Posted by Danielle Berrin
Pauline Kael, who is largely considered the most important movie critic of her generation, is the subject of two new books—“Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark” by Brian Kellow and “The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael,” edited by Sanford Schwartz – which give an impression not only of a woman whose craft stemmed from a literal lust for movies (her first compendium of reviews was aptly titled, “I Lost It at the Movies”) but of a bygone era in moviemaking in which movies were worth lusting after. In his New York Times book review of the Kael biographies, Frank Rich writes that Kael’s love of movies was akin to “orgiastic passion”.
The sexual ardor with which she approached movies, while undeniably safe sex, may have been born out of real sexual confusion. Her father, whom she loved and admired, was a consummate philanderer, and as an adult, Kael gravitated towards affairs with brilliant but sexually mismatched men (the three of note were all either gay or bisexual). Her repressed impulses were unleashed at the movies.
What many say was so special, and striking, about Kael’s movie criticism was that it broke with traditional criticism by illuminating instinct, not intellect. Her love or hate of a certain film was determined by impulse, gut and emotionalism. Her writing was “exultantly vernacular American prose as if she were writing high-octane fiction, not passing judgment on ‘Cabaret,’” Rich writes.
In another review, in The New Yorker, Nathan Heller observes that “[F]rom the time she wrote her first review until the moment she retired, in 1991, her authority as a critic relied solely on her own, occasionally whimsical taste.”
As to what she liked on screen, it was a blend of high and low. Rich notes, “She valued emotional messiness over the technical mastery of a Hitchcock or Kubrick…She adored Jean Renoir and Satyajit Ray no less than Coppola and Spielberg.”
Kael was best known as the staff movie critic for The New Yorker from 1968 until her retirement, in 1991, with only a short break in between to try her hand at producing movies at the prodding of Warren Beatty (her 7,000-word review of “Bonnie and Clyde” is believed to have sealed the deal on her New Yorker gig, which she came to at the not-so-tender age of 48).
Kael cut her teeth reviewing for small, specialized or highbrow journals at a moment when criticism aimed at being systematic, intellectually lucid, and tightly defended. “Intuition” was a gooseflesh-raising word in this context—it still is in many circles—but it was one that Kael flaunted in the face of formalism.
Rich, who knew Kael when he was an up and coming theater critic for The Times (but no “Paulette” as her followers were called) writes that Kael was not satisfied by the simple act of getting her own way, she wanted to revolutionize the way people thought about film: “There may never have been an American movie critic with a more voracious desire to work her will on the world — or with a more sui generis back story.”
Kael’s backstory is Jewish. From The Times:
[S]he was in fact a second-generation American of “Yentl”-ish heritage. Her parents had migrated from Poland to the slums of Hester Street and ultimately to the then pastoral town of Petaluma, Calif., where they joined a thriving community of Jewish chicken farmers. Kael, the youngest of five children, was born there in 1919. She adored her father, Isaac, a flagrant adulterer. “Rather than her father for his infidelity to her mother,” Kellow writes, “Pauline seemed almost to take pride in it.”
Kael, on the other hand, was criticized for the hypocrisy of her fidelities. She had several affairs, with men who, as Rich notes, were “all poets and all gay or bisexual”; though she married only once and had one child. In her work, she often played favorites, never bothering to disguise where her loyalties lay, and was consistently (and sometimes unreliably) lavish with her praise.
A fierce skeptic of all dogmas (including religion, feminism and liberalism) who made her name in part by knocking Sarris for promoting the auteur theory, Kael didn’t recognize that she had morphed into a dogmatic auteurist in her own right—lauding her pet directors no matter what. Her hypocrisy didn’t end there. Where once she had derided Dwight Macdonald, then reviewing movies for Esquire, for likening Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” to Joyce and Stravinsky, she now compared Altman’s “Nashiville” to “Ulysses” and Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” to “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Her reviews started to swing between implausible overpraise and apocalyptic overkill to such an extent that she might have been describing herself when she dismissed Lina Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties” as “all bravura highs and bravura lows, without any tonal variation.” Someone had to cry foul, and that provocative someone turned out to be Renata Adler, who, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1980, declared Kael’s work, “piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless.”
