Local HBO net ramps up comedy-drama 'Kiss'

BUDAPEST — Until now, TV production in Hungary has focused on reality, gameshows and soaps, with gritty crime series thrown in for good measure.

But paybox HBO Hungary is upping the ante for local productions, as well as the quality and cost, with a big-budget dramedy series.

“Tarsas jatek” (When Shall We Kiss), which chronicles life among a group of young urban adults, will premier Oct. 23.

More than half of its 12-episode debut season will be directed by movie helmer Gabor Herendi (“Valaki Amerika,” “Magyar Vandor”). As a result, the series is expected to reflect the quality of a theatrical release.

“We decided to shoot the TV series like a feature film,” Herendi tells Variety. “We used top technical equipment and two cameras. It has very good production values.” (Neither Herendi nor HBO Hungary would specify the series’ budget.)

Although familiar names from the Hungarian bigscreen appear, such as thesp Juli Basti, HBO for the most part cast fresh faces, including Budapest stage actors Dorina Martinovics, Kornel Simon and Szabolcs Thuroczy.

Katalin Schulteisz, HBO Hungary’s original production exec, says, “We found some great local talent.”

Based on top-rated Israeli TV series “Matay nitnashek,” which Herendi and series co-director Gergo Fonyo adapted for local audiences, “When Shall We Kiss” may not need stars to sell it.

The story presents relationship dramas in a humorous way in a 30-minute format.

“The central characters are very human and vulnerable (and) the story unfolds within contemporary Budapest … so it will be easy for Hungarian audiences to relate to it,” Schulteisz says. Because the Hungarian version is on pay cable, it can also take more risks than the Israeli original, Herendi says

“HBO wanted to produce a Hungarian series that is fit for (its quality) level, and I think we did our best to do that,” he says.

“When Shall We Kiss” is the second Israeli format to come to central Europe and HBO. Last December, HBO Romania aired a local version of “Be-tipul,” the basis for U.S. HBO hit “In Treatment,” starring Gabriel Byrne.

HBO Central Europe, a subsidiary of HBO, which operates local-language pay networks in 11 countries, announced plans for homegrown versions of “Be-tipul” in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Hungarian version of “When Shall We Kiss” resonates across cultures because it represents real life, Herendi says. “The characters are typical. When I saw the Israeli series, I said, ‘This guy is just like a friend of mine.’ … We changed a lot of things, details for characters that didn’t fit the local situation. Now the series is really Hungarian.”

As one of HBO Central Europe’s early production attempts at original dramedy, “When Shall We Kiss” is a risk, betting that local pay TV viewers will want to watch a show about Budapest rather than reruns of “Sex and the City” set in exotic New York.

According to Schulteisz, Hungary is ready to tell its own stories and “When Shall We Kiss” could trigger more ambitious productions in the market.

“Hungarian TV and cinema has a lot of resources that aren’t fully being used,” Schulteisz says. “We’re doing something we hope will inspire the market to follow and produce this type of content.”

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