Politics in Focus as Israel's INtv Conference Kicks Off

Dig S01E01 Still - H 2015
Ronen Akerman/USA Network

Dig S01E01 Still - H 2015

The two-day media event runs March 15-16 in Jerusalem.

Israel has been a political hotspot since its foundation and, with the country in the midst of a national election campaign, it was perhaps no surprise that politics mixed with the business of the small screen on the opening day of the INtv conference, the two-day media event that ran March 15-16 in Jerusalem.

Executives including self-described “political junkie” Richard Plepler, HBO Chairman and CEO; AMC programming EVP Joel Stillerman, MTV President Stephen Friedman and Danish television writer Anders August, stressed the importance of political and socially relevant themes in driving creative decisions.

Plepler singled out HBO's acclaimed documentaries — including recent Oscar-winner Citizenfour and Alex Gibney's Scientology expose Going Clear — as examples of programming that, while not delivering huge audiences, strengthened the HBO brand. He also noted that the decision to make Michael Lannan's drama series Looking was driven by the desire to “portray an authentic story of what contemporary gay life looks like ... that isn't a caricature.” Plepler said even David Benioff, co-creator of Game of Thrones, HBO's biggest-ever hit, pitched the show to the channel as “one about politics and power” rather than swords and dragons.

Friedman pointed to MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, two reality shows that have been both wildly popular and socially relevant, and suggested the MTV's target demographic of young millennials is more politically interested and involved than the Generation X group that proceeded them.

That might explain why AMC, famous for the decidedly non-political The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, has commissioned a pilot for the Kabul-set geopolitical drama White City. “The pitch was state policy, foreign policy about what is the good in foreign policy?” said Stillerman about the show, which Oscar-winning Traffic screenwriter Stephen Gaghan directed.

August, who co-created the new Danish drama Follow the Money, a political thriller set in the world of high-finance, argued that the global success of recent Danish series has come, in part, from their combination of great storytelling with politically important themes. He proved his point by screening a clip from Borgen, the drama series about Danish politics which became a global hit. The clip — a speech given by a (fictional) politician — got the biggest applause of the day.

Plepler, however, warned that “if you set out to do something that has a (political) message you are probably going to get into trouble,” saying HBO avoids commissioning shows where the creator is “thinking” the story in favor of ones where they are “breathing, living it.” But if done properly, he argued, political stories can influence the political debate. “We can nudge the public dialogue, raise issues and have an impact,” he said.

Politically, at least, the INtv conference seems to be on the same page. A straw poll of attendees on Israel's March 17 election, showed overwhelming support for left-wing challenger Yitzhak Herzog and nary a vote for current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.