Kael’s decline came at the hands of a changing industry and a loss of ingenuity. She was accused of stealing ideas from UCLA academic Howard Suber, and as mentioned above, her writing descended into predictable and unbearable fanaticism. Her home life, at least according to Rich, was equally as dreary—more “Mommy Dearest” than dear mother: “Her overbearing relationship with her daughter — whom she home-schooled as a child and kept on a tight leash as secretary, driver and companion well into adulthood — has a chilling vibe,” Rich observes.
Kael was an oddity in many ways. But countless great talents throughout history have had poor characters. For someone whose professional success depended so much on personal instinct, Kael remained frighteningly un-self-aware in her social life. And yet, she knew herself well enough to prescribe her own panacea: that the cure to her private dissatisfactions could be instantly erased in the sensuous space of a dark movie theater.
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October 31, 2011 | 11:03 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The Israeli series “Life Isn’t Everything” which has run for a whopping nine seasons in Israel, has been picked up by CBS. The series, based on the Israeli sitcom Hahaim Ze Lo Hakol, was created by Daniel Lappin, who will also write for the U.S. version, and was brought to Hollywood by none other than Noa Tishby, who was the first to bring an Israeli format to American television with the sale of “In Treatment” to HBO. That sale was a kind of Columbus-like epiphany for Tishby, who realized that the translation of Israeli formats to an American audiences was an untapped market.
According to Deadline.com’s Nellie Andreeva, “Life Isn’t Everything” revolves around:
a middle-aged, recently divorced couple who were bad at marriage and discover they are now really bad at divorce – messy, can’t help but being involved in each others’ lives, still have sex, etc. “It is a romantic comedy about a couple who are divorced but can’t get out of each other’s lives,” Lappin said. Added Tishby, “you can’t divorce your ex.”
Ain’t that the truth. Andreeva adds:
This is the second broadcast project based on an Israeli format this development season along with mystery drama Timrot Ashan, aka Pillars of Smoke, at NBC. Additionally, HBO is developing an adaptation of another Israeli mystery drama, The Naked Truth, with Clyde Phillips. Over the last few years, there have been four U.S. scripted series based on Israeli formats: HBO’s In Treatment, CBS’ The Ex List, Fox’s Traffic Light and Showtime’s Homeland.
The Journal’s arts editor, Naomi Pfefferman, recently interviewed “Homeland” producer Howard Gordon, the man behind Fox’s “24” about the nuances of adapting Israeli formats for an American audience. She writes:
While the first season of “In Treatment” was translated almost verbatim from its Israeli counterpart, “Homeland” — also from Keshet Broadcasting — required much more transformation. “In Israel, the issue of POWs is in everyone’s consciousness; Galid Shalit has been at the front and center of a national tragedy,” the 50-year-old Gordon said. “So, in ‘Hatufim,’ the homecoming of two longtime captives launches a domestic drama that becomes the heart of the show.”
For audiences in the United States, however, where the immediate threat of al-Qaeda has appeared to recede, a psychological thriller seemed a better approach. Gordon and Gansa added a female CIA officer to the mix and created a cat-and-mouse game between the flawed agent and the former captive. “We posited that the returning soldier had possibly turned into a terrorist and had been sent back here as the tip of the spear of a major attack on U.S. soil,” Gordon said.
There are a handful of producers eager to build a creative and economic bridge between Israel and Hollywood. Insiders have alluded to establishing an official structure for funneling content back and forth, involving Israelis in the American iterations of their shows and vice versa. While “In Treatment” was a success on U.S. television, the show’s American helmers were accused of exploiting the Israeli writers of “BeTipul” who were not properly compensated or credited for episodes that were translated for the HBO series almost verbatim.
