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Israel's 'Real Housewives' Throw Shade at U.S. Version; Andy Cohen Responds

Orna Ben Dor, director of "Me'usharot," says she "loathes" the Bravo series that birthed a pop culture phenomenon.

Real Housewives Israel season 2 L
Alex Lipkin, Shine Horovitz
From left: Iris Zander, Jennifer Snukal, Nicol Raidman, Lea Shnirer and Yael Gal

International formats exist for such popular U.S. shows as Survivor, Amazing Race and American Idol, to name a few, so it should come has little surprise that Israel has embraced its own version of Real Housewives.

Me’usharot, which roughly translates to “rich women” and also “blissful” in Hebrew, features five Israelis -- three of them sabras -- that could easily give the ladies of Beverly Hills a run for their nouveau riche money.

Nicol Raidman, 26, of Tel Aviv, is a Russian immigrant romantically involved with former oligarch and billionaire industrialist Michael Cherney (who's listed on the Interpol's wanted list) -- although she never refers to him by name. Lea Shnirer, 55, lives in lavish Herzliya suburb Kfar Shmaryahu, is a Pilates queen, the wife of a Germany-based real estate mogul and the daughter of Auschwitz survivors (her mother was part of the twin experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele). New to season two of the show: Jennifer Snukal, 36, a Canada-born divorcee with five kids who lives in Tel Aviv and owns a roofing company in Los Angeles; Yael Gal, 39, an interior designer for the rich and famous who resides in Tel Aviv's high-end W Towers; and Iris Zander, 50, an anti-aging specialist and triathlon enthusiast based in Kfar Saba who lost her husband in the beginning of the season.

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The show was a breakout hit in the tiny country (it airs on Israel’s Channel 10), but fittingly, hasn’t shied away from taking a swipe at the format birthed by U.S. cable network Bravo. Speaking to Israeli website Walla! last month, Me’usharot director Orna Ben Dor said she “loathes” the American original, taking issue with its willingness “to expose it all -- without any hesitations.”

Likewise, Andy Cohen, Bravo executive vice president of talent and development and host of Watch What Happens Live, has his own issues with Israel’s attitude. “Obviously if there wasn't an American version, she wouldn't be working on an Israeli version,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview, adding that “the great thing about the housewives is that people have an opinion about them one way or another. We don't cast wallflowers.”

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Admittedly, Cohen confesses that, “some aspects of the culture portrayed are shallow, but then as you get into them, you realize that these are women with full, strong lives and personas of their own who are more relatable than you think.”

Also revealed in the Walla! interview with Ben Dor, an award-winning documentary filmmaker in Israel: that the next season of Me’usharot will be the first in the franchise’s history to integrate male characters into the cast -- not the husbands, but rather male equivalents of the series’ protagonists. Cohen, however, doesn’t appear to be a fan of this twist. “For us, it’s always been around a group of women and I think that’s what the show is,” says Cohen. “It becomes a different show if you make it around a group of men.”

Indeed, adapting the show for foreign territories has been a challenge in some parts of the world. In Greece, for example, network ANT1 launched its own Real Housewives of Athens just as its economy was hemorrhaging due to a government debt crisis. The show’s first season got decent ratings by featuring a few familiar faces to the Greek audience, but a second edition never came to pass.

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Initially, ANT1 had high hopes for the franchise, having successfully adapted such shows as Dancing with the Stars and Ellada Exeis Talento (Greece's take on Got Talent). “The publicity in Greece was huge, everybody was talking about the [Housewives],” recalls Greek actress and TV personality Christina Aloupi. “They got the main essence, but had to adapt it to a Greek way of life. They didn’t have the huge catfights you see in the U.S. editions. Some of the ladies from the show are business women who built their own careers, so the lifestyle was something they earned.”

Still, explains Nick Georgiadis, editor-in-chief of Greece’s OK! Magazine, the luxe life didn’t go down smoothly. “It was a problem moving forward when people are losing their jobs,” he tells THR. “That aggravated people and caused them to resent the show.”

But localized financial challenges aren’t stopping the Real Housewives empire from expanding. Bravo has licensed international versions in Brazil, France, Canada and soon Australia. Says Cohen of the “bible” Bravo provides when the network sells the format: “So much of the popularity of these shows is about capturing the spirit of the city or the country in which they take place. There’s a lot of cultural commentary to be found in these shows.”

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