Autism Drama ‘The A Word’ Set For U.S. Broadcast Remake As Israel’s Keshet Doubles Down On U.S. Development

Peter White

EXCLUSIVE: Autism drama The A Word is set for a U.S. remake with Keshet Studios, the LA-based division of the Israeli media firm, and Universal Television planning to take it out in the forthcoming network development season.

The series is based on Keren Margalit’s Israeli drama Yellow Peppers, which launched in 2010, and was remade in the UK for the BBC by Peter Bowker with Christopher Eccleston, airing on SundanceTV in the U.S. The UK show is in production for season three.

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The news emerged as part of a wide-ranging interview with Keshet Media Group CEO Avi Nir as he prepares to pick up the Visionary Award at the LA-based Israel Film Festival, which takes place today, Thursday June 13 at the Beverly Hilton. Nir discusses how the company has grown since first scoring Homeland at Showtime, a remake of its thriller Prisoners of War and revealed that Keshet Studios has 11 projects in various stages of development with six different premium cable, basic cable and streaming services.

On The A Word, Deadline understands that Keshet Studios and Universal Television have found a writer for the quirky family drama, which is centered around a boy with autism and how his family is affected by his journey. Nir told Deadline the U.S. version will be incredibly personal. “That series has to be very personal. It’s very emotional. It will be different and not different; the issues families are facing are similar but the characters are local and very different. From 40,000 feet, it might look the same, but if you look closely it’s different,” he said.

The Baker And The Beauty
The Baker And The Beauty

This comes on the back of a very successful network development season for the Israeli company with two pilots, produced in association with partner Universal Television, picked up to series; cop drama Lincoln at NBC and romantic comedy The Baker & The Beauty (left) for ABC, a big win for Keshet Studios’ Peter Traugott and Rachel Kaplan. “We have had a very good network season. The network business is crucial and network shows are still usually the most-watched in the U.S. We need to hit that [same] target again next year.”

At HBO, it has Our Boys, ready for this summer. The show, which is a co-production with the premium cable network, was created by In Treatment’s Hagai Levi, Beaufort’s Joseph Cedar and Last Days in Jerusalem’s Tawfik Abu Wael. It tells the story of the aftermath of when three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas militants in 2014.

In development at HBO, it is working on an English-language adaptation of Ronen Bergman’s bestselling book Rise & Kill First, a history of Israel’s covert targeted killing programs of Mossad, Shin Bet and the IDF that have been a staple of Israeli intelligence since 1948.

It is also working on an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s alternative history book Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The series, which is a darkly comedic murder mystery and political thriller, is set up with CBS TV Studios, preceding its arrangement with NBCU, and Nina Tassler and Denise DiNovi’s PatMa Productions.

The company has partnered with Snapchat on a second season of Dead Girls Detective Agency. The darkly comedic supernatural teenage soap mystery is a co-production between Keshet Studios and Insurrection Media alongside Indigo Entertainment and is part of a strategy of looking to develop short-form IP into full-fledged series.

Keshet is also working with Apple on Nevelot (Bastards), an adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk’s novel with Richard Gere attached. The story of two elderly Vietnam vets and best friends whose resentment of today’s self-absorbed millennials and an act of self-defense snowballs into a tragic series of events. Howard Gordon is writing the series, which Deadline understands is on the brink of a series order at the streamer, with Keshet Studios producing with Fox 21 Television Studios and Teakwood Lane Productions.

Elsewhere, Israeli action thriller When Heroes Fly, which airs on Netflix around the world, is getting a U.S. remake as is black comedy Stockholm, which has moved into development with an unnamed OTT service. The latter came out of Keshet Films, the nascent division run by Mandy Tagger Brockey and Adi Ezroni, which Nir said was growing “quicker than anticipated” since its 2017 launch.

On the non-scripted side, Nir said he is very happy with its purchase of British production group Greenbird Media, which houses producers such as Tuesday’s Child and Crackit Productions, in 2018. The company has scored a number of commissions recently, many of which they are taking to the U.S. Its Keshet UK division is also working on dating format Singleton for ITV2, which Nir said had recently attracted U.S. interest, and Speed Freaks, starring daredevil Zef Eisenberg, for ITV4.

Nir said, “The whole unscripted UK side, we’re very happy with. This is a part of our bigger story of aligning with great production companies around the world. At some point, we’ll also be looking at small, entrepreneurial scripted companies. We are not like the super indies where M&A is our strategy, we will look at promising companies, but we’re not big-time spenders.”

While much was made about the size and cost of its Israeli entertainment format 2025, which has been described as Black Mirror meets Monopoly, it is not focusing on a U.S. remake at the moment, but rather concentrating on the second season in Israeli, as well as speaking to a number of international broadcasters about making local versions at its own local hub.

On the distribution front, its Keshet International Content Fund has $55M to invest in global dramas including BBC One drama The Trial of Christine Keeler and Australian series Black Bitch.

Nir (left) was keen to praise the quality of Israeli creatives as the key part of the company’s success outside of its local market. The small country has punched well above its weight in terms of international entertainment success, something Nir puts down to the way that Israeli auteurs approach their ideas. My first interaction [for the U.S.] was Hagai Levi, who did In Treatment, and this has come full circle. What’s happened to Israeli series in the last decade, is very meaningful. We’ve been able to cross the hurdles of distance and language and to bring these stories across the globe to Hollywood. What is unique about Israeli writing, why did Israeli become such a player in international. Israeli writers write from somewhere deep, they want to express something more than just telling a story and they have the ability to tell compelling stories and reach large audiences.”

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