Tal Shaked and Einat Shamir were crossing the road together in Cannes two years ago when they decided it was time to make a change.
The two women, both fortysomething mothers who had worked in the Israeli television industry for more than 20 years, were exhausted with the big broadcasters and tired of clawing their way around its male-dominated hierarchy. It was Mipcom, and everyone, it seemed, was hungry for the next big format. Shamir, who worked as head of scripted material at Israel’s Channel 10 for eight years and Shaked, who helped bring programs like “Beauty and the Geek” and “Survivor” to Israeli TV, were longtime friends. Standing on the street in Cannes after another exhausting meeting, the decided this would be their last Mipcom working for other people.
They flew back to Israel, quit their jobs and founded the local outlet A Capella, a boutique content management group that has had a string of successes in two years and is now betting that its gameshow format, “The Big Picture,” which will be unveiled this week at Mip, will be a hit with buyers.
“We cherry-pick,” says Shaked, who for years led Israel’s international division at Channel 10. “We work very closely with our creators. Our creators are on the frontlines, we put them there, and we look at things with a very broad perspective — exposing them to the world, and their talent to the world.”
One of those creators is Israel magician and mentalist Nimrod Harel, who penned a psychological thriller series for A Capella, “The Believer,” which has been sold to Fox Intl. Channels. It was Harel who dreamed up “The Big Picture.” The fully interactive program, which shot its pilot last month in Israel but is being peddled only to foreign buyers, asks contestants to successfully identify a series of photographs, while the audience at home plays along via an integrated app and also has a shot at taking home half of the $1 million prize.
“The Big Picture” takes a page from last October’s Mipcom darling, the singing competish “Rising Star,” by tapping into integrative technology to give home viewers a direct stake in the results and loop them in, in a manner never seen before. Harel had the idea for the program, he says, when he saw his 1-year-old son, Itamar, watching a “Baby Mozart” program and squealing with delight as he correctly identified a photograph of a musical instrument.
Such a simple concept, Harel realized, could translate into television gold, and when he brought it to Shaked and Shamir, they decided to skip Israeli screens completely and aim only for the international market.
“It’s not that we don’t want to work in Israel,” Shaked says. “But what we’re doing is bringing Israel to the world. We think that Israeli creators are so talented and there’s so much creative talent here, so much good storytelling — why shouldn’t these series be on HBO or Showtime or AMC? And if it happens here as well, then terrific.”
A Capella’s religious drama series “Reaching for Heaven,” about a secular Jewish family thrown into chaos when the patriarch decides to embrace ultra-Orthodoxy, was picked up last year by Entertainment One and Sundance for two adaptations; a U.S. version following a Jewish family in Las Vegas, with Mike Seid as scribbler; and a U.K. version focusing on a Christian family.
Shaked and Shamir say they are also in talks with European producers for a third version, spotlighting an Islamic family.
“We have a feeling where television is going right now,” Shaked says. “People want entertainment, feel-good television, that they can share with their family.”