America, always on the prowl for new entertainment properties is today seeking new formats for TV series even in Israel. But if you were to say something like that a few years ago, it might have started like the beginning of a good joke, but in 2015, it’s now a reality. Israel has become a haven for quality TV writing and storylines that has gained international recognition and acclaim. Many formats have already been sold to leading TV networks around the world and agents and production offices are working to track down even more storylines and shows. Critically acclaimed shows such as Home Land, In Treatment and Mix Signals are just a few examples for hit programs that have come from original ideas in Israel. Despite the success of Israel’s television, its early beginnings were not easy, and like many things in Israel, it has been influenced by the country’s focus on security.
Israeli television started in 1966 primarily educational TV with the help of Joe Stern, the Vice President of CBS at the time in the USA. But it was the First Channel, which as its name suggests, was the only public state TV channel that started operations in 1968, which changed viewing habits in Israel. In a country that suffered from many wars during those years, the goal behind the initiative of launching the TV channel was to have an emergency broadcast channel that would serve as a means to communicate with the Israeli and Arab public in times of crises. Wars had an influence not just on the beginning of transmissions but also on their character, frequency and pace. At the onset b, the channel transmitted on just three evenings a week in Hebrew and Arabic. These broadcasts became longer over the years, as reality changed.
The hegemony and dominance of the First Channel in Israel started to erode in the 1980s, when the video recorder appeared, offering more options for its owners, alongside pirate TV stations. The unregulated competition prepared the background for the formation of cable television and commercial channels. After the TV industry in Israel became regulated was regulated, Channel 2, a privately owned commercial television channel that was funded by advertisements, started operations. Nine years later, in 2002, Channel 10, yet another competing commercial channel started to broadcast. The commercial channels also began to produce independent series and many of them have become success stories. The subjects, which have included secular-ultra orthodox, oriental-Ashkenazi relations, military and defense, Arabs and Jews, had bearing on the sensitive aspects of Israeli society as a mirror for criticism. These series include A Touch Away, Arab Labor, Reserves, Shabatot Vehagim and Yellow Peppers.
Today, Israel’s viewing public is offered a wide range of television viewing options. Alongside the First Channel, the commercial channels and cable television, a law has been passed allowing for free reception of broadcasts of a number of major channels, in order to reduce the costs to the public and make television universally accessible in Israel. Besides the changes in the broadcasting access, there has also been a change in the quality of series produced on Israeli television. Many series are produced with big budgets, like drama and comedy series that have been broadcast on other international TV stations such as HBO. These shows have garnered gain international success and recognition, and as mentioned, are purchased for distribution and broadcasting around the world. The reality TV trend has not overlooked Israel, and today many programs on commercial channels are reality program based. These types of programs have in turn led to an ongoing debate concerning their quality and influence on Israel youth.