×

Self-Mocking Scribe Sayed Kashua Gets Serious With ‘Dancing Arabs’

Sayed Kashua, the Israeli Arab author, screenwriter and journalist, has made a career of self-mockery. The “Dancing Arabs” screenwriter is perhaps best-known to Israeli auds as the mastermind behind “Arab Labor,” a successful comedy series that debuted in 2007. It made history in Israel not just for being first primetime program with primarily Arabic dialogue, but also for proving that Israeli viewers could fall in love with, and be loyal to, a sitcom about an Arab family.

The series, whose name cheekily refers to a Hebrew slur for shoddy handiwork, enjoyed four seasons backed by local media powerhouse Keshet. But when the time came to write a fifth season, Kashua refused. The writer, who has made no secret of his battles with depression, drinking and perpetual self-doubt, was marooned in a massive midlife crisis, one that led him to question everything from his career to his marriage to his commitment to ever-fractured Jerusalem.

The upheaval was so extreme that he fled Israel for the U.S., a decision he chronicles in his weekly Haaretz newspaper column. So rather than write a fifth season of “Arab Labor,” he offered Keshet an alternative — a sort of spinoff, in which he is the main character, and his inability to continue writing “Arab Labor” is at the center of the plot.

“ ‘Arab Labor’ was personal, but this one is really personal,” Kashua says in a phone interview from Illinois, where he is living. “For me, it was writing in a completely different language.”

Lensing on the 10-episode first season wrapped this summer just before Israel’s war with Gaza. This time around, says helmer Shai Capon — who also directed “Arab Labor” and who plays himself in the new series — there was no cushion of humor to protect the actors.

“ ‘Arab Labor’ was light, snappy,” he says. “We got emotional over things, but from a safe place, from the terrace. In this program, it’s more brutal. There are no borders, so shooting it, we were dealing with reality unfiltered.”

The program, which will air later in the year and remains untitled, follows the author of “Arab Labor” — obviously Kashua, but referred to as simply the Writer — as he wrestles with the temptation of a divorce, his own self-doubt, and the creeping realization that despite being born and raised in Israel, it will never be his true home.

It’s heavy stuff, and Kashua knows there is a risk that viewers won’t swallow it. But he is so beloved in Israel, and his work so hotly anticipated, that Keshet feels confident.

Kashua, too, adds a positive note, in his unique way. “I’m completely convinced,” he says in his dry deadpan, “now that I’m focused only on myself.”

More TV

  • Wanda Sykes Silicon Valleywood

    Wanda Sykes on Doing Business With Netflix: 'They Moved That Comma'

    MENLO PARK, Calif. — Wanda Sykes wears a lot of hats as a comedian, writer, producer and entrepreneur, and that gives her a keen sense of the ever-growing content marketplace. She also has a very clear understanding of what she’s worth in dollars and cents, as she shared Tuesday in her Q&A at Variety’s Silicon [...]

  • Jenna Hager Hoda Kotb

    NBC News Sets Joanne LaMarca as EP, 'Today' Fourth Hour

    Just after NBC News recalibrated the fourth our of its daytime “Today” program, it has named a new executive producer to oversee the show. Joanne LaMarca, a longtime “Today” staffer who left NBC News in 2017 after a long run, will return as the new head of the 10 a.m. hour that is now led by [...]

  • Adam McKay photogrpahed at the PMC

    HBO to Team With Adam McKay on Scripted Showtime Lakers Series

    HBO is bringing the Showtime Lakers to the scripted arena with “Showtime,” Variety has confirmed. The series, which has received a pilot order at the cabler, hails from Adam McKay, who will direct. “Showtime” will be based on Jeff Pearlman’s non-fiction book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” “Jeff Pearlman’s [...]

  • The 100 -- "Sanctum" -- Image

    'The 100' Boss Breaks Down Season 6's New World and Theme of 'Can We Do Better?'

    When “The 100” returns for its sixth season on April 30, the CW drama will thrust its characters into a brand new world. After escaping a no-longer habitable Earth at the end of the fifth season, the characters went into cryostasis until the planet was ready for life again. One hundred and twenty-five years later, [...]

  • David Milch Deadwood

    'Deadwood' Creator David Milch Diagnosed With Alzheimer's

    David Milch, the creator of “Deadwood,” revealed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in an interview published Tuesday. “As best I understand it, which is minimally, I have a deterioration in the organization of my brain,” Milch told Vulture. “And it’s progressive. And in some ways discouraging. In more than some ways — in every way I can [...]

  • Jim Lanzone

    CBS Interactive Chief Jim Lanzone: 'We Have a Tiger by the Tail' With Streaming Growth

    MENLO PARK, Calif. — CBS All Access can’t serve up addressable advertising inventory fast enough for marketers hungry to reach consumers watching premium video online. That was the upbeat outlook shared by CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone during his keynote address on Tuesday at Variety’s Silicon Valleywood presented by PwC. “There’s not a form of advertising [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content