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Keshet Studios Eyes ‘Thank You for Smoking’ TV Adaptation as L.A. Scripted Arm Hits High Gear

Keshet Studios, the Los Angeles-based development arm of the Israeli powerhouse, is coming off its first full scripted development season with a trifecta of broadcast pilots and two cable series on the way.

TV biz vets Peter Traugott and Rachel Kaplan were recruited by Keshet in mid-2015 to focus on scripted development in the heart of the U.S. creative community. The pair have juggled a mix of home-grown development and projects that come through various channels of Keshet’s growing worldwide operation. Traugott is president of scripted for Keshet Studios; Kaplan is exec VP of scripted.

Traugott and Kaplan’s move to Keshet coincided with the industry’s increasing focus on fully packaged series projects being sent out for auction. The Los Angeles office is a lean operation with a handful of execs working with Traugott and Kaplan. But the ability to connect with the Keshet teams in Israel and London extends their talent-scouting ability and gives them a broad perspective on the increasingly global TV series market. Keshet Studios is part of Keshet International, headed by Los Angeles-based CEO Alon Shtruzman.

“Keshet has a wealth of resources that allow us to get interesting IP from all over,” Traugott told Variety. “We are packaging things internally and taking out scripts with directors and talent attached.”

With demand for series content revving extremely high, Traugott has sought to balance the company’s activity with a few big swings for broadcast networks with more esoteric fare for cable and streaming outlets. The company has a first-look pact with NBC, which gives them the flexibility to partner with other studios if NBC passes. In other instances, Keshet has funded its own development and brought deficit financing to the table.

NBC “has been amazingly supportive of us,” Traugott said.

Among the developing prospects in the hopper is a comedy project from “The Big Short” screenwriter Charles Randolph, who is working on a comedy revolving around political correctness on college campuses.

Novelist David Ebershoff, author of “The Danish Girl,” is developing an immigration-themed drama set in the 1920s on Ellis Island. And Keshet is adapting Jason Reitman’s 2005 dark comedy “Thank You For Smoking” as an anthology series that would zero in on an headline-making social issue each season. The idea is to start with a look at gun control battles under the banner “Thank You For Shooting.”

At ABC, Keshet is shepherding a conspiracy-caper vehicle “Salamander,” toplined by John Leguizamo. It’s based on a Belgian series that was discovered by Keshet’s team in Israel. The pilot is in production now in New York with showrunners Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec steering a script co-written with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg.

CBS has “The Wisdom of the Crowd,” the story of a tech billionaire who launches a crowdsourcing hub to solve his daughter’s murder. The pilot, which attracted sought-after showrunner Ted Humphrey, is lensing now in Vancouver. It’s a co-production of Universal Television and CBS Television Studios.

NBC is pursuing “For God and Country,” an unabashedly patriotic drama from writer Dean Georgaris about military elites who execute dangerous missions behind enemy lines. The concept started with Keshet CEO Avi Nir, who felt the market was ripe for a flag-waving vehicle. Production is under way in Morocco.

Each of the pilots “have unconventional [story] engines and a little bit of a twist to them,” Kaplan said.

Keshet Studios has been working closely with the Keshet U.K. wing on the drama “Loaded,” about a group of young people whose lives are changed when they get rich after selling their video game startup. “Loaded” has a series order from AMC and Channel 4.

HBO plans to run a Hebrew-language series (with subtitles) about the aftermath of the murders of three Israeli teenagers against the backdrop of escalating Arab-Israeli tensions in 2014. The untitled series hails from “In Treatment” creator Hagai Levi and Noah Stollman.

The range of projects and material coupled with ample resources was a big part of the appeal for Traugott and Kaplan in coming to Keshet. The results so far have exceeded their ambitious expectations.

“Having access to great IP allows us to be in business with great writers,” Traugott said.

(Pictured: Rachel Kaplan and Peter Traugott)

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