via Amazon Prime.

Kevin Pollak, “Angel From Hell”

Kevin Pollak. Photo courtesy of Cliff Lipson/CBS

From an early age, Kevin Pollak, 57, liked having an audience. “At my bar mitzvah, it was very important to me that I got seven applause breaks from laughter,” he said, remembering performing for his relatives at Passover and the boisterous storytelling and arguing around the seder table that influenced him, as had the likes of comedians Don Rickles, Alan King and Lenny Bruce.

Pollak would go on to appear in many films, including “The Usual Suspects,” “A Few Good Men,” “Casino,” “Grumpy Old Men” and “Avalon,” often playing Jewish characters. Also a familiar face on TV, he has appeared in “The Drew Carey Show,” “Shark” and recently “Mom” — that is, until his character suffered a fatal heart attack. 

But Pollak wasn’t out of work for long. In the CBS comedy “Angel From Hell,” he plays the father of a woman (Maggie Lawson) whose life is turned upside down by a well-meaning but meddling guardian angel (Jane Lynch). 

Working with Anna Faris and Allison Janney in “Mom” was “an extraordinary opportunity,” Pollak said, revealing that, to his delight, his initial couple of appearances expanded to more than a dozen. He’s equally jazzed to be in the company of women again in  “Angel From Hell,”  which follows “Mom” on CBS’ schedule.

Also busy behind the camera, Pollak has a documentary called “Misery Loves Comedy,” in which he interviews more than 100 funny celebrities — Larry David, Bob Saget, Robert Smigel among them — that was released this year, and he completed the feature “Late Bloomer.” “It’s based on a true story about a guy who goes through puberty for the first time at 30,” he said.

On screen, he enjoys toggling between comedy and drama and the diversity being a character actor offers. “I wrote a book called ‘How I Slept My Way to the Middle,’ and I’m here to tell you it’s fantastic in the middle. I get to have a life and also get the perks of show business, like getting a table at a restaurant,” Pollak said. “I’ve worked with a lot of giant movie stars, and that’s not an enviable life in any way, shape or form. You give up too much. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

“Angel From Hell” premieres at 9:30 p.m. Nov. 5 on CBS.

Oprah Winfrey’s “Belief”

“Belief”: Mendel Hurwitz’s bar mitzvah. Photo courtesy of Harpo, Inc.

Religion can be a controversial and divisive topic, but as you might expect from Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, the seven-night documentary series “Belief” takes a positive approach. According to executive producer David Shadrack Smith, it was vital to Winfrey, who narrates the series, that the series focus on the part of belief “that gives us meaning and creates community, purpose and compassion, and [to] tell authentic stories through which people could encounter faiths and beliefs different from their own,” Smith said.

While the series was “never intended to be a comprehensive survey of faith and religion,” Smith said, it delves into the commonality among different faiths and “the same fundamental questions: Who am I? Why are we here? Is there a purpose to our lives? We did not set out to answer them, but to illuminate how those questions sit at the heart of some of the most incredible traditions and practices around the world.”

Judaism is well represented in the series by people “living out their beliefs in such personal and moving ways that were authentic to their own understanding and spiritual practice,” Smith said. They include Jeff Hoffman, a space shuttle astronaut who brought a Torah into space; Mendel Hurwitz, an Orthodox bar mitzvah boy in Budapest, Hungary; Rena Greenberg and Yermi Udkoff, a Chasidic couple marrying in Brooklyn; and a Jewish teenage cellist in Jerusalem who bonds with a Muslim flutist over their love of classical music. 

“Finding individuals whose stories were unique, powerful, and who could articulate the elusive intangibles of belief was a constant challenge. We relied on local producers, lots of research, personal connections and sometimes just plain luck to find people,” Smith said. Thirteen-year-old Mendel Hurwitz, a rabbi’s son in a community that had been nearly wiped out in the Holocaust, particularly resonated with Smith, who is Jewish. “The story of their small synagogue trying to restore itself in Budapest had deeper stakes than most. And when I compared Mendel’s scholarly approach to his bar mitzvah to my own years ago, I saw the religious rite of passage in a new light.

“Throughout filming, I was compelled to question my own beliefs, and I discovered a new appreciation of how to practice them,” Smith said, and he’d like to inspire a similar response in viewers. “Our hope is that there’s not only more understanding of diverse beliefs, but also those who watch the series might find themselves feeling a deeper, richer connection to their own faith tradition, whatever that might be.“

“Belief” premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 on OWN.

Ron Perlman, “Hand of God”

Ron Perlman in “Hand of God.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

In a career that began in the 1980s with films such as “Quest for Fire,” “The Name of the Rose” and his breakout TV series role in “Beauty and the Beast,” Ron Perlman has amassed a wide variety of credits, including “Hellboy,” “Pacific Rim,” “Sons of Anarchy” and numerous voiceover roles. But in the Amazon series “Hand of God,” he plays his most challenging character to date, a man he describes as “a very strong, dynamic, powerful presence now liquefied by a series of events.”

As law-bending Judge Pernell Harris, he descends into madness after his daughter-in-law is raped and his son, a witness to the crime, is left comatose by a botched suicide attempt. Misguided by a shady preacher, Harris becomes convinced that the voice of God is directing him to seek revenge.

“This was a completely realized individual with all the power of a King Lear or a Macbeth and all of the sorrow and vulnerability of a Hamlet,” Perlman said. “This guy is royalty, and we’re watching him grasping with falling apart, and losing is not in his vocabulary. This is a real comeuppance for him, with all the ramifications of loss, of lack of control. He’s compromised for the first time in his life, and he doesn’t like it. He’s going to do everything in his power to meet that feeling head on and win even if it means destroying himself and his family.” The Lear comparison is particularly apt, he said, “because of how he’s falling apart emotionally; he’s losing control of his kingdom and grappling with how much of it he even wants to hold onto.”

But how does a New York City-born Jew relate to the born-again Christianity in the series? “I’m kind of agnostic when I’m an actor — a tube of paint to be used at the whim of the creator,” said Perlman, adding that Harris’ embrace of spirituality “is an act of seminal desperation and calls into question what we use religion for, what we need religion for. It wasn’t so much the details of what he was worshiping. It could have been Judaism, Islam. It wouldn’t have changed my approach to his zealotry.”

Perlman currently has four films in production and another three in development for his Wing and a Prayer Pictures, and as much as he hates the laborious makeup process involved, he’s not ruling out making “Hellboy 3.”

“With ‘Hand of God,’ which I’m as proud of as anything I’ve ever done, things are good in my world right now,” Perlman said. “It’s going to be an amazing year.”

“Hand of God” is now streaming via Amazon Prime.

Brad Garrett, “Fargo,” “Manhattan”

Brad Garrett Photo by Frank Micelotta/FX

Stand-up comedian and actor Brad Garrett, 55, is still much loved for his nine-year run on the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but his latest role is deadly serious: mob enforcer Joe Bulo in FX’s “Fargo.” As a foot soldier for a Kansas City, Mo., crime syndicate, he’s sent to South Dakota to exert influence on the drug trafficking Gerhardt clan led by Jean Smart.

“We butt heads, of course,” said Garrett, a “huge fan” of the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” movie, which inspired the series. He actively pursued the role, which had been perceived by some as outside his wheelhouse, although he has acted in dramas before. “It’s a very different role for me,” Garrett acknowledged. “I had to go after it. I auditioned for it. You know, most comedians are pretty dark. So all I had to do was wake up, shower and show up.”

In addition, in October, Garrett will take a second dramatic turn in the WGN America series “Manhattan,” playing the ex-con father of one of the lead characters, an atomic-bomb scientist. The character is Jewish, noted the Woodland Hills native, who was born Brad Gerstenfeld and got his big break 32 years ago on “Star Search.” 

Jokes about his 6-foot-8 height, his family and his Jewish upbringing infuse the deep-voiced comic’s stand-up act, which he continues to perform around the country and at his comedy club at the MGM in Las Vegas. He remains connected to his Jewish heritage: “I consider it important,” he said, adding, “I still pay to go [to services] on Rosh Hashanah, though I’ve never understood why we have to!”

Considering the plot of the first “Fargo” season left few people alive, the odds are against Joe Bulo in the inevitable bloodbath. Might Garrett’s character survive? “I don’t know, and if I did, I couldn’t tell you,” he said, offering a final quip. “Who would kill me? I’m a pussycat!”

“Fargo” returns to FX at 10 p.m. Oct. 12.

Zoe Lister-Jones, “Life in Pieces”

Zoe Lister-Jones and Colin Hanks in “Life in Pieces” Photo courtesy of Cliff Lipson/CBS

In the CBS ensemble family comedy “Life in Pieces,” Zoe Lister-Jones stars opposite Colin Hanks, James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as a wife and mother dealing with a newborn. “It’s scary, but good practice. I will be a mom at some point, so it’s good for me to be certain that I can hold a baby,” she said, adding that she relates to the character’s “sharp wit and caustic humor, but there’s a softness to her.”

With credits including the series “New Girl” and “Friends With Better Lives” and movies “Salt,” “The Other Guys,” “State of Play” and “Arranged,” in which she played an Orthodox Jewish teacher, Lister-Jones grew up in a Conservative family in Brooklyn, attending Shabbat services at the Park Slope Jewish Center. 

“My mom was president of the synagogue, so I was very involved. I went to Hebrew school on Wednesdays and Sundays. I was bat mitzvah.  I was raised in a Jewish community that inspired me to uphold those traditions myself,”h she said, noting that since moving to Los Angeles 3 1/2 years ago, she has joined the IKAR congregation. She believes that comedy and Judaism go hand in hand. “It’s so ingrained in who we are as people. I can’t even articulate how it works.” 

On the dramatic side, Lister-Jones will play lawyer Harriet Grant in HBO’s upcoming “Confirmation,” about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, starring Kerry Washington as Anita Hill. She also produced, co-wrote and stars in “Consumed,” a thriller about genetically modified organisms. “I like to push myself to try new characters and never get too boxed into one shtick,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky to do that, to play in drama and comedy alike. I’m drawn to stories that interest me, that feel important and fresh.”

Josh Peck, “Grandfathered”

Josh Peck. Photo by Tommy Garcia/Fox

Many parents and 20-somethings remember Josh Peck as the chubbier half of the comedy duo “Drake & Josh” on the Nickelodeon series of that name that ran from 2004 to 2007, and the network’s “The Amanda Show” that preceded it, but a lot has changed in the decade since. Now 28, Peck is slimmer and playing a father for the first time in the Fox comedy “Grandfathered,” about an estranged son who re-enters his dad’s (John Stamos) life, toddler in tow.

Although he’s been cast in “Red Dawn,” “Danny Collins” and the “Ice Age” movies, his transition to adult roles hasn’t been easy, “because of people’s misconceptions,” Peck said. “Also, when you’re young and cute, you get by on a certain skill set, and when you get older it doesn’t necessarily translate. I’m lucky that when I was 14, I had a manager who said, ‘You’re a sweet kid and you’re funny, but you need to go to acting school and learn how to act.’ I’m forever in her debt. It takes an incredible amount of hard work, and I’m grateful I get to do what I’m passionate about. Every role I’ve had has prepared me for the next.”

Growing up in New York City with a single mother and grandmother, who “kept me centered” and taught him Yiddish words, Peck said he loves the fact that Judaism, “especially in entertainment, infuses everything from the moment we’re born.

“I’m in the right business to have Jewish heroes,” the former child stand-up comic said, naming Woody Allen as a favorite. He’s more spiritually Jewish than observant. “I’m very proud of the culture of it. And I love a good Shabbat dinner.”

Peck, who’ll be seen playing a pot dealer in the upcoming movie “Chronically Metropolitan,” is gratified that he’s getting offered roles that enable him to push beyond what he’s done before. “It’s such a challenging business, and so much of it you have no control over. Every actor walks around with fear and neuroses,” he said. “But I think the universe puts you where you’re supposed to be. I very much feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

“Grandfathered” premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 on Fox.