In April 2009, Pfefferman addressed the issue in a piece at the start of “In Treatment’s” second season:
Even though many of those episodes were taken almost verbatim from “Be’Tipul,” the Israelis were refused “written by” credits, which would have allowed them to receive additional compensation, because of rules dictated by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), Levi said.
Literary agent Arik Kneller, who represents a number of the “Be’Tipul” scribes and helped bring “The Ex List” to CBS, had several telephone conversations with WGA officials about the matter. “They were very polite, and explained that they understood my frustration,” Kneller said by cell phone from Tel Aviv. “On the other hand, the WGA rule is that if you did not write in English, you cannot get a ‘written by’ credit; the episode is considered to be ‘based upon’ your source material. I hope to work with them to achieve a better standard in the future,” he added.
Levi was also unhappy with the situation. “When the translation was word for word, I thought the fairest thing would be a shared ‘written by’ credit for the writer and adapter [who now receives a ‘teleplay credit’],” he explained. “I wrote a lot of letters and tried to talk to HBO and to the lawyers, through my agents and attorneys; in fact, I almost worked more on this than as a consultant during the first season.
“This matter is not only about the writers receiving proper credit, but about residuals and royalties, and that’s a shame — it’s unfair. I did everything I could think of to solve the problem, but in the end there are restrictions for source materials written in a different language.”
Now it seems the lesson was learned. The industry is increasingly showing its support for Israeli writers by giving them production credits on the shows they created, and, in some cases, creative input. So now the big question is: How to translate economic parity into political support.
October 30, 2011 | 12:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Don’t you just hate it when accepting six-figure sums to attend a brutal dictator’s birthday bash blows up in your face?
That’s what happened to Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, who got into hot water when she accepted a six-figure fee to attend the 35th birthday party of Chechnya’s autocratic president, Ramzan Kadyrov. When human rights organizations accused her of cavorting with an unscrupulous leader who has been accused of torture, murder, rape and kidnapping, Swank was contrite. She said, “I deeply regret attending this event. If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone.”
Nevermind that Swank’s statement indicates she has no idea what she’s apologizing for (it was, in fact, intended to be a birthday party, which it was), that still wasn’t enough. Rather than take responsibility for her own failure of curiosity, Swank instead fired the people who work for her. This morning, the UK Independent reported that Swank fired her manager of 8 years, Jason Weinberg, who also represents Madonna and Demi Moore, as well as her agents at CAA Amie Yavor and Josh Lieberman. A fourth, CAA’s Lauren Hale, who traveled with Swank to Grozny was also fired.
Understandably, Swank is pissed that not one person who worked for her cared enough to look past the dollar sign to investigate Ramzan Kadyrov. But she has herself equally to blame for failing to do something as simple as a google search. The words “corruption” and “human rights violations” appear in the third paragraph of Kadyrov’s Wikipedia entry and scrolling down further reveals a huge amount of information, with citations and references, detailing “accusations of human rights abuses”. Not that Wikipedia is a lapidary source, but as far as anticipating potential PR fallout, the sheer volume of information associated with violence and torture (not to mention perverse sexual habits) might have been cautionary.
Did her staff deserve to be fired? Well, yes. This is a moral failing of everyone involved, Swank included. And it should serve as cautionary tale to all celebrities who hobnob for pennies and prestige—easy money usually comes with a price. Curiosity and concern are free.
October 28, 2011 | 6:30 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With disgraced Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff set to serve a life sentence in prison, it’s hard to make a case for incarceration as restorative justice. And yet, Madoff himself told ABC News correspondent Barbara Walters during an interview last week that he is happier in prison.
“I feel safer here than outside,” Madoff reportedly told Walters during a recent two-hour, in-person interview at the Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina. “I lived the last 20 years of my life in fear,” he continued. “Now I have no fear because I am no longer in control of my own life.”
The same could not be said, however, of Madoff’s closest kin. Scarlet-lettered for life, guilt by association is a death sentence all its own. And lately, Madoff’s family members seem to be offering up their confessionals as self-retribution and relief.
