Televisa to Make 'Prisoners of War,' the Original 'Homeland,' as a Telenovela (Exclusive)

Ronen Akerman
'Prisoners of War'

Mexican network will adapt Israeli format 'Prisoners of War,' on which Showtime's 'Homeland' is based, as a 70-episode series for the Hispanic market

As fans of Homeland eagerly await the return of the Showtime's Emmy-winning drama, broadcasters around the world are crafting their own versions of the hit conspiracy thriller.

Mexican network Televisa has just signed a deal with Israeli group Keshet International to adapt Homeland — actually the original Israeli series Prisoners of War (POW) on which Homeland is based — as a 70-episode Telenovela for the Spanish-language market.

RTI Colombia, whose shows include local hit Griselda Blanco — The Black Widow, will produce. Televisa will air the show in Mexico. Univision has picked up rights in the U.S. for its Spanish-language network Unimas. A Columbian broadcaster is expected to come on board shortly. Brendan Fitzgerald, managing director of Pomodoro Stories, assisted in the negotiations.

This Hispanic Homeland is only the latest in a raft of new foreign adaptations of Prisoners of War, the hostage drama writer-producer Gideon Raff created for Isreali television back in 2009. Since then, the show has become the most successful Israeli drama of all time, selling to dozens of territories and spawning several local-language versions.

Read more 'Homeland' Season 4: TV Review

Fox 21 and Showtime were the first on board, nabbing U.S. adaptation rights to Raff's original Prisoners of War script before the Israeli show was even on air. Homeland's success triggered a worldwide rush with producers eager to create their own local-language takes on the trials of Carrie and Brody. .

Already in the works are versions in Russia (with Moscow-based producers WeiT Media), Turkey (with Medyapim) and South Korea (Star J Entertainment). Raff hints that more are on the way.

“The success of Homeland, which was the first POW adaptation, sparked interest in the original show and brought a lot more people to the table,” Raff tells THR. “We are working on contracts (for local adaptations) all over the world, for a lot of surprising places.”

For every version of Homeland, the core story remains the same: a soldier, held hostage for years, returns home. His family, and his government, wonder if he's been turned by the enemy.

“That's the one-liner plot pitch, it's very high-concept and easy to explain,” says Alon Shtruzman, head of Keshet International and the man who negotiates the deals for new POW adaptations.

“The question of loyalty, to your family or your country, the question of suspicion and doubt, is universal. It can work in any country with a conflict. And every country, except maybe Switzerland or Holland, is in a fight with someone.”

What differs from country to country is what Raff calls “the cultural minutiae.” In Russia, Nicholas Brody becomes marine major Alexey Bragin (actor Vladimir Mashkov), rescued from Islamic extremists in the North Caucasus. Turkey's take on the terrorist thriller shifts the focus to a majority Muslim country. POW Korea sets the conflict along the demilitarized zone between North and South. Rising star Kim Nam-gil (Pirates) takes the Brody role as a South Korean solider who is captured in Afghanistan by al-Qaida terrorists. They, in turn, hand him over to the North Korean regime.

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“We add another dimension to the story because the conflict on the Korean Peninsula goes back further and even deeper than the one explored in Homeland,” says Teddy Zee, a producer on POW Korea. “We are talking about divided families, a rift in the fabric of every life and every generation.”

Raff takes a hands-off approach to most of these foreign adaptations. “I simply don't know enough about Russia or Korea,” he says. “If I got involved, it would take away from the local feel.” Instead, he's counting on international producers to follow the Homeland road map: start close to the original and then make it your own.

“If you look at the first season of Homeland, it was extremely close to POW, some scripts were practically word-for-word,” says Raff, before Showtime took the series in a new direction, most recently with the shock killing of Damian Lewis' lead character Brody at the climax of season three. “Homeland had to reinvent itself and I think it's done that in a really, really good way (in season four),” Raff says. “That's what I'm hoping for these other versions of my show. They all take off from a very similar place but find their own way forward.”

Twitter: @sroxborough