The new year brings viewers new T.V. shows

It’s September, which means back to school, Rosh Hashanah and a brand-new TV season. This year, members of the tribe populate the landscape both on camera and behind the scenes, from Bebe Neuwirth as the secretary of state’s chief of staff in CBS’ “Madam Secretary,” to Jeffrey Tambor as a transgendered Jewish patriarch on Amazon’s “Transparent,” to actress Rashida Jones wearing her producer hat on the NBC comedy “A to Z.” Jones is among the recurring guests on the fourth season of Showtime’s “Web Therapy,” reviving in October and starring Lisa Kudrow, who also brings back her HBO comedy “The Comeback” in November. Jason Isaacs stars in USA’s Jerusalem-set thriller, “Dig,” Dave Annable plays a doctor in “Red Band Society,” and PBS’ “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” explores the Jewish genealogy of Carole King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz. Here are a few more faces to watch:

Last seen on TV in the musical drama “Smash,” Debra Messing returns to her comedic “Will & Grace” roots in “The Mysteries of Laura,” a hybrid that’s part police procedural, part family comedy. It casts Messing as New York Police Department homicide detective Laura Diamond, a divorced single mother of twin boys — terrors both — whose unfaithful ex-husband (Josh Lucas) has just become her new boss at the precinct. 

Messing seized the opportunity to tackle the genre-blending role. “Making other people laugh, hearing laughter around me on set, does something to me that nothing else in the world does,” she said. “It brings me joy.” As a huge crime-reality fan, Messing watches “48 Hours,” “Dateline” and “everything that has to do with murder. This is a dream come true for me because I get to be in the center of murder mystery.”

A single mother of a 10-year-old son, Messing can relate to her character’s efforts to juggle career and family. “Just like Laura, some days I feel really proud that I’m able to find that balance. And there are other days when I’m incredibly distressed because I wasn’t able to do it,” she said. “There is something incredibly universal about the predicament.”

 “The Mysteries of Laura” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Remembered as Paris Geller, the prep school nemesis on “Gilmore Girls,” and from subsequent series, including “Bunheads” and “Scandal,” Liza Weil returns to TV in “How to Get Away With Murder” as Bonnie Winterbottom, aide to Viola Davis’ law professor lead. 

“Bonnie presents as a nice team player, but the students are going to find out very quickly that she does have an edge,” Weil said. “She’s an enforcer, and she’s going to do what is necessary, carrying out Annelise’s dirty work.” 

The series marks Weil’s return to work after a four-year hiatus following the birth of her daughter, Josephine, who is now starting school. Weil and her husband, actor Paul Adelstein (“Private Practice”), were both brought up in Reform Jewish families and are raising Josephine with the traditions. 

“They’re very important to me, and I think they become more important raising a little girl,” she said. “There’s so much about the faith that’s about community and being aware of the good, and that’s certainly something that I want to continue to practice.”

“How to get Away With Murder” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

From “Ordinary People” to “Taxi” to “I’m Not Rappaport,” Judd Hirsch has played a diverse array of roles in his four-decade career, earning an Oscar nomination, two Emmys, two Tonys and a Golden Globe nomination along the way. His latest project is the fantasy drama “Forever,” about a doctor and medical examiner (Ioan Gruffudd) who inexplicably became immortal after surviving a fatal gunshot wound 200 years before. Hirsch plays Abe, the doctor’s friend, confidant and keeper of the secret. 

“Forever” — Judd Hirsch  

It’s a Jewish character, one of many the 79-year-old actor has played. However, Hirsch calls that a coincidence of casting, not by design. He’s fought against typecasting, offering his 1970s series “Delvecchio” as an example. “I played a detective in that, totally Italian.”

“Forever” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

After memorably playing supporting roles in ensembles, notably a flipped-out ad writer in “Mad Men” and a guardian angel in “Drop Dead Diva,” Ben Feldman steps up to the co-lead in the romantic comedy “A to Z,” opposite Cristin Milioti. 

“A to Z”— Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti 

The title comes from their names, Adam and Zelda, and the role is admittedly a stretch for Feldman. “It’s out of my comfort zone to play romantic idealists. He’s a happy good guy. I’m a quirky cynic,” he said. “I have to suppress all those traits that came out in me in ‘Mad Men’ — cynical, neurotic and weird,” ones he characterizes as typically Jewish. “I don’t know many Jewish people who don’t have a sense of humor. I’m always surprised whenever I meet a Jew who isn’t funny.”

Feldman, who got married last October in a Jewish ceremony, has been to Israel with his wife and said they “observe in our own way. The culture and history are very important to me. They didn’t used to be,” he said. “I think everybody starts caring about history once they realize they don’t have a lot left to make of it.”

“A to Z” airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

In “Scorpion,” about a team of misfit geniuses recruited by Homeland Security to avert crises, Ari Stidham plays statistics wiz Sylvester Dodd, brilliant but socially awkward. “There’s a lot of OCD with this guy,” said Stidham of his first network series role. (His previous experience was limited to improv comedy, a couple of guest spots and the cable series “Huge.”) 

A native of Westlake Village, where he grew up in an observant Reform home and attended “a lot of bar mitzvahs,” Stidham now considers himself “culturally Jewish. I definitely identify, and I will book a Birthright trip [to Israel],” the 19-year-old said. He identifies with Jewish comics such as Danny Kaye, “who had the great physical comedy that I aspire to,” and Jason Alexander’s “Seinfeld” character, George Costanza. “The world is against him, a shlimazel,” he said, using the Yiddish for unlucky loser. “I was born a shlimazel. But I’m happy playing guys like that, the underdog you root for.”

“Scorpion” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Zoe Levin (“Palo Alto,” “The Way Way Back”) has been somewhat typecast as a snippy, mouthy teenager, so she was wary about playing another in “Red Band Society.” But the pilot script, about sick teens that bond in a hospital ward, had a different take on the stereotype. “There were layers, moments of vulnerability. She’s not just the mean girl,” Levin said of her cheerleader character, Kara. 

Levin, who moved west from suburban Chicago after high school graduation in 2012, was educated earlier at a private Conservative Jewish school. “It taught me a lot of the values I have today. I still go to temple on the High Holy Days. For me, it’s more of a cultural thing; it’s about community and those values and traditions, it grounds me,” she said. 

Before moving to Atlanta, where the series shoots, she asked her hometown temple’s rabbi for a synagogue referral so she can celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “It’s good to have a life outside of filming,” she said. 

“Red Band Society” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Showcased this summer as Ezra Goodman in the Showtime drama “Ray Donovan,” which wraps its third season Sept. 28, Elliott Gould segues into a very different role in the sitcom “Mulaney,” playing the titular standup comic’s gay neighbor and confidant, Oscar. “He’s sort of like a Yoda character, very philosophical,” Gould said. 

“Mulaney” — Nasim Pedrad and John Mulaney

It’s the latest role in a 50-year career that includes “M*A*S*H,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy and dozens of TV shows, and, at 79, he’s happy to be working steadily. But his biggest hope for the future has nothing to do with his career. 

“My greatest role is grandfather,” he declared. “My great ambition is to be a great-great grandfather.”

“Mulaney” airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.

Known for his roles in “Judging Amy, “The Birdcage” and as abducted and murdered Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in “A Mighty Heart,” Dan Futterman is also the Oscar-nominated writer of “Capote,” scripts for “In Treatment” and the buzzed-about “Foxcatcher,” due in November. Now, with his wife and producing partner, Anya Epstein, he is show-running the drama “Gracepoint,” a 10-part series based on the British series “Broadchurch,” about the investigation of a child’s murder.

It’s not an exact remake. “The DNA is the same, but we go down different roads, and the cumulative effect ends us in a different place,” Futterman said. “We deviated as much as we wanted to and as much as we could while still trying to tell this beautiful story that has a beginning and now a different ending.”

“Gracepoint” — Nick Nolte

Simultaneously working on an action-movie script, Futterman doesn’t rule out appearing on camera. “If somebody would give me a job, I’d do it in a second. 

“The truth is, my opportunities as an actor were becoming fairly limited. I was getting typecast in certain types of parts,” he said. “I have much more opportunities as a writer.”

“Gracepoint” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

What if we really knew what media does to us

What if we knew that the fictional rapes in HBO’s mega-hit “Game of Thrones” caused real “>obituary noted that he was awarded the FBI’s highest civilian honor for being “an icon who inspired a generation of FBI agents.”  As Jane Mayer “>prostate cancer, the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t spend millions on spots claiming (falsely) to produce clean energy, candidates wouldn’t fork over billions of dollars to local TV stations for (pants-on-fire) political ads if all their money could buy were some wispy correlation.

Anecdotes aren’t data, and there’s always the risk that a confirmation bias – a stacking of the evidentiary deck – is at work in citing examples like these.  But it would be odd to ignore what “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” did to abolish slavery, what “On the Beach” did to increase awareness of the threat of nuclear war, what Fox News narratives are doing to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. 

Today, because so much content is consumed digitally and shared socially, and because there is so much data to be mined about our knowledge, attitudes and behavior, there now exists an unprecedented opportunity to quantify the impact of media.  It won’t be a true science of cause and effect until neurobiology makes some big leaps forward, but the methods and tools for measuring the differences that media make are dramatically evolving, with consequences that are both encouraging and discomfiting.

What if it were possible to fine-tune the content, marketing and distribution of a documentary or news story to maximize its impact on a target audience?  What if a soap opera or a telenovela, a Bollywood feature or a Nigerian video, a Chinese social media site or an American advertising campaign, were able to finely calibrate their effects on what people knew, believed and did after they encountered them?

The answer depends on what moral and political values you hold.  I think that family planning, vaccination, voting, access to health care, human rights, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture are public goods, and that promoting them makes the world a better place.  If media can improve the odds that the societal needle moves in those directions, I’m all for it.  But other people may think that ethnic cleansing, consumerism, state censorship, fracking, machismo, oligarchy and theocracy are good things; they would call the content I favor propaganda, and I would return the favor.  One person’s pro-social media is another person’s psyops and agitprop.  If you increase the power of media to move audiences, you do it for white hats and black hats alike. 

That worries me.  I’m also concerned about the potential consequences for freedom of expression, especially artistic expression.  What would happen if data demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that parts of our popular culture were toxic – that the connections between song lyrics and misogyny, video games and violence, rape on TV and rape on campuses and in the military, were as strong as the connections between air pollution and asthma, coal ash and birth defects, fluorocarbon gases and skin cancer? 

We have laws banning child pornography and marketing cigarettes to kids.  How would we regulate entertainment found to be harmful without turning good intentions into a witch-hunt, without pulling art from museum walls and literature from library shelves?  How would we draw a line between news that covers violence and hatred, and news that incites violence and hatred?  I do want a world where my kind of do-gooders have more tools to increase the good they do, but not at the cost of empowering algorithms that score media against someone else’s idea of a moral yardstick. 

I come down on the upside of this dilemma.  I’ve cast my lot with efforts to use media to repair the world and to improve how we measure their effectiveness.  That’s been a big part of my work for a number of years (have a look at what the Norman Lear Center’s “>Media Impact Project, are up to), and I’m grateful to the foundations and agencies and donors who support it.  But when it comes to the mystery of how words and images affect what people know, what they feel and how they behave, there’s always something to be said for a little pre-emptive paranoia.

Marty Kaplan is the founding director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at  

Fox picks up another Israeli-developed TV show format

Fox has purchased the rights to Boom!, a new Israeli game show.

The program debuted earlier this month in Israel. Under the format, four contestants race against the clock to diffuse a bomb by cutting colored wires that hold the answers to trivia questions. Viewers can also play using a smartphone app. If the bomb explodes, the studio set shakes.

The show, from Keshet International, was first sold to a French network earlier this week at the MIPTV conference in Cannes.

Keshet is the creator of the “Rising Star” format picked up last year by a U.S. studio and elsewhere, as well as of the Emmy Award-winning show “Homeland” and “In Treatment.”

