Checking up on US-Israeli TV at The Operating Room

LA-based prodco The Operating Room was founded by businessman Roby Freireich and filmmaker Oded Turgeman six years ago and first came to many people’s attention this June after Bunim/Murray picked up Screenz, the drama format that went out on pay TV platform Yes in Israel.

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The third partner in the company alongside Freireich and Turgeman is David Israel, whose production credits include 3rd Rock from the Sun and who is attached to NBC’s upcoming series adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel About a Boy. Turgeman says Israel (the person) is a “factory of ideas” – an epithet that could equally be applied to Israel the country.

That abundance of creativity coming out of Israel and the commercial opportunities offered in the US are the starting point for The Operating Room. “The focus is content originated in Israel,” Turgeman explains. “We want to nurture and Americanise Israeli talent.”

The Bunim/Murray deal came out of a first-look deal that the company had with the Banijay-owned producer for reality shows, which extended into scripted. The show could end up as a copro with Canadian and/or European partners and then sold back into the US.

About a group of people and their everyday web and social network interactions, it has a reality aesthetic that makes it a perfect scripted project for Bunim/Murray as the producer steps out of the unscripted world in which it made its name. “They wanted to get into scripted, but with a single-cam reality type production,” Freireich explains.

The next wave of news from The Operating Room is likely to come in the shape of new animated shows. It has several projects with Technicolor, the sound and vision specialist that has been increasing its production and distribution work at Technicolor Digital Productions under the leadership of Tim Sarnoff.

Polarizers is likely the first of the projects with Technicolor that will come to the TV industry’s wider attention. It is a boy-skewed good-versus-evil animated series for 5-12s. The Israeli connections are the creator, character designer Ido Vaginsky, and the fact that at a fundamental level the story relates to Jewish philosophy and the good and bad within all of us.

On screen the deeper philosophical points give way to a Transformers-esque action series. “There’s interest from toy companies already and we want this to be the next big boy action series,” Turgeman says.

Middletown (below), meanwhile, is a 3D animated series for grown-ups pitched as a cross between Peanuts and The Jerry Springer Show and set in a town full of dysfunctional characters. It was created by Turgeman after he saw a series of illustrations by illustrator and cartoonist Tsahi Farber and used them as a starting point for the story.

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Technicolor has worked up the initial designs and a pilot script and the first visuals are in place with Technicolor scouting for partners.

Freireich says there are three more possible projects with Technicolor.

Outside of the work with Technicolor, The Operating Room has optioned Project Blueberry, a one-hour drama project from Israeli writer Roy Iddan about a team of 1950s military operatives that develop new psychoactive drugs with unexpected consequences.

“We have optioned it and paid for development and will go out with a spec script; the idea is that we find a production company that has the funding to make a pilot,” Turgeman says.

While the company is spinning several plates in the TV world, the biggest ticket project is one that started out aimed at the small-screen but could become a full-fledged studio feature – and possibly one of the first out of the gate with Paramount’s recently inaugurated Paramount Animation Studios.

Freireich and Turgeman will not go into detail, but TBI understands the project is based upon Adrenalin Lemmings. It is a series of animated shorts developed by Pixar story artist JP Vine and Alex Orelle, whose credits in a three-year stint as an animator at Pixar include The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. He then formed his own studio, Tel Aviv-based Crew 972 (the name, appropriately, derived from the international dialing code for Israel).

The project follows a group of lemmings. The Operating Room took the project to Technicolor, which got on board. Having left Technicolor to become VP, production, at Paramount Pictures Animation Group, Jill Gilbert picked up the show for the studio, where it is understood to be in development.

There are several other animated and live-action projects in the works and as the influence of Israeli formats and content continues to grow The Operating Room has carved out a niche as a US-based content firm with Israeli roots.

With its development slate and option deals in place, the company has yet to notch its first hit series but should Polarizers, Middletown, Adrenalin Lemmings or Operation Blueberry fulfill their potential, The Operating Room is aiming to turn its pipeline of Israeli-originated content into operating profit.

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