Mark Layton talks to Kvodo showrunner Ron Ninio about Your Honor‘s incredible international success as a scripted format and why story is key when working to a tight budget.
Israel has long been the go-to country for those seeking a smart, suspenseful scripted format for international adaptation – but none has travelled as widely as Yes Studios’ Your Honor.
Originating on Yes TV in 2017 as Kvodo, the legal thriller was created by Ron Ninio and Shlomo Mashiach, telling the story of a respected judge whose son is involved in a hit-and-run accident, leading to difficult choices and terrible consequences as he attempts to keep the crime a secret.
Since its two-season run in Israel, which was produced by Yes TV & Koda Communications, the format has found staggering international popularity in such a short time: it has been sold for adaptation ten times – in Germany, Italy, France, India, Turkey, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Croatia and the US.
The latter remake, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and developed by Peter Moffatt, is probably the best-known and returned for a second season on Showtime yesterday. Originally commissioned as a limited series, its return was reportedly prompted by huge ratings.
Ninio puts the format’s popularity down to the relatable father-and-son relationship at the heart of the story and the ensuing legal and moral dilemmas resulting from that, telling TBI: “When these two things juxtapose and are in conflict, anyone can relate to the story and once you take out the judge aspect then it’s a question of family.
“If your son or your daughter gets into trouble because of a hit-and-run accident, what do you do? It gives itself to different societies and different judicial systems in each country.”
New life in new cultures
Ninio admits excitement at seeing his original story finding new life in multiple iterations all over the world and how it has been adapted to various cultures.
“It has the DNA that we created, but it has its own local life in different countries. In a way you also learn to let go.”
He adds: “The American version is more action oriented than my version, the Israeli version, and it’s even a bit more oriented in terms of the politics of New Orleans. Whereas we went more to the family relationships, I think ours was a bit more psychologically oriented. So these different approaches are very interesting for me to see.”
Part of the difference in this approach, of course, comes down to budget. Ninio estimates that Kvodo cost around $250,000 per episode, whereas the US remake was around $8m per instalment.
He shares the experience of visiting the writers’ room of the Showtime adaptation: “They couldn’t believe that it was done for $250,000 an episode – they asked, ‘How did you do the [hit-and-run] accident on such a small budget?’”
But as Ninio relates, in Kvodo, you do not see the accident. “You just hear the accident – that was my solution,” he says. “There was definitely not enough money [in Israel] for a writers’ room, but on the other hand that opens your mind up for other solutions.”
It is a pertinent point, given that tightened budgets are going to be on everyone’s minds this year as the global cost of living crisis cuts deeper. And it is this adaptability and focus on character over spectacle that has long kept Israeli dramas in high demand.
Ninio believes 2023 will see local Israeli budgets being pinched further but points to the success of shows like Fauda, Tehran and, of course, Your Honor, in opening doors to international co-production opportunities.
“Today, most of the Israeli series, or a lot of them, are coming up with stories that can be done with a foreign backer or a foreign platform in mind. We’re reaching out to different countries in order to find these co-productions because the budgets are not getting higher as a sole Israeli production and it’s getting harder.”
Nevertheless, Ninio believes Israeli drama’s tight focus on storytelling will ensure it continues to be sought out around the world.
“We have to be very creative and very original in our storytelling, because we cannot base the story on a lot of action or on a big budget – the story itself is key.”