Samsung buys Israeli Web TV startup Boxee

Samsung acquired the Israeli streaming media startup Boxee for $30 million.

The Israeli high-tech website TheMarker reported the acquisition by the Korean electronics giant on Wednesday. The report said Samsung will continue to employ Boxee’s 40 employees.

Boxee, based in Tel Aviv, offers a device that connects to televisions and allows streaming videos from the Internet and personal computers. It also offers media applications and social media connectivity.

Last month, it was reported that Boxee was seeking buyers or additional funding to the $30 million it has raised since its establishment in 2007.

Q&A with Nikki Levy

“Saturday Night Live” alumna Laraine Newman shares an experience she had in high school, when, high on a psychedelic drug, she saw her mother as a person and not just her parent for the first time. 

Actress (and daughter of Motown icon Diana Ross) Tracee Ellis Ross, one of the stars of the TV series “Girlfriends,” which ended in 2008, shares a story about when she once used what she thought was a toilet, but which was actually a stage prop, and how she worried that her mistake would ruin her mom’s reputation. 

On Sept. 13, Newman and Ross were among a cast of comedians, screenwriters and actors who appeared in the show “Don’t Tell My Mother!” an increasingly popular storytelling comedy show produced monthly at Café Club Fais Do-Do in Los Angeles. Next month, the show celebrates its one-year anniversary with a performance on Oct. 11 and expands to New York.

“Don’t Tell My Mother!” creator Nikki Levy is a producer at 20th Century Fox who grew up in a Jewish household in New York — with a stereotypical Jewish mother. During a series of interviews, she described how, for her, the show’s best stories are wild without being mean-spirited, salacious but still enlightening. The following is an edited and condensed version of those interviews.


Jewish Journal: If you’re a performer, what’s the incentive to go out in front of an audience and share something personal and humiliating, other than to get laughs? Are there other reasons that performers might do it?

Nikki Levy: I figure it’s for a couple of reasons. One, it feels really good to be honest — and sometimes it’s easier to do it in front of a crowd than in front of a really good friend. 

Also, I think people like to get exposure. Someone who is doing our next show got an agent from doing the show [last May]. Someone also cast a pilot from doing the show. So there’s the actual work incentive.

But I think the other incentive is the honesty involved with it. I work in the entertainment business, a lot of people I get are people who act and write, and I think a lot of people don’t get to do this kind of show. They’re maybe on a TV show or write for a super successful sitcom or something, but that idea of sharing writing, performing in a different kind of medium and in a really personal way is kind of freeing. They’re not writing for someone else’s voice, not writing for a character. They’re writing as them. 


JJ: Your audience has been growing, and similar comedic storytelling shows also have been dong well. Why do audiences respond so enthusiastically to this type of confessional storytelling? 

NL: Well, my feeling is we’re bombarded with so much bulls— all the time that it’s very compelling when someone honest is performing. I learned this thing once, in acting class — it’s a reason we look at car crashes: All of a sudden, we see something that’s real, it captures us because it’s truth. For instance, in a play you drift off, but the minute someone gets real, actually real, your eyes automatically go to that person. In this world now, with Facebook, Twitter and celebrities tweeting personal things, we’re past the point of going to see stand-up [comedy], of someone doing a character. People want to see things that are real and things that are honest.


JJ: You’ve had 10 shows and hosted dozens of performers at this point. Do performers make similar confessions? You said a lot of the stories have been salacious. What other topics have popped up a lot, besides sex? 

NL: We had a great story from someone who accidentally shoplifted at age 24 and got arrested, when really she was spacey, as opposed to shoplifting. One of my favorite stories — by [performer] Jen Kober — she told a story about being a fat kid in a small town and her mother would make her ration cheese that she got from Costco. Jen, 8 years old, realized she needed to steal the entire block of cheese and convince her mother she never bought it. That’s a story I loved. They’re definitely not all sex stories. Drugs come up. Getting arrested comes up. Stealing comes up. Losing your virginity is something that comes up. 

I told my “Hand-Job in the Holy Land” story. … I think it was probably 1993. It was the USY Israel Pilgrimage. … I told that story in March. People loved it. It was short, like five to seven minutes, and people loved it. A lot of audience members are Jews … a lot of the audience having been in USY tours when they were kids. 


JJ: How did you become interested in comedy?

NL: Well, I came from a totally bananas household, the wild, wild East Coast of Queens. And coming from two parents who did not get along, there was a lot of yelling, so I would park myself in front of the TV and I would pop in the same three VHS tapes over and over again: “Coming to America”; the critically acclaimed [she says this sarcastically] “Moving Violations,” starring Bill Murray’s brother, John Murray — it’s so awesome but so bad; and “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”… I don’t know what drew me to comedy, but I loved it and I love everything about it, and I was totally in love with Eddie Murphy, completely in love.

When I was 12, I came out to L.A. with my mom to visit family, and one of my family members worked at Paramount, so we got a tour of the studio lot, and I saw Eddie Murphy’s golf cart — this is during the ’80s, and I thought, “Oh my God, I’m totally going to work at a studio, in movies, in casting or development.”

For whatever reason, I chose development. But I loved comedies since I was  a kid, probably because it was a great distraction from all the craziness at home. It was such an awesome escape.


JJ:  So when did you move to Los Angeles to pursue development?

NL: I moved in November 2002. I’d been working at the Oxygen network, in New York, but I’d gone to school [at Northwestern University] for film [specifically, creative writing for media]. I always wanted to work in film, and there was no film in New York. I was 24 years old, and my mom said, “If not now, when? And if you don’t like it, come back.” 

I sublet my amazing place in Park Slope, and I came out here, and I felt the max I would be here is six years. [She landed several jobs, including positions at Imagine Entertainment as the junior development executive on Oscar nominee “Frost/Nixon” and running “Ice Age” director Chris Wedge’s animation company, before taking a break living in Buddhist monasteries in Northern California, “because I wanted a change,” she said.] … It was during that time, between Imagine and working for Chris, that I started writing again and doing a little performing here and there. 

Last October, we had our first [“Don’t Tell My Mother!”] show, and we had 100 people waiting at the door. It was Yom Kippur, and it was my birthday. … I had told my producer to lay out 35 seats because I wanted the place to look packed. … When all those people came, I was flabbergasted, literally. 


JJ: So your expectations for the show weren’t high?

NL: No, I didn’t have any high hopes for the show. I just figured we’ll do it, and it will be fun. I worked with people on their pieces, like I do now, and hoped it would be good. … I couldn’t believe all these people came. Granted, they were mostly my friends, but still they showed up and gave the impression that maybe there is something to this. The theater took the entire door of 100 people. I didn’t even arrange anything with them. They took all the money because I was, like, whatever, I don’t care.

I get that a big part of [the success] has to do with the title — we all have something with our moms and want to hear salacious stories that you wouldn’t share elsewhere. … But I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was finally inhabiting my own skin. And it became, like, OK, we’re here to make these people happy. Let’s just have fun. And it was such a fun show.

For information about upcoming performances of “Don’t Tell My Mother!” visit

MTV’s ‘True Life’ seeking a Jewish mama’s boy

MTV is searching for a Jewish mama’s boy for an episode of “True Life.”

The show is looking for someone aged 16 to 28 who consistently chooses his mother over his girlfriend. The episode will be called “True Life: I’m Dating a Mama’s Boy.”

“We really hope we can find a Jewish mama’s boy to feature, and we’ve already been searching far and wide,” David Abelson, the show’s producer, told JTA. “So far we have contacted Hillel houses across the country, JCCs and Jewish summer camps … but the search continues.”

Those interested in being considered should contact and include recent photos.

“True Life” also is searching for Internet addicts, those who have lost trust with their parents and people preparing for the end of the world, among others.

Dog ‘Guru’ Justin Silver puts owners on tight leash

When it comes to canines going to the dogs, trainer Justin Silver has seen it all: the pooch whose owner treated it like a baby, complete with diaper changes; the bulldog named Beefy who refused to take a walk unless he was schlepped down the street on a skateboard; the modeling agency owner who brought her fierce terrier mix to work every day, where it tried to attack everyone in sight. When Silver asked her how many times the mutt had bitten people, she replied, “Are you counting blood bites and non-blood bites?”

Training humans, as well as hounds, how to behave in an urban setting is Silver’s focus on CBS’ “Dogs in the City,” which will air its final episode on July 11 (previous episodes are available at It’s the latest take on how-to-fix-Fido shows, following the success of National Geographic’s “The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan” and Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” with Victoria Stilwell. Silver’s angle is that he’s a guru for the more than 1 million dogs in New York City (there are 78 million dogs in the country) — and that owners are often to blame for canine malfeasance. “A dog’s behavior is shaped by the people in its life,” said Silver, who was raised with Shih Tzus in a Jewish home in Queens. “You’re always communicating to your animals, whether it’s directly or inadvertently, through your behavior.”

Read the rest of this story at Naomi Pfefferman’s blog, The Ticket.

TV for dogs reaches prime time

Bark if you love DogTV.

The new made-in-Israel U.S. cable channel is scientifically programmed to keep pooches stimulated, happy and comforted when they’re home alone.

When dogs are left alone, they can get depressed, lose their appetite and their desire to play, says DogTV CEO Gilad Neumann. There are 46 million households with dogs in the United States, encompassing a total of 78.2 million pet canines.

“That’s quite a few potential viewers and many lonely dogs,” he said. “It’s all very scientific, although I know it sounds like a joke. When you dig deeper, you see it’s a serious business.”

Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications began a six-month free trial of the 24-hour digital channel on Feb. 13 for their one million viewers in San Diego. If it is successful, DogTV will be distributed more widely as a subscription-based service, Neumann said.

The concept came from Ron Levi, a New York-born dog lover and chief content officer at Jasmine Group, a private media communications company in Ramat Gan.

At the time, Neumann was CEO of Jasmine TV, one of several subsidiaries of the Jasmine media conglomerate whose July-August Productions recently sold the format for the hit game show “Who’s Still Standing?” to NBC Universal.

“We’re always seeking interesting ideas with an emphasis on international expansion. So when Ron approached me with this idea, I thought it was crazy enough to look into,” Neumann said. He suggested that Jasmine invest some seed money to explore the idea.

Their research revealed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States all recommend leaving the TV on for dogs home alone, to provide stimulation and keep away stress and depression.

“We combined this with a lot of science on the effects of video on dogs, how they react to TV and what kind of visuals, music and sounds they enjoy,” Neumann said.

He recruited professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University’s animal behavior department as DogTV’s program director and chief scientist. Dodman explains on DogTV’s Web site that dogs won’t sit on the couch for hours at a time watching the channel. It’s more like a backdrop with a pleasing soundtrack that they can choose to view as long as they wish.

British trainer Victoria Stilwell, from the Animal Planet series “It’s Me or the Dog,” and Warren Eckstein, an animal rights activist and pet trainer, round out the crew of DogTV experts.

“They added their knowledge to our production experience,” said Neumann, who holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a law degree from the Israeli College of Management.

As good as the idea was, it couldn’t have been put into action if not for the introduction of LCD television technology. Neumann explains that dogs’ eyes are bothered by the flickering frames on old analog televisions, though humans don’t notice them.

“Now they can see perfectly fine on LCD, but they can only see blue and yellow, so we enhance and recolor the contents for them,” Neumann explained.

As content developer, Levi organized the channel’s programming into three categories: shows meant to relax dogs, shows that stimulate them and shows intended to expose them gently to situations with which they may need to get more comfortable — such as a running vacuum cleaner or street traffic.

“This creates a companionship environment,” Neumann said, “a channel that is fully suitable for dogs. ”

This is hardly the first instance of an Israeli TV show hitting prime time in the United States. “In Treatment,” “Homeland,” “Traffic Light” and “The Ex List” went first. However, it is the first time a programming concept has gone directly from the Israeli drawing board to American TV screens. Neumann hopes DogTV is barking up the right tree.

Change soap opera’s Hitler name, ADL asks Indian network

The Anti-Defamation League has called on an Indian television network to change the name of a new soap opera with Hitler in the title.