Last week, Madoff’s daughter-in-law Stephanie Madoff Mack released a book, “The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life”. Next up is a tell-all penned by Madoff’s other son, Andrew, which is set to hit bookshelves Monday, and will be preceded by a 60 Minutes interview with both Andrew and his mother, Bernie’s wife Ruth Madoff. Why, all of a sudden, Madoff’s relatives have chosen to come forward with their tails of woe seems oddly tied to the mythos of the moment in which Occupy Wall Street is railing against unequal distribution of wealth.
Madoff himself tried to blunt the brunt of his crime by telling Barbara Walters, “The average person thinks I robbed orphans and widows. I made wealthy people wealthier.” Sure he feels bad for defrauding clients out of billions of dollars, but not that bad. “The gravy train is over,” he told Walters. “I can live with that.”
But while Madoff’s moral relativism may work when applied to his clients, the peripheral pain he caused his family cannot be quantified.
In “The End of Normal” Madoff Mack, who was married to Bernie’s son Mark before he committed suicide last December, is indignant and unforgiving. She told ABC’s 20/20 that if she were to see her father-in-law again she would “spit in his face” and that she holds him “fully responsible for the death of my husband.” The book is part angry diatribe, part vehement defense of her “hero” husband who supposedly “held up” $140 million in (bogus) bonus checks that Bernie had promised his family and friends following his confession.
She has no shame about her shadenfreude. With a barely concealed smirk, Madoff Mack said she had written a letter to Bernie detailing Nantucket vacations she took with her children—his grandchildren. “I thought that would really sting him,” she told the 20/20 reporter. But to her dismay, Madoff replied with characteristic narcissism of a sociopath, telling her about his celebrity status in prison and how inmates and staff refer to him as a “mafia don” and shower him with “greetings and encouragement.” Madoff Mack said Bernie’s letter made her “smoking pissed and sick to my stomach.” Which, at least in part, explains her book’s vengeful impulses. In it, she dishes dirty on her husband’s suicide (a note to Papa Bernie read: ‘F——you’) and Mama Ruth Madoff’s descent into hiding (“Ridiculous!”).
Family wounds are slow to heal. And yet, some wounds do not heal at all. Madoff’s closest kin—his wife and sole surviving son – seem to be suffering the most. Their pain and shame is unrelenting; it is the curse that comes with the blessing of family, which is permanent.
Earlier this week, 60 Minutes released a teaser from the upcoming interview in which Ruth Madoff confessed she and Bernie had attempted suicide after he confessed.
“It was so horrendous, what was happening. We had terrible phone calls, hate mail—just beyond anything, and I said, ‘I just can’t go on anymore,’” Ruth Madoff told CBS’s Morley Safer. “That’s when I packed up some things to send to my sons and my grandchildren…things I thought they might want,” she continued. Then, she said, “We took pills… and woke up the next day.”
Ruth said the decision to take her own life was “impulsive” and that she was glad, after consuming all the Ambien they could find, that she had woken up. But for years after, she moved through the world in disguise, ashamed of who she was and who she married. After their son’s suicide in December 2010, the couple cut off ties. Bernie told Barbara Walters that around that time, Ruth had said to him, “Let me go.” They have not seen each other or spoken since.
Madoff also told Walters he believes his family has it worse than him, because they must face the public’s judgment. Which is, probably unintentionally, a very Jewish thing to say; because according to Jewish tradition, a person must make teshuva (return, repentance) in relationship to other human beings. God cannot forgive for a wrong committed against another person; only the person wronged can forgive the sin against him.
Unfortunately Madoff’s family must confront his crimes while he safely languishes in a cell. Daily they will pay the price for his crimes, in shame, in “sorry”, in suffering. But what they have ahead of them is life, a chance for renewal and repair. While Bernie Madoff has ahead of him only death, his end the only near, far as the eye can see.
October 28, 2011 | 1:47 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
This morning my inbox contained an email from Heeb magazine declaring: “Paul McCartney to convert.” In light of his recent marriage to Jewess Nancy Shevell, a blog post on the magazine’s Website boasts, “Word on the street is that he promised the missus he’d become a Member of the Tribe, and is preparing himself for the big day.”
