×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Israeli Drama About Ultra-Orthodox Brood Gets American Treatment

Hannah K.S. Canter was at NATPE a few years ago, making the rounds with dozens of content producers and creators when she was shown a few snippets of “Shtisel,” an Israeli family drama set in the ultra-Orthodox heart of Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood.

The program, which weaves together the raw, complex, and intensely human stories of varying members of a multi-generational Haredi family in modern Israel, instantly caught her attention. Canter, a producer and development executive, took the program to her mother, “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie” co-creator Marta Kauffman, and it wasn’t long before the pair began brainstorming how to bring the story to American audiences.

“She was haunted by it,” Kauffman says of her daughter’s reaction to “Shtisel,” which has been a runaway hit in Israel and a rare example of programming enjoyed by secular and religious audiences alike. “She fell in love with it, and the same thing happened with me. It stays with you. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to sell, but we all felt so passionately about it.”

“Shtisel” tells the many intertwined stories of the Shtisel family, led by Shulem Shtisel, a proud Torah scholar with deep vulnerabilities of both head and heart. His children include Akiva, a quixotic painter with a soft spot for unavailable women; and Giti, the steel-spined mother of six swallowing daily her own disappointments. Together, the family’s storylines tell tales not so much of religious life in Jerusalem, but rather of universal dramas — unrequited love, unfaithful husbands, unfulfilled goals gnawing at you beneath the slog of daily life.

The team got to work on writing a version of the show set in America, and in August, it was announced that Kauffman’s Okay Goodnight! shingle had sold a U.S. adaptation for U.S. streaming service Amazon Prime.

“It stays with you. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to sell, but we all felt so passionately about it.”
Marta Kauffman on “Shtisel”

The adaptation, called “Emmis,” will be set in Brooklyn and closely hug the storyline curves of its Israeli predecessor by following an ultra-Orthodox, American-Jewish family living in New York’s outer boroughs.

“Shtisel” is beloved in Israel for expertly eking out the ordinary among its extraordinary characters — its characters are devoutly religious and portrayed with utter authenticity, yet despite the accoutrement of costumes, ritual, and fluent Yiddish dialogue, they are, at their core, men and women struggling with ego, with heartbreak, with the common desire for dignity.

Kauffman and her team know that for American audiences, the ultra-Orthodox world is immensely foreign, a challenge that the show’s Israeli writers did not have to consider — even the most secular Israeli understands the customs of religious Jewish life. Etan Cohen, an Israeli-American writer who grew up in a religious family, is penning the script, and the team, she says, has a clear strategy.

“In America, the show will be a period piece set in contemporary times. [The family] is living such a different kind of life, it’s like a different century,” she says. “In television today, people are taking their time telling stories, so we don’t have to explain all the rituals. We will just show it.”
Kauffman says for “Emmis,” she has two ultimate goals for the script and the final product. The first is to produce the show with the same affection she and her daughter felt when they first saw “Shtisel.” And the second? “Make sure the stories, and the universality of those stories, is what people take in. The rest is just background.”

Would she have taken a chance on a show like “Shtisel” even without Canter’s enthusiasm, Kauffman says yes, and for two reasons: The strong rep of Israeli formats on the global market, and her own desire to seek out projects that got her excited.

“‘In Treatment,’ of course, is the show that put Israeli TV on the map,” Kauffman says. “And then I met [‘Homeland’ creator] Gideon Raff [with whom she’s creating HBO miniseries ‘We Are Completely Beside Ourselves’], so I have a strong sense of the Israeli artistic community. But also, after ‘Friends’ I only wanted to work on projects that I was really passionate about. And this is one of them.”

More TV

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    China's Huanxi Media Picks Up 'Snowpiercer' TV Show From ITV Studios

    China’s Huanxi Media Group Limited has bought the exclusive broadcasting right in the mainland for the forthcoming sci-fi TV series “Snowpiercer” from ITV Studios Global Entertainment. The show is based on South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s film of the same name and is set to debut on TBS in the U.S. in the spring of [...]

  • James Marsden attends the 2019 MOCA

    New Abortion Ban Laws Take Center Stage at MOCA Gala

    Forty years ago in Los Angeles, the decision to invest millions in a museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art — not to mention its formerly desolate downtown location, where the vibe was more apocalyptic than artsy — was a risky proposition. But now that the city’s cultural heart has shifted south of Hollywood, it seems [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • Jason Mitchell

    Jason Mitchell Dropped From 'The Chi' Season 3, Netflix Film

    Jason Mitchell is being dropped from a number of his current and upcoming projects. Variety has confirmed that the up and coming actor will not return for “The Chi’s” already announced third season, with Season 2 of the show currently airing on Showtime. In addition, Mitchell will no longer be starring in the Netflix film “Desperados,” in [...]

  • Maisie Williams

    TV News Roundup: Maisie Williams to Guest Judge 'RuPaul's Drag Race UK'

    In today’s roundup, Maisie Williams will guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK” and “Drunk History” will return with eight new episodes to Comedy Central.  DATES Comedy Central‘s “Drunk History” will return with eight new episodes beginning with “Derek Waters’ Believe It or Not” Tuesday, June 18 at 10 p.m. The series premiere of “Alternatino [...]

  • Lisa Kudrow

    Lisa Kudrow Joins Lee Daniels-Whitney Cummings Comedy Pilot 'Good People' at Amazon

    Lisa Kudrow has signed on to star in and executive produce the comedy pilot “Good People” currently in the works at Amazon, Variety has learned. The half-hour project hails from writers and executive producers Whitney Cummings and Lee Daniels, with Cummings also set to star. It centers on three generations of women working in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content