“Hitler Didi” airs five days a week on Zee TV, a division of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, based in Mumbai. After receiving numerous complaints about the title and its use in online promotional materials and videos, ADL last week wrote network executives with a request to change the name to one “not freighted with the taint of the Nazi Holocaust.”

“Hitler Didi,” which translates to “Auntie Hitler,” refers to the lead character, a young woman known in her locality as a strict disciplinarian who takes a no-nonsense attitude with her family.

“Let’s preserve the name ‘Hitler’ as a villain of incomparable evil and not trivialize his legacy or the Holocaust with a serial TV title,” the ADL wrote in a letter to Zee Entertainment’s managing editor and CEO, Punit Goenka, and chairman, Subhash Chandra. “We strongly urge you to reconsider the choice of title and rename your show.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor, said “The name Hitler doesn’t belong in the title of a soap opera, and we think the producers of this program have made a terrible error in judgment that can only be remedied with a title change.”

The program, starring the Indian actress Rati Pandey, premiered Nov. 7 on Zee TV in India and also is being carried on the network’s affiliates in other countries, including the United States.

‘Israeli Idol’ Diana Golbi brings act and message to U.S.

For her first visit to New York and the United States, Diana Golbi adopted the unofficial uniform of most city dwellers—head-to-toe black. Black shirt, black top and tight black jeans. Her long brown hair was straight and hung past her shoulders.

Pointing to her stiletto heels, which added at least four inches to her diminutive stature, she explained, “I’m in New York, so I have to be feminine.” She drew out the “f” sound as though she found the very concept of femininity distasteful. Or perhaps Golbi was merely playing with her English, a third language after her native tongues, Russian and Hebrew.

Golbi, 19, and the winner of the 2010 season of “Kochav Nolad”—the Israeli incarnation of “American Idol”—had just performed a short set of songs at City Winery on behalf of ELEM, a nonprofit organization that assists and rehabilitates “distressed youth” in Israel with programs ranging from counseling and social services to vocation and job training. She herself had benefited from the two-decades-old organization’s services as a teenager wandering the streets late at night in Holon.

Since winning the competition, the Russian-born Golbi has become something of an ambassador for ELEM, which runs programs in 28 cities across Israel. They include the night vans that she and her friends discovered driving around Holon, a low-income suburb of Tel Aviv.

Like many immigrants and children of immigrants, Golbi found it difficult to transition into the mainstream of Israeli society. The alienation and depression were exacerbated following the death of a friend, who died of a drug overdose. It was around this time that Golbi was introduced by some of her friends to ELEM and its night vans.

“I had a lot of friends who spoke constantly about ELEM, so I came there with my friends and saw how they deal with their problems,” she recalled. “I had my own problems, and I found people who I can trust and talk to.”

“Problems” was about as much as Golbi was willing to divulge. Asked for the specific nature of her issues, Golbi politely demurred, referring to it as “the past.”

It was an ELEM social worker who spotted her nascent artistic talent and helped get the young Golbi into a theater program. The rest is (televised) history.

Owing to her experience performing for an audience of thousands on live television week after week, Golbi despite her youth took the stage of her first U.S. show with such aplomb. She played the guitar only on her first song, relying on the backing of her band for the rest.

Golbi let her rasp-tinged rock vocals do all the work, especially on “Little Children” (“Yeladim Ketanim”), which she also performed during the singing competition. The composition, which is all inspirational power cords, is something of an anthem to children-centered nonprofits with its emphasis on the strength of the young.

Asked who are her favorite musical artists, she at first seemed annoyed.

“I hate that question,” Golbi said, but eventually answered if not with an artist at least with a genre. “Glam rock,” she said, “and old stuff.”

She acknowledged that her music style has shifted as she has gotten older. In high school with her former band, HaRusim (The Russians or The Ruined Ones).

“We did metal music and we were screaming all over the place,” she said.

If her City Winery set is any indication, Golbi has veered into a more commercial Top 40 pop/rock sound. That, too, is subject to change.

“I’m 19. When I’m 30 …,” she said, shrugging.

This sort of artistic flux is certainly understandable in one as young as Golbi. After all, if she were an American of the same age she’d be in college, changing her major for the umpteenth time.

Instead, Golbi is now serving in the Israeli military. In fact, she was on loan for the night; the Israeli army had given her special permission to travel to New York and perform at the gala.

Golbi ended her set with an English song, the endlessly covered “Hallelujah.” The Leonard Cohen song works in nearly any context—an animated feature film (“Shrek”), the “American Idol” stage or a room full of Jews who had just opened their checkbooks to help underserved and underprivileged Israeli youth.

Anti-Smurf or Anti-Semites? [VIDEO]


Marty Kaplan: The Naked Nielsens

The metrics are wearing no clothes.

How would you react if you found out that the basis of your business model was bogus?  That’s the nightmare that the television industry is finally waking up to, and I bet that online media won’t be far behind.

The TV business is built on advertising.  Except for premium cable, the money that networks get for selling audiences’ eyeballs to advertisers is the mother’s milk of the industry.  Networks set the price of ads on their shows using demographic information about the age and sex of those shows’ viewers.  And the company that pretty much has a monopoly on furnishing those metrics is Nielsen.

So a few weeks ago, at the Marriott Marquis in New York, it must have felt like pitchfork time when a respected TV network figure in charge of analyzing ratings, CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, ” target=”_hplink”>Ad Age, Nielsen executives at the convention reported that “ratings demographics by age and sex had a… 0.12 correlation with actual sales produced by exposure to TV ads, where 1.0 is complete correlation and 0 signals no relationship whatsoever.”  Zero-point-one-two! You’d do better using a Ouija board than Nielsen demos. 

It’s particularly ironic that this paradigm-popping confession came from CBS.  From 1955 to 1976, before any network thought in terms of age cohorts, CBS “was the undisputed king of the ratings hill,” writes Neal Gabler in ” target=”_hplink”>Wall Street Journal, “which made them without value to the networks.”  The numbers tell the story: A 30-second ad on Fox’s young-skewing Glee costs $47 per thousand viewers, while a spot on CBS’s The Good Wife, 60 percent of whose audience is 55-plus, costs about half that. 

But now the jig is up.  “Reliance on the 18 to 49 demographic,” Ad Age reports Poltrack saying, “is hazardous to all media and marketers.”  It may be just a coincidence that CBS, which these days runs about even with Fox in overall prime-time viewership, is now being killed by Fox in 18 to 49.  But it’s no coincidence that 80 million baby boomers are aging out of the desirable demo.  To sell air time to reach the fastest-growing part of its audience, the industry needs a new metric. 

So exit demographics, and, just in time, enter psychographics.  That audience-segmentation tool, which collects people into taste and behavior clusters, has been around for a while; if you want to try an online-era version, check out CBS and Nielsen, in what Poltrack calls a “historic move,” have now come up with six audience segments to sell to advertisers instead of age and sex cohorts:  TV companions; media trendsetters; sports enthusiasts; program passionates; surfers and streamers; TV moderators.  The developers of those segments claim that when ad agencies start buying spots on TV shows using these metrics instead of the ones that were fabulous until five minutes ago, there’ll actually be a relationship between seeing ads and buying products.

It can’t be any worse than what they’ve been using until now.  If you talk to network executives privately, and to account managers at ad agencies, doubt about the utility of Nielsens is a poorly-kept secret.  I’m not talking about weaknesses like undercounting racial and ethnic groups, and missing out-of-home viewing in airports and bars, and being clueless about online TV viewing, both legal and not.  I mean the conspiracy of silence about the whole premise of demographics.

Why hasn’t anyone blown the whistle?  Because the whole network-advertising-marketing-research village is in on it, and they’ve been afraid to burn the house down without some new roof to put over their heads.  Poltrack’s salvo suggests that CBS and Nielsen are confident enough about what they’re touting now to admit that their old model was built of straw. 

I suspect that this new metric won’t be nearly as useful as the “taste community” analytics still waiting to be born – a transnational audience analysis that mines all the rich new data available about socially-networked online entertainment consumption.  But for that to happen, the Web analytics that currently pass for measuring engagement – hits, clicks, visits, visitors, pageviews, uniques, repeats and the rest—may also have to bite the dust. 

Marty Kaplan holds the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at

Europe remembers how Eichmann trial and TV changed perceptions of Holocaust

The face, with its twisted mouth, receding hairline and dark-framed glasses, is familiar around the world today.

But 50 years ago, when Adolf Eichmann—former head of the Nazi Department for Jewish Affairs—first sat in a Jerusalem courtroom to face war crimes charges, his visage was known to very few.

Television changed that. For West Germans, the impact was profound. Twice a week, for four months, entire families—and sometimes neighbors, too—gathered in living rooms to watch the reports from Jerusalem.

“There was a lot of watching, and it changed the discussion about the Holocaust,” said philosopher Bettina Stangneth, whose book “Eichmann vor Jerusalem” (“Eichmann Faces Jerusalem”) is set to be published in Germany on April 18.

It wasn’t as if most Germans wanted to watch the trial.

“But back then, there was not such a big choice of programs,” Stangneth said. “They could not change the channel so easily.”

Now, as historical institutes and museums in Europe and elsewhere look back at the pivotal trial that began 50 years ago, on April 11, 1961, media coverage of the event is a key theme.

In Frankfurt, German TV reports from 1961 will be shown at the Fritz-Bauer Institute, which is hosting a symposium on the Eichmann trial this month. At Berlin’s Topography of Terror documentation center, videotaped testimony by witnesses and by Eichmann are part of a new exhibit. In Paris, the Memorial de la Shoah is dedicating a program to documentary filmmaker Leo Hurwitz, who directed the videotaping of the four-month trial.

Back then, Israel was practically a country without TV, said Ronny Loewy, an expert on cinematography of the Holocaust at Frankfurt’s German Film Institute. Israelis either listened to a broadcast of the trial live on the radio or attended a simulcast in an auditorium near the court.

“Beside the United States, there was no other country where they were reporting to the same extent as in Germany,” Loewy told JTA.

A survey showed that 95 percent of Germans knew about the trial, and 67 percent favored a severe sentence, according to the 1997 book “Anti-Semitism in Germany: The Post-Nai Epoch Since 1945” by German scholars Werner Bergmann and Rainer Erb.

To get out the news at the end of each court day, two hours of clips were flown to London for dissemination to European and U.S. news programs, recalled cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, who was 14 when his father was assigned to direct the taping. In Germany, the clips were used to produce biweekly, 20-minute reports called “An Epoch on Trial.”

These broadcasts, and other coverage by some 400 German journalists in Israel, had a decisive impact, according to Stangneth.

Until the trial, many Germans had dismissed the few books about the Holocaust as biased. Teachers largely had avoided the subject.

Once the broadcasts of the Eichmann trial began, however, they could ignore it no longer. Young Germans looked at the wartime generation differently. Dozens of new books about the Holocaust were written.

The story of how Eichmann was brought to justice seemed made for TV. He escaped an American POW camp in Germany after the war, got help from the Catholic Church to flee to Argentina, and lived there for years under the pseudonym Ricardo Klement. Recently it was revealed that German intelligence officials knew of Eichmann’s location as early as 1952.

Before his capture, Eichmann had boasted to friends of his involvement in the Final Solution and shared his dreams of resurrecting National Socialism. He even told Dutch fascist journalist Willem Sassen in the late 1950s that he regretted his failure to complete the job of genocide. Eichmann reportedly said he hoped the Arabs would carry on his fight for him, according to Stangneth, who recently recovered some 300 pages of “lost” interview transcripts.

In 1960, the Mossad captured Eichmann in a dramatic operation that ended with his being brought clandestinely to Israel.

As the date of the trial neared, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer became intensely worried, according to historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose new book, “The Eichmann Trial,” came out in March. Adenauer feared “that Eichmann might expose the number of prominent Nazis who served in his government,” she said.

Even worse, Lipstadt said, by 1951 Adenauer was fed up with the guilt he felt was being foisted on the Germans for perpetrating the genocide of the Jews.