Nevermind that this is specious hearsay (what won’t the struggling Heeb do for attention?), it is also highly unlikely.
3 reasons why Paul McCartney is probably not converting:
1) According to the National Enquirer, esteemed truth-teller and origin of this rumor, Shevell “takes her religion seriously” and so McCartney is “studying Judaism and promised his new bride he’ll convert.” Fact: Shevell takes Judaism seriously enough that she attended Yom Kippur services the day before her wedding, and McCartney accompanied her. Fact: The couple was married in a civil ceremony at a London register office and no firsthand reports of the occasion mentioned the inclusion of any Jewish wedding rituals (that means, no chupah, no rabbi, no glass-stomp, no Hebrew). Even if we were to give them the benefit of the doubt, what is the likelihood that a woman who takes her Judaism so seriously would marry a non-Jewish man and then insist he convert after the wedding?
2) McCartney was married to a Jewish woman before—his first wife, Linda ‘Eastman’ when they met, was Jewish—and McCartney did not feel compelled to convert then.
3) McCartney was born Roman Catholic but grew up in a secular environment. I surmise that religious impulses probably do not stream through his blood, and that his artistic inclinations may satisfy his spiritual appetite. In fact, he said as much in a 2006 interview with BBC News.
“Every time I come to write a song there’s this sort of magic little thing where I go, “Ooh, ooh, it’s happening again. Ooh, ooh, ooh.” I’m just thrilling myself with this sort of thing. And I do it all the time. I just sort of sit down at the piano and go, “Oh, my God. I don’t know this one.” And suddenly there’s like a song there. It’s something I love. And, like I say, I find the magic in it so—it’s a faith thing….With creativity, I just have a faith. It’s not a faith of any particular religion because I worry that religions start wars. It’s a great spiritual belief that there is something really great there that I probably refer to as a spirit of goodness.”
Even if McCartney were to take an interest in Judaism and begin a study practice, that does not mean a conversion will follow. Chelsea Clinton, for instance, married the Jewish Marc Mezvinsky, included several Jewish rituals in her wedding, was partly married by a rabbi, but did not convert. (Ivanka Trump, however, did.)
People join religions for various reasons: community, spiritual connection, structure, study, you name it. At 64, it is doubtful McCartney will suddenly feel some huge void in his life that can only be filled by religion. His community needs, I’m guessing, have been met; he is already a giver, a believer and probably finds spiritual discipline in his work. That’s not to say Judaism has nothing to offer McCartney, but what it could offer to someone who is already culturally and spiritually sophisticated would take another 64 years and lots of hard work to find out.
October 26, 2011 | 6:24 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Since August, Hollywood has lost two of its leading ladies.
One was the wife of a mogul, a family matriarch, major philanthropist and influential political donor, who even after her death, managed to get both Bill and Hillary Clinton to attend her memorial. The other was a so-called “superagent,” an industry pioneer and Hollywood socialite who, earlier this year, hosted the latest Oscar-winning director for dinner at her home the night before he won the Oscar.
Separated by just over 15 years, Edie Wasserman, who was 95 when she died, and Sue Mengers, who was 79, were close enough in age to both have adult memories of the Cold War but far enough apart to have realized their potential on different sides of a generational divide.
Wasserman was a wife. And although her position was akin to American royalty, she realized her power through her marriage. As partner to Lew, the industry mogul who transformed the Music Corp. of America (MCA) from the largest talent agency in the world to what would eventually become Universal Studios Inc., Edie was the consummate collaborator. Beyond serving supper to her husband, she created an entire society around them, which mainly reflected her interests — parties, politics, fundraisers — and embodied her values — relationships, democracy, philanthropy. So prized by her husband were her insights and ideas that, behind the scenes, family and friends referred to her as “The General.” Lew had the job title; Edie decided how to spend their money.
Mengers, on the other hand, was a career woman. As a pioneering female