“He thought it was time to move on,” she said. “It is shocking that he could say that. And here it was, coming back, in a very strong way.”

The Eichmann trial was full of drama, drawing the world’s attention to the perpetrator and to his victims. Eichmann faced 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Many millions of eyes studied Eichmann through TV sets, trying in vain to discern in his word, manner and expressions signs of remorse.

Tom Hurwitz recalled how his late father once filmed Eichmann viewing a selection of film clips taken after the liberation of concentration camps; Eichmann had the right to see the clips before they were shown in the courtroom. During the screening, one cameraman focused on Eichmann as he watched one horrific image after another. Eichmann sat impassively.

Hannah Arendt described the stony figure in her 1963 work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” launching a debate that continues to this day as to whether Eichmann was a cog in the Nazi machine or a true believer in genocidal anti-Semitism.

The guilty verdict was pronounced in December 1961, and Eichmann was hanged on May 31, 1962—the only judicial execution ever carried out in Israel. Eichmann’s ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea.

Even once Eichmann was gone, the impact of the trial and its coverage continued. With so many German journalists in Israel, reports about life in the young Jewish state abounded. An era of exchange began.

And the obvious fairness of the trial—Eichmann had a German lawyer and obviously was not being tortured—“looked like justice, not revenge,” Stangneth said. “This also had an impact on the image of Israel. One can say that Israel came a little bit closer to Germany.”

The trial also helped Germany come closer to confronting itself.

Soon afterward, in December 1963, Germany launched its famous Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, which lasted through the summer of 1965 and lay out the brutality of former neighbors and relatives for all to see.

“The Eichmann trial put the theme there,” Stangneth said. “One could not ignore it.”

Israeli reality TV in L.A.: Six singers in search of acceptance

The Latino students at Franklin High School, located north of downtown Los Angeles, sat stone-faced in the school’s auditorium, waiting to find out what justified missing the period before lunch. Against the backdrop of an American flag and an Israeli flag, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan informed them that they would influence the fate of six Israeli singers.

“You represent the country,” he announced to the students in late January.

The singers who would perform for these teenage judges were contestants in Israel’s new reality TV show, “Chai B’LaLa Land,” a name that plays on the phrase “Live in a Dream World” and the city of music dreams: Los Angeles. The show is designed as a combination of “American Idol” and “Big Brother,” and has given six stars in the world of mizrachi (Mediterranean) music a chance to achieve the near impossible for any Israeli artist: crossover into America. Starting in January, the singers lived together for six weeks in a Los Angeles mansion as they fought for a distribution deal with Geffen Records, headed by mega-producer Ron Fair.

“We see America through their eyes,” Shabi Zaraya, the show’s chief editor, said. “In Israel, they’re very famous. Everything comes easy to them. They’re stars. They don’t know what Americans expect of them in the music industry and how to be a star in America. It’s funny, exciting, and we have everything in this format because the meeting between them and America is crazy. They have a problem of language, mentality and missing home.”

The show — Israel’s most expensive reality show to produce to date — is the brainchild of Kuperman Productions, the company that created the 2006 reality hit “The Successor,” which had notorious “psychic” Uri Geller find his Israeli heir. The American remake of Kuperman’s award-winning sitcom “The Traffic Light” premiered on Fox last month.

With its local — and tribal — connections, Kuperman opened coveted doors. The contestants worked with Johnny Wright (manager of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears) and Israeli-born mixer/engineer Tal Herzberg, who was just up for a Grammy for his work on Lady Gaga’s “The Fame Monster.” They performed for Tori Spelling, among other celebrities.

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles teamed up with Kuperman to shoot an episode at Franklin High.

“It’s a difficult neighborhood,” said Dayan, sitting at a wobbly picnic table outside the auditorium. “Kids here are members of gangs, so it’s important for us to reach out to them and show them Israel and the diversity of Israel.”

On this day, Israeli reggaeton superstar Alon de Loco immediately got the audience cheering when he hopped on stage with his gold chain and gansta pose. Of Moroccan-Iraqi descent, de Loco could easily be mistaken for Latino with his dark, Sephardi features and goatee.

“Six years ago, I had no money, a little kid in my hand and a wife,” he told the students. “And I said to myself, ‘How can I make it better — a good life for my family and my future?’ The only thing I knew how to do was reggaeton.”

He won over the crowd as he gyrated his hips and grabbed his crotch, Michael Jackson style, while singing a Spanish-Hebrew version of his rap song, “Madre.”

Zehava Ben rose out of the slums of Be’er Sheva to become Israel’s reigning mizrachi diva. She got her share of catcalls when she came out in tight jeans, a leopard-print spaghetti-strap tank top and high heels, but the 43-year-old brought the energy level down with her syrupy ballad, singing: “You won’t find the love in the world like the love of your mother.” Her twin sister, Eti Levi, couldn’t revive the crowd, but Israeli audiences will be more interested in what happens backstage between the twins. The show reunited them after years of bitter sibling rivalry.

With bright pink pants and a glowing blond mane, Julietta Agronov is the closest any of the singers gets to a Britney or a Christina. As she sang a Spanish-Hebrew pop tune about girl power, tinged with mizrachi instrumentals, students looked discerning and attentive but were still well behaved. When Avihu Shabat, an Enrique Iglesias look-alike and son of famous Israeli singer Shlomi Shabat, took the stage in tight leather pants, it was the girls’ turn to call out “sexy.”

But David “Dudu” Aharon, Israel’s Singer of the Year, got the crowd out of their seats — by request.

“If you want to respect me,” he shouted, “get up on your feet.” It was either a Freudian slip or a language error when he shouted “wake up!” instead of “get up!” Eventually, they joined him on stage as his smooth vocals entertained.

An informal poll crowned de Loco the winner.

“We could relate to his music more than the rest,” Keidy Rivas, 19, a senior, said.  “It was reggaeton, and that’s what we and Franklin High School listen to.”

“He was also dancing a lot more,” added Rivas’ cousin, Daisy. “Catching our eye and not making it boring.”

If Franklin High represents America, de Loco will be coming back, but with three daughters and a baby on the way, the experience has taught him what’s really important. “I can have success, money and the crowd,” he said, “but without my family, I’m nothing.”

“Chai B’LaLa Land” will air this summer on Yes, Israel’s satellite cable network.

‘American Greed’ episode to feature Sholom Rubashkin

Jailed former Agriprocessors official Sholom Rubashkin will be featured on an episode of the CNBC series “American Greed.”

The March 23 episode of the cable TV network series will tell the story of the failed kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, according to the Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The episode is being billed with the tagline “The head of a kosher slaughterhouse uses unorthodox methods to make money.”

Rubashkin, 51, is serving a 27-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay $26 million in restitution after being convicted in November 2009 on 86 counts of financial wrongdoing. He was the highest level executive of the plant to be prosecuted following a May 2008 immigration raid that led to the arrest of nearly 400 illegal workers, most of whom were deported.

The plant went bankrupt in late 2008 and has since reopened under new ownership as Agri Star Meat and Poultry.

Lovitz, lies and Torah

“I hate lying,” Jon Lovitz, the comedian, actor and comedy club owner, said without a touch of humor in his voice. “I just can’t stand it. I don’t see the advantage of it. It makes me physically ill.”

It’s the reason, he said, that he has become something of a specialist in portraying characters who are truth-challenged, or, in his words, “sleazy.” He was Tommy Flanagan, president of Pathological Liars Anonymous, on “Saturday Night Live”; the guy on “Seinfeld” who fibs about having cancer, then dies in a car crash; a loudmouth baseball scout who steals scenes from Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”; the voice of an obnoxious movie reviewer in the animated series “The Critic”; and the father, in the film “Rat Race,” who tells his family they are on a minivan “vacation” when he is actually trying to win $2 million in a cross-country dash.

In the recently released “Casino Jack,” which tells the story of the disgraced former superlobbyist and Orthodox Jew Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), Lovitz plays Adam Kidan, a shady business associate whose bumbling deals help bring the lobbyist down.

Sitting in his publicist’s office in Larchmont Village, Lovitz, 53, is occasionally funny — such as when he calls his “Casino Jack” co-star Barry Pepper “Dr. Pepper” or laments that people don’t know Jesus was Jewish, because “can you think of a less Jewish name than Jesus Christ?” But, in person, Lovitz most often exudes vulnerability, a kind of naiveté and a quiet anger about the state of ethics in show business.

“When I was on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ a lawyer friend told me my liar character was really popular in Hollywood,” he said. “I soon found out that’s because everyone in Hollywood lies, constantly. And everyone knows everyone else is lying. I’ve seen best friends screw each other over. And [agents] tell you that you have to lie to get what you want. I literally lost track of what’s right and wrong, it was so bad. So I got a book about Jewish morals and laws written by a rabbi.”

The book was Joseph Telushkin’s “The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living,” which provided practical advice. Hiding Jews from the Nazis? Trying not to unnecessarily hurting someone’s feelings? Two examples of when lying can be OK, Lovitz said.

“It’s ironic,” he admitted of portraying so many liars, “but as a comic actor, I’m good at making fun of them.”

So good, in fact, that he makes an impression even when his character has only one or two scenes in a production. “Jon Lovitz steals practically every scene that he’s in in the movie,” Spacey said of “Casino Jack.”

“He is a genius at those moments in between, the looks and the sighs and the body language,” Pepper said. “That’s where his classical training [at University of California, Irvine] comes in, and I think that’s what few people appreciate about him.”

Lovitz’s characters also blend a desperate quality with a bombastic flamboyance — a quality he said he inherited from his Jewish grandfather (actually his stepmother’s father), Lou Melman, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska and made loans to Al Capone’s gang in the 1930s. Melman would take the young Lovitz to Canter’s and to the Santa Anita race track.

“My grandfather was larger than life,” Lovitz said. “And he was incredibly accepting of me — he was just crazy about me, and I was crazy about him. I based my character in ‘A League of Their Own’ on him.  He wasn’t mean, but he was funny. In the first scene in the movie, I’m attending a baseball game, someone stands up in front of me and I say, ‘What — are you crazy?” 

The young Lovitz attended Valley Beth Shalom when his family lived in Encino and Temple Judea after they moved to Tarzana; his best friend was David Kudrow, Lisa Kudrow’s older brother, whom he met in fifth grade. When the boys were at Portola Junior High, they saw Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” which solidified Lovitz’s ambition to become a comedian. They especially liked the scene in which Allen’s character, paranoid about anti-Semitism, assumes someone has said “Jew” instead of the words “did you.”

“We were just dying,” Lovitz said. “We thought, ‘This is like our own humor. … It was very Jewish, especially the sarcasm. It was like this friend of my father’s who would always look at me and go, ‘Oh, the actor.”

When Lovitz attended the Harvard School (now Harvard-Westlake) in Studio City, starting in ninth grade, he was teased for being Jewish at a time when, he said, the school had few Jewish students. “One guy would say, ‘Look at your nose,’ ” Lovitz recalled. “The abuse was verbal and physical. The school in those days was all boys, and they were just merciless. It got so bad the headmaster called our class together, and he was just livid. He said, ‘I won’t stand for this bullying.’ ”

Like his school years, Lovitz’s career has also had an up-and-down trajectory. He studied drama at UC Irvine and then worked odd jobs, including a stint as a hospital orderly, for years until his work with the improvisational comedy group The Groundlings led to his casting on “Saturday Night Live” in 1985. His response to that job offer — which brought almost overnight success — was, “Are you kidding? They might have equally said I was going to live on Pluto.”

Subsequently, Lovitz starred in Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks,” as Billy Crystal’s younger brother in “City Slickers II” and in a number of recognizably Jewish roles — including Randy Pear of “Rat Race,” who, in one hilarious scene, thinks he is taking his daughter to a Barbie doll museum — and ends up in the middle of a neo-Nazi rally at the Klaus Barbie Museum.  His response is to steal Hitler’s car, one of the museum’s displays.

Several years ago, Lovitz said, he began doing stand-up comedy again because his film roles were becoming scarcer; he opened his Jon Lovitz Comedy Club on Universal CityWalk last year, where he often performs, riffing on subjects such as racism, religion and sex. Single and never married, he said his dream role would be to play the title character in a remake of the 1955 Ernest Borgnine film “Marty,” about two lonely-hearts who have resigned themselves to never finding love until they meet each other.

Lovitz relished playing Adam Kidan in “Casino Jack,” a kind of lapsed, depraved Jew who, between outrageously underhanded business deals, becomes almost a truth-sayer in the film. In several scenes, Kidan points out how hypocritical the fictional Abramoff is for claiming piety while engaging in unethical deals.

For the scene in which the two men have an enormous argument as the FBI closes in, Lovitz said, “I improvised the line where I call [Abramoff] a ‘fake Jew.’ ”

“Abramoff in the movie is hiding behind his religion and saying that he was trying to be such a good Jew, but he wasn’t. That’s not what the religion is.” l

Al-Manar TV has Australia mulling broadcasting changes

Australia’s media regulator is proposing to prohibit content that advocates terror after an investigation found that a radical Islamic TV station breached the broadcasting standards code.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority said in its report Dec. 9 that Hezbollah’s Al-Manar Television, which is banned in the United States, that two programs breached Australian standards.

One was the current affairs show “With the Event,” which the report said “was likely to gratuitously vilify a group on the basis of ethnicity and religion.” The other show noted was “With the Viewers.”

The executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, cautiously welcomed the report, but urged the Australian government to formally request that the Indonesian government stop further Indosat transmissions of Al-Manar programming into Australia.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council concurred.

“Anti-Jewish hatred on Al-Manar has long been a feature of the station,” said its executive director, Dr. Colin Rubenstein. “Al-Manar’s raison d’etre is to radicalize Muslims around the world, including in Australia, to support Hezbollah’s terrorist methods and goals. AIJAC believes any media organization owned and/or operated by any banned terrorist organization should also be banned in Australia.”

The Arabic-language station has twice been banned in Australia, but was cleared in 2009.

‘Being Erica’ Takes Jewish Slant on Single Life

In the March 19 episode of SOAPnet’s time-travel fantasy, “Being Erica,” 30-something Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) is zapped back to the day of her bat mitzvah, shocked to find her grownup brain inside her 13-year-old body as she recites her haftarah portion, which she barely remembers. With help from the rabbi, she completes her parsha, and at her reception tells off the boy who calls her a “Jew-ser” (that’s “Jew” plus “loser”), because he regards her “Dirty Dancing” theme as déclassé.

Erica is less feisty when her mother gushes about her expectations for Erica’s future, which include marrying, having kids and becoming a high-powered attorney by the age of 30, a milestone the adult Erica has already passed.

“What if in my 30s I’m still single, living in a one-bedroom apartment and working as someone’s assistant?” Erica asks her mother.

“Stop thinking such terrible thoughts,” her mother replies.

“Being Erica” is the latest TV series to address the kind of single-gal questions posed by zeitgeist-meters, such as “Sex and the City” — minus the Manolos and the Cosmos — in a manner that is part “Bridget Jones,” part “Back to the Future.”

In the series pilot, Erica is dumped by a dentist and fired from her dead-end job on the same day, then meets a mysterious “therapist” who allows her to go back in time to her worst moments to fix her mistakes and thereby alter the course of her life. In what may be the most overtly Jewish show currently on TV, Erica not only revisits her bat mitzvah but also returns to the Yom Kippur when her father, a hippie-turned-rabbi, tries to preempt a scandal at his synagogue.

When her boyfriend-du-jour wishes her “Happy New Year” in the Yom Kippur episode, she cheerily informs him: “Wrong holiday.” Other disastrous incidents revisited include Erica’s vodka-infused high school prom and the day she lost her virginity to a creep.

Originally created for Canadian television, the show has mostly gleaned glowing reviews and is the brainchild of writer-producer Jana Sinyor, who, like Erica, is a highly educated, Jewish, 32-year-old resident of Toronto. Although she is now married with two children, there was a time, after she graduated from McGill University with a degree in Old and New Testament studies, when Sinyor shared Erica’s confusion and despondency.

“I was in such a bad place, just desperately unhappy,” she recalled in a phone interview from Toronto, sounding as whimsical (if more soft-spoken) than her character.

“I had no marketable skills, so I took a call-center job at an insurance company, which is the position that Erica has at the beginning of the series. I would sit at my cubicle desk and make little hats out of cardboard, because I had no creative outlet.”

After taking a class in screenwriting, Sinyor discovered a talent for television work and in 2004 created a half-hour teen show called, “Dark Oracle,” which also involved time travel.

“As a kid, I had been obsessed with the ‘Narnia’ books and was devastated to learn that you couldn’t actually go through the wardrobe,” she explained of her love for the fantasy genre. “I’m also fascinated by the concept of time and the fact that it is so linear — because it just feels like you should be able to go backwards and forwards. I can’t quite accept the fact that I have to live things out in one take.”

“Being Erica” also focuses upon more real-world concerns: “Several years ago, I noticed that many of my beautiful, funny, talented friends were feeling stressed because they hadn’t found ‘the guy’ or ‘the career,’” she said. “There was this mass anxiety that if you hadn’t achieved certain things by a certain age, you’re failing. And that was the spark that generated the character of Erica.”

Sinyor made Erica Jewish because, “it’s easier to write in a voice that’s familiar to me,” she said. “I don’t share Erica’s life at all, but I understand exactly who she is, because I know her world and what it is like to have that Jewish family dynamic — that way of being very direct.”

The character is, in fact, so organically immersed in her heritage that actress Karpluk, who was raised in a non-Jewish home in rural Alberta, spent hours interviewing Jewish subjects to prepare for the role.

“I was terrified of appearing inauthentic,” she said over lunch in Los Angeles recently. “I share Jana’s belief that the more specific a character, the more relatable she is.”

Perhaps there is another reason for Erica’s universal appeal, as well. Sinyor said she studied religion in college because “I believe these biblical stories are the archetypes that have seeped into every aspect of our culture.

“You could say that Erica is lost in the wilderness, and we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.”

The show airs Thursdays at 10 p.m.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 6 – 12: Poetry of La Norte, love and latkes


Whether or not you’re a firm believer in life after death, screenwriter and playwright Dan Gordon has a message for you: People in heaven might be sending you postcards. In his new book, “Postcards From Heaven: Messages of Love From the Other Side,” Gordon explains how a “whisper, a familiar smell in the air, or just the feeling of a presence” can indicate a message from above. This weekend, Gordon is part of Temple Menorah’s second annual “Authors, Books, and Conversations” event. Ariel Sabar, author of “My Father’s Paradise,” will speak about the search for his Kurdish Jewish roots. And on Sunday, children’s book author Kathy Kacer, an expert on writing about the Holocaust for children, will be featured. Sat. 5 p.m. $25-$36 (includes dinner). Through Dec. 7. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. ” target=”_blank”>

“Fiddler on the Roof.” Enough said. You know the story, you know the songs, you know you’re going to enjoy the performance. The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities presents their production of “Fiddler,” starring Thomas Fiscella as the endearing Tevye and Richard Israel as Motel. Sat. 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 21. $40-$65. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. (310) 372-4477. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>raise $400,000 for the nonprofit Jewish Home — the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles. But it’s not all just physical activity. The fun-filled day comes complete with music, food and clowns! The event is open to all ages and will begin and end at the Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus. Sun. 7 a.m. (registration); 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremony). Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3324. ” target=”_blank”>

Rabbi Mordechai Dubin’s upbeat songs have 3-year-olds quoting from Genesis and Maimonides. The fourth-grade teacher at Maimonides Academy received a $10,000 grant from the Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educators Awards for his excellence in teaching and used it to produce a children’s CD that has become the buzz of day schools across the country. Bring your tots to see Rabbi Dubin live, singing holy hits from his CD, “I Made This World For You,” at the Jewish Community Library. Sun. 3-4 p.m. Free. JCLLA, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. #300, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8648. ” target=”_blank”>


Transit prose queen and performance artist Marisela Norte will not only read selections from her poetry collection, “Peeping Tom Tom Girl,” at ALOUD, she will perform them with longtime friend and talented collaborator Maria Elena Gaitan. “An Evening of Spoken Word and Cello” features two unique female artists ” target=”_blank”>


Esther Jungreis once trembled, starving and terrified in Bergen-Belsen. Many years later, she flew over Germany on the president of the United States’ plane. The world-renowned spiritual leader and speaker, who comes from a rabbinical dynasty tracing back to King David, has come a long way from the death camps of ” target=”_blank”>

Imagine growing up knowing that your father was brutal Nazi leader Amon Goeth. Monika Hertwig learned at a young age of her father’s history and his eventual hanging as a war criminal. But Hertwig didn’t simply try to forget the past; she went on to search for one of her father’s victims and found Helen Jonas, a woman rescued by Oskar Schindler. Directed by Academy Award-winner James Moll, the meeting of the two women captured in the film, “Inheritance,” “unearths terrible truths and lingering questions about how the actions of our parents can continue to ripple through generations.” Wed. Airs nationally on PBS’ series, “Point of View.” Check local listings at ” target=”_blank”>


In its brief 60-year history, Israel has undergone enormous changes and even greater threats. What will the Holy Land look like at 100 years? None of us can say for certain. But that doesn’t stop Israel experts from pondering the question. Rabbi Daniel Gordis tackled the issue on Nov. 13 in part one of Temple Beth Am’s Israel 2048 Master Teacher Series, “Envisioning the State of Israel on the occasion of its 100th Anniversary.” Tonight, another brilliant scholar shares his insights on the future of the Jewish state. David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, has published numerous books and is the co-editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review. Thu. 7:45 p.m. $15 (Temple Beth Am members), $25 (nonmembers). Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. required, (310) 652-7354, ext. 215. ” target=”_blank”>

VIDEO: The Goldbergs (1955) ‘Member of the Jury’

Episode of the classic 50’s TV program “The Goldbergs”, taken from then final season. ‘Member of the Jury’

Doing Jews right on TV — for better or worse

In the AMC drama “Mad Men,” about the male-dominated advertising world of 1960s New York, an early episode features Jewish heiress Rachel Menken soliciting the services of ad firm Sterling Cooper to boost sales for her family-owned department store.

Eager to secure her business, the ad execs find Sterling Cooper’s only Jew — David Coen in the mailroom — and bring him to the pitch meeting, supposing that his presence will earn the woman’s confidence.

But when it is suggested that another company might be more suited to her needs (subtext: a firm run by Jews), Menken becomes incensed and insists on a high-end image in which “people like you” (subtext: non-Jews) will shop there precisely “because it’s expensive.”

“I’m not going to let a woman talk to me that way,” Don Draper, the agency’s creative director, declares before walking out of the meeting.

What the scene lacks in offensiveness, it makes up for in subversiveness in the depiction of what the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, calls “casual anti-Semitism.” Because this woman is attractive, lacks any discernable accent and therefore any ethnic specificity, she is identified as an assimilated Jew and is instead, assaulted for her gender.

“I was surprised that no one talked about it,” Weiner told an assembly at Friday’s panel discussion, “Fair or Foul: The Portrayal of Jews on TV,” part of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. “Law and Order” producer Rosalyn Weinman and former Los Angeles Times’ television critic Howard Rosenberg joined Weiner in discussing the evolution of the Jewish character on television.

“The sexism was talked about,” Weiner continued, “and that the show was so racist — but casual anti-Semitism?”

Because, as he admits, Jews are prevalent in Hollywood and have a legitimate cultural sensitivity to Jewish discrimination, there is both interest and concern regarding images of Jews disseminated through entertainment media. As old as the medium itself, the depiction of Jews on television tells a story of ethnic identity, and therefore an acute responsibility is ascribed to the storyteller who decides what language, images and styles become associated with being Jewish. Thus, the underlying theme of the panel discussion became whether producers, writers and directors are conscientious in their depictions of Jews, and, if so, what are the boundaries?

“I’m very conscious of my depiction of Jews,” Weiner said. “When I said to my casting people, ‘Can you get me a Jewish actress?’ they said, ‘Well, we can’t really ask for that,’ and I was, like, ‘Well that makes sense; I just violated, like, 80 laws.'”

Since the advent of television, the medium has been a vehicle for defining aspects of American identity. Ethnic entertainment emerged to portray various aspects of the immigrant experience and explored relationships among ethnic subgroups.

For her part, Weinman talked about an episode of “Law and Order” dealing with black anti-Semitism that aired during its first season, just after the 1991 Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn.

“There were still raw nerves in the City of New York about these issues. And I think that it was very useful in at least elevating that conversation from the New York Post to somewhat of a higher plane, a plane that was more intellectual and hopefully a little more healing,” Weinman said.

“But in order to try to do that — and that was the goal — the language was rough. The language about the blacks and the Jews in Crown Heights at that time was reflective of what was happening.”

The “Law and Order” episode dealt with subject matter otherwise being ignored by mainstream television. Weiner traced the history of ethnic entertainment, citing examples from “All in the Family” to “The Jeffersons,” but, he said, the emphasis on ethnic specificity has diminished over time, in favor of a melting-pot philosophy of entertainment.

“I’ve always thought, you know, ‘Think Yiddish, write British,'” he quipped.

“I think that multiculturalism and political correctness have been very hard on Jews, because we don’t want to be seen as a minority … we don’t want to call attention to the fact that we’re immigrants,” Weiner said, adding that the presence of openly Jewish characters with accents has disappeared from television. “It’s embarrassing for executives and for a whole generation of people that that’s our past.”

The result is the Jewish character becoming the American Jewish character, disassociated from an ethnic history and assimilated into American culture. And the assimilation hasn’t only been for Jews. Blacks and even Italians have preferred a more Americanized identity, as well. “We became less politically interested in [ethnic identity]; we became more bland, more everyman, with less ethnic identity for everybody,” Weiner said.

Weinman recalled her days as an executive at NBC, when “Seinfeld” was thought to be “too Jewish,” and there was great debate over whether the show would air. It wasn’t until the addition of the Elaine character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that the show was considered more acceptable for a wide audience.

The 1999 debut of “The Sopranos” on HBO constituted the return of a fully formed ethnic identity to television, said Weiner, who was a writer for that show.

Yet, when ethnic identities are being played out onscreen for purposes of entertainment, the problem of stereotypes inevitably arises. During the Q-and-A portion of the panel, some audience members expressed concern over some representations of Jews that could be seen as offensive. One woman cited an episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in which he scalps High Holy Day tickets. Another man said he is bothered by the Ari Gold character on “Entourage,” a Jewish Hollywood agent who engages in some of the most “horrific anti-Asian, anti-gay slurs.” These examples brought up the deepest worry of most Jews in the room: Should Jewish storytellers depict Jews in any kind of negative light?

“I think there’s a distinction between hate language and doing something in the spirit of comedy,” Weinman said of cutting the phrase, “don’t Jew me down,” from a show she oversaw. She cited an episode of “Law and Order” in which Chabad members were in cahoots with Hells Angels distributing ecstasy on the streets on New York, a story, she said, that was based on fact.

Both Weiner and Weinman agreed that even controversial Jewish depictions can be appropriate, if rendered in the spirit of comedy or truth. Whether their audience agreed or not, the choice of how Jews are represented is ultimately in Hollywood’s hands, and people like Weiner and Weinman have significant influence and control over what images network television promulgates.

Jews, Weiner said in conclusion, “are represented in this industry in a very big way.” “We are in every aspect of it — the creative part; we’re behind the camera; we’re in front of the camera — [Jewish] people have been attracted to [Hollywood], and America enjoys our product.”

TV station cancels program featuring Hitler’s ‘favorite dish’

A Belgian television show set to prepare Adolf Hitler’s favorite meal on the air has been canceled.

Television chef Jerien Meus of the VRT station planned to prepare the meal, trout in butter sauce, at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, the former site of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” alpine headquarters and now a tourist attraction and museum. The installment of the “Favorite Dish” series had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Past programs explored the culinary preferences of other more mainstream celebrities.

When news of the show became public, it angered the Belgian Jewish community and survivor groups and was the subject of widespread criticism.

Michael Freilich, the editor-in-chief of the Antwerp Jewish paper, Joods Actueel, deplored the show as a “banalization” of Hitler and called Meus “naive” about the dictator’s crimes against humanity.

He said Monday after the cancellation was announced that the public broadcaster should consider why it chose Hitler in the first place.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

It’s SHOWTIME for this Cantor

At the dawn of Hollywood talkies, “The Jazz Singer” told the story of a young Jewish man’s conflict between a career in the entertainment industry and being a cantor. The sacred and the profane seemed two poles whose opposing magnetic draws tore the protagonist apart. But that was 1927.

Today, more than 90 years later, I only had to drive to Westwood to meet Gary Levine, who has his feet planted comfortably in both worlds. During the week Levine is executive vice president of original programming for Showtime Networks, in charge of such edgy series as “Dexter,” “Weeds,” “The L Word,” and “Californication.” On the weekends, he is the cantor at Ahavat Torah, a small congregation in Brentwood. This is the story of how these two worlds not only coexist but flourish in one soul.

Levine grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. His family was not particularly observant, but Levine attended a conservative synagogue in Flushing, Queens, whose rabbi, Aaron Pearl, engaged him with his provocative and often political oratory — so much so that he continued to attend services regularly beyond his bar mitzvah.

“It was like listening to ‘Meet The Press,'” Levine recalled.

But the congregation itself wanted a rabbi who was comforting, not controversial. So they fired Rabbi Pearl, and, Levine said, “my temple time came to an end.”

Levine sang in chorus in high school, but it was as a student at the State University at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) that he first took voice lessons. David Clatworthy, a New York City Opera baritone, had just joined the faculty, and over the next six years, under his tutelage, Levine, who had never really listened to opera before, became a trained opera singer.

“It just opened up this door for me.” Levine said.

However, upon completing a master’s degree from Binghamton in 1976, Levine went to work not in the world of opera, but of nonprofit theater: “That was the end of my singing.”

Over the next decade, Levine worked as a producer and as the manager of a number of theater companies, including the Roundabout Theater Company in Manhattan and The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, culminating in a five-year run as managing director of the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Nonetheless, by 1985, Levine found the not-for-profit world overly small.

“I needed to move on to the next thing,” Levine said. “I needed to make a midcourse correction.” So, in the immortal words of Horace Greeley, he decided to “Go West.”

Barbara Corday, then president of Columbia Pictures Television, offered Levine an apprenticeship. After a few months, the position of director of current programs became available, and Levine was asked to fill it. From there, he rose to become a vice president, in charge of a mix of shows both in comedy and drama.

“It was a great way to learn the business,” Levine said. “Things just progressed from there.”

Levine is being modest: Over the next decade, he ran drama development at ABC, at a time when the network still had “China Beach” and “Thirtysomething” on the air, and he developed such shows as “Twin Peaks,” “Life Goes On” and “NYPD Blue.” From there, he went on to become president of Witt-Thomas Productions, one of the most successful producers of comedies, a hands-on experience where he was “on the stage every day.” Witt-Thomas led to a position at Warner Brothers Television in charge of all development — both comedy and drama. Among the shows that were created under his tenure, Levine takes special pride in “The West Wing.” Levine’s rise in Hollywood was as well-rounded as it was meteoric.

Then Levine’s boss at Warner Brothers was fired. This was not good for Levine. And given that this coincided with the first internet boom, in the late 1990s, Levine moved to Icebox, an internet start-up, founded by TV writers Howard Gordon, Rob LaZebnik and John Collier, that promised to be the next generation of entertainment studios.

Levine found himself working in a cool warehouse space in Culver City, meeting “with unbelievable creators,” such as Larry David and “almost every executive producer of ‘The Simpsons.'” However, he admits, “There was no business plan to support it.” (Just to show how crazy Icebox was, they once bought a pitch from me and my much more talented partner on the project, Sandy Frank, which is how I first met Levine.)

Whether my pitch was the moment that Levine realized that the Internet bubble was going to burst was a question I did not raise in our recent interview, but shortly thereafter Levine leapt at an opportunity to move to Showtime.

Levine’s mandate was to put Showtime on the map with series, while at the same time also overseeing their movies and miniseries. That was seven and a half years ago, and “slowly but surely,” he said, they’ve been doing just that.

But there’s a whole other Gary Levine story, too. Take a step back, to 1994, when Levine was asked to coffee to meet a young rabbi, Mordecai Finley, who was leaving Stephen S. Wise Temple to start his own congregation, Ohr HaTorah.

“I really liked what he had to say,” Levine recalled.

Soon enough, Levine found himself attending services for the first time since high school, while his children attended religious school. “Mordecai does ignite people,” he said.

One day, Meirav Finley, the rabbi’s wife and partner in the administration of Ohr HaTorah congregation, announced that the shul’s cantorial soloist was leaving. Rather than replace her, the plan was to invite congregants to help lead services.

“I was not happy about it,” Levine said.

Eventually, Meirav approached Levine saying, “I need you to volunteer.”

Levine was reluctant. In what he described as “typical Finley fashion,” she said, “That’s why you have to do it. We don’t want someone who wants to perform.” Levine agreed on two conditions: One, that he could in fact learn how to do it; and two, that doing so should not rob him of the enjoyment of attending services.

The following week, Meirav announced to the congregation that Levine would be leading High Holy Day services — just five months away. Levine wasn’t sure he could do it, but he and Meirav worked together.

“She was an excellent teacher,” he said.

Not only was he able to chant the services, but he said that doing so became “if anything, a deeper experience.”

Using his voice to help carry a congregation along was “enormously satisfying.” In some mysterious way, Levine’s early voice training and temple attendance, all of which he had forsaken, had come together for some greater purpose.

For the next eight or nine years, Levine served as one of the congregation’s volunteer cantors. He assisted Rabbi Finley at services, at weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals. Once, when Finley was asked to officiate at a Wexner Heritage Foundation event and was allowed to invite any cantor in the country to assist him, he chose Levine.

However, at a certain point, Levine and Finley reached what Levine refers to as “creative differences” — a euphemism from his showbiz world. Levine stopped officiating and returned to being a congregant. Yet that, in time, proved too frustrating an experience.

“We drifted away,” Levine said.

Levine was without a congregation. On occasion, he freelanced, as when a congregation in Montecito whose cantor was on bed rest called him to fill in for the High Holy Days. But he thought his cantorial days were behind him.

Then, in 2002, he heard from a group who wanted to start their own minyan, several of who were former members of Ohr HaTorah. Levine declined, not wanting to be part of a breakaway group.

However, as the group grew and formalized themselves into a congregation of their own — Ahavat Torah — and were joined by Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, Levine accepted the invitation to come in and chant. That was about five years ago, and Levine has been their cantorial soloist ever since.

Levine describes Ahavat Torah as a congregation for the 40-plus crowd (age, not suit size), whose kids are out of religious school — people not forced to find a congregation but seeking one where the prayers are vociferous, and with intense, interesting Torah discussions. They have fashioned their own siddur (prayer book) with the prayers mostly in Hebrew; it’s egalitarian; and people dress from casual to traditional. The drash (or sermon) is given by the rabbi once a month, while others come from guest rabbis or congregants. Levine describes it as “very cordial, very inviting, small and warm.”

Let me say this loud and clear: Levine invites you all to come by some time and try it.

“People who experience it, find it very seductive,” he said.

Levine told me that his two lives overlap very occasionally. One time, two writers he had worked with happened to attend services and couldn’t get over how much the cantor “looked just like Gary Levine,” never imagining the two could be one and the same person.

On another occasion, Levine was in the middle of a Showtime meeting when his assistant interrupted saying “Dustin Hoffman’s on the line.”

Hoffman was not calling to pitch Showtime; instead, he was standing on a soundstage and needed Levine to intone the Kaddish for a movie he was mixing (Levine has officiated at Hoffman family events).

Levine has also contributed cantorial content to “The L Word,” (not only the show, but also the soundtrack CD), and even appeared onscreen in “Sleeper Cell,” in a scene where a meeting took place at Sinai Temple.

Which brings me back to my original point. What I find so interesting is that Levine finds no conflict between his two professional commitments. Never has he been called to choose between cantorial and professional duty. (A friend of mine once had a job interview with Rupert Murdoch scheduled for Yom Kippur. Ask yourself: Was it a test? Did Murdoch know? What would you do?) Never has the content of his shows posed a conflict, and never has the content of his religious duties colored his development duties. Peaceful coexistence in a two-state solution, if you will.

Although the leap from singing “Sim Shalom” (“Song of Peace”) to giving notes on a script about serial killer Dexter or “Californication’s” debauched writer Hank Moody seems a great one, Levine argues that characters such as Dexter, Hank or even the pot-selling mom on “Weeds” are multidimensional characters “who are tested — very tested” (and in that respect they are not unlike the very flawed, very human characters one encounters in the Torah).

“I’ll stand by the humanity of the work,” Levine said.

What Levine accomplishes weekly, Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” could not. At a time when we all, regardless of race, creed, or political party, hope for change, let’s take this as one reminder of how far we’ve come. Or of what one very talented individual, Gary Levine, can accomplish that we can’t. Take your pick.

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward.

Old favorites take on fresh roles in fall TV season

After a summer filled with Olympics, political conventions and bizarre reality shows (“I Survived a Japanese Game Show” anyone?) TV viewers are aching for something different. The new offerings this fall range from international imports like “The Ex List” and “Life on Mars” to surprise comebacks like “90210” and the mini-turned-maxi series “The Starter Wife.” This new crop of shows featuring Jewish actors or characters joins returning favorites such as “Big Bang Theory,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Heroes.” So peruse our guide, pick up that remote and get ready to record your soon-to-be favorites.

Show: “90210”
Channel: The CW
Airs: Tuesdays, 8 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
The rich, hormonal guys and gals at West Beverly are back, but this time the student body actually reflects the real Beverly Hills High’s large Iranian-American population. While tuning into this re-launched Aaron Spelling guilty pleasure won’t curb your longing for the days of Andrea, Brandon and Steve, the return of Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) might help. Throw in David and Kelly’s half-sister, the rebellious Silver (Jessica Stroup), and “Arrested Development’s” Jessica Walter as an alcoholic former-actress grandmother, and those thoughts of Dylan’s sideburns should fly right out of your head.

Show: “Sons of Anarchy”
Channel: FX
Airs: Wednesdays, 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”) heads a gun-running motorcycle club in a rural California town, and his nephew, Jax, is having second thoughts about joining “the family” — much to the chagrin of Jax’s mom (Katey Segal). For those who miss “The Sopranos,” including Drea de Matteo, this could become your next addiction after second two of “Mad Men” ends in October.

Show: “Dancing With the Stars”
Channel: ABC
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
The folks behind “Young Frankenstein: the Musical” said Cloris Leachman, 82, was too old to handle eight performances a week. Tune in to the seventh season of “Dancing With the Stars” to see the original Frau Blucher, the oldest dancer on the show thus far, compete against Susan Lucci and Toni Braxton to become the queen of the dance floor.

Show: “The Ex List”
Channel: CBS
Premieres: Friday, Oct. 3, 9 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Just like with “Numb3rs,” CBS once again puts a Jewish show on Friday night (thanks guys). Be sure to record this adorable import from Israel about a city-dwelling single gal named Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser), who learns from a fortune-teller that Mr. Right was a former boyfriend. Thus, the “ex list” comes in to play for Bella and her friends (Rachel Boston, Adam Rothenberg, Alexandra Breckenridge and Amir Talai). It made it big it Eretz Yisrael as “Mythological X,” and considering the “Bachelor” doesn’t start until January, this romantic dramedy makes a great substitute.

Show: “Kath & Kim”
Channel: NBC
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Another import, this time from Australia, features recent newlywed-turned-divorced daughter Selma Blair and mom-who-won’t-grow-up Molly Shannon. Sandwiched between network hits “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” the scheduling could prove promising for this bawdy comedy.

Show: “Life on Mars”
Channel: ABC
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9 at 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 1970s — especially now that “Swingtown” is off the air — the American version of this BBC show might fill the void. Sam Tyler, a police detective in 2008, lands in 1973 after a car crash. Harvey Keitel plays Sam’s boss who, of course, doesn’t believe this “I’m from the future” shtick. But how will Sam’s love life with 21st-century girlfriend Lisa Bonet play out in the space-time continuum?

Show: “Testees”
Channel: FX
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9, 10:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
“South Park” writer and “Kenny vs. Spenny” creator-star Kenny Hotz enters the world of experimentation, where 30-something roommates Peter (Steve Markle) and Ron (Jeff Kassel) work as human guinea pigs at TESTICO, a not-quite-normal product testing facility. Every week the two test a new product — with ridiculous side effects — and then have to live their lives as best they can. It’s a comedy. No, really.

Show: “The Starter Wife”
Channel: USA
Premieres: Friday, Oct. 10, 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Emmy-winner Debra Messing returns in the show based on Gigi Levangie Grazer’s best-seller about a divorcée who restarts her life when her husband dumps her for a younger woman. Many Angelenos should be able to relate to this humorous hit mini-series turned maxi-series that pokes fun at all things Hollywood. Of course, it’s another one that’s on Friday nights, but, luckily, DVRs can record two shows at once.

Show: “Surviving Suburbia”
Channel: The CW
Premieres: Sunday, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Bob Saget slips back into the dad role sans Olson twins. Given the lack of hit family sitcoms, the show’s premise about a normal family and their crazy neighbors with the distractingly hot daughter could be fun to watch. Think “Married With Children,” but in reverse.

Will new Jewish TV Channel (TJC) click with viewers?

From JTC’s YouTube site:
Get the inside scoop on The Jewish Channel’s award-winning features and documentaries. The Forward newspaper’s Arts and Culture Editor Alana Newhouse is your guide, offering incisive interviews with writers, directors and cultural critics.Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Abigail Pogrebin, author of “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish.” Newhouse and Pogrebin discuss the legacy of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, the subject of Louis B. Mayer: King of Hollywood, on contemporary Hollywood’s Jewish celebrities — like Natalie Portman and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Bandwidth in Los Angeles recently took an upward leap of faith.

In addition to the usual news, drama and sports, viewers of cable’s Verizon FiOS TV (Fiber-Optic Television) can now also watch a panel of rabbis discussing Barack Obama’s minister, hear actor Alec Baldwin rave about New York delis or listen to a converted Orthodox comedian rant about his three ritual circumcisions.

It’s all on The Jewish Channel (TJC), an ambitious enterprise that, depending on who’s talking, is either the new Jewish HBO or the latest tawdry entry in a long series of failed attempts to create one. At the very least, the new channel’s arrival in this media-savvy town has heated up a simmering debate over whether true national Jewish television is possible and, if so, whose is most likely to succeed.

“There have easily been 25 or 30 significant efforts that have failed in the last 20 years and all for the same reason,” said Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Sherman Oaks-based Jewish Television Network, which, though still producing content for PBS, long ago abandoned cable television in favor of Web TV.

“The problem,” Sanderson said, “is that none of them have made money.”

Professional media critics tend to agree.

“Any niche-oriented station divided by religion, gender, age range, etc., is starting from a place where it’s limiting its potential audience,” said Brian Lowry, a media columnist and chief TV critic for Variety Magazine. “The issue is capacity; cable operators don’t generally want to give up space to a channel unless they think it will make money.”

While inexpensive programming in any niche is potentially viable, Lowry said, “I don’t see a huge demand for it. The Jewish audience falls into the same category as any other; a portion will reach out for ethnic-based programs, but the lion’s share will watch what everybody else is watching. It comes down to how narrowly you can keep slicing up that pie and still be economically viable.”

Steven Weiss, an executive and spokesman for TJC, is hoping that his slice of the pie will be large. Launched on the East Coast last year with private funding from venture capitalists, the station a video-on-demand compendium of Jewish movies, commentary and public affairs programming billing itself as “America’s first national Jewish cable network” now boasts about 20,000 viewers. Though it’s still too early to tell, Weiss hastened to add, how many of them live in Los Angeles.

His secret, he said, is quality programming provided by a staff of seasoned industry executives with backgrounds at major cable networks and media companies, including Showtime, The Food Network, Rainbow and Time Warner.

“We’re getting an overwhelming response from people who really appreciate that they can connect with their culture and community from the comfort of their living rooms,” he said.

Weiss believes it’s the rising phenomenon of behind-closed-doors Judaism that will allow the station to succeed.

“We’re in an era where there are many people looking for Jewish experiences but not willing to do it in a confined Jewish space,” he said. “It’s a cultural shift; people increasingly want a Jewish identity that’s in flow with everything else in their lives rather than in marked contrast. The idea that you can actually bring it into your living room is a very attractive proposition for a great many unaffiliated Jews.”

Others who would appear to have less impressive television credentials than TJC’s producers have similar ideas. Among them is Phil Blazer, the Encino-based publisher of a newspaper that is distributed irregularly called The National Jewish News, president of a company called Blazer Communications and producer of a half-hour Sunday morning program that airs on the small cable station KSCI-TV, Channel 18. Now he said he plans to go national with what he calls Jewish Life TV, set to debut in Los Angeles this fall. The debut has been promised for a long period of time but has not yet produced results.

“L.A. will have its own full-time channel,” Blazer promises of the programming he said can already be seen by basic cable subscribers in a smattering of U.S. cities nationwide, including Burlington, Vt., and San Antonio, Texas. “We are a regular full-time network, not just video-on-demand.”

Blazer said that one of his goals with the new channel is “to go to small communities, like Bakersfield, where there isn’t much Jewish life.”

It’s an ambition shared by Rabbi Mark S. Golub, president of Fort Lee, N.J.-based Shalom TV, a nonprofit video-on-demand network that tested the waters for 18 months before going national earlier this year.

“What we’re doing,” Golub said of the network, available to Time Warner subscribers in Los Angeles, “is providing Jews outside the major urban centers with a greater sense of Jewish identity and Jewish security. Jewish is in the air in New York and, in some ways, in Los Angeles. But you go out of the major urban areas of this country and Jews are starving for Jewish content.”

Golub also serves as the spiritual leader of congregation Chavurat Aytz Chayim in Stamford, Conn., president of the Russian Television Network of America and producer of a weekly cable television show called, L’Chayim,

Some potential viewers in Los Angeles are already signaling whose station they prefer even while the jury’s still out. Shelley Salamensky, a professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and TV who also teaches at the university’s Center for Jewish Studies, hasn’t yet seen TJC but she’s heard all about it.

“I think it will enrich the lives of those who are connected to the Jewish community,” she said. “It will enrich the lives of those who are Jewish but unaffiliated, and for non-Jewish viewers it should also be fascinating.”

Salamensky sees the emergence of Jewish television, in general, as part of a larger trend.

“Los Angeles is a city in which many different cultures have had a presence on TV for years,” she said, “but I think this is quite new for Jews. There is evidence of renewed Jewish life in the 21st century; a strong movement of people who have been disenfranchised returning to their roots.”

The professor attributes the phenomenon, in part, to the “feeling of spiritual emptiness and disconnection” engendered by the post-modern world.

“My grandparents’ generation from Eastern Europe is passing away,” she said, “and we’re feeling the loss.”

The view from the bottom line, however, is that such sentiment may engender more desire than actual accomplishment. The reality, Variety media critic Lowry said, “is that most people, when they sit down to watch TV, don’t run through a litany of their personal attributes before choosing what to watch. They’re going to turn on ‘Desperate Housewives’ or ‘Lost’ or a movie or whatever.”

In fact, he concludes, the whisperings of personal religion and ethnicity “is just not something most people go through before deciding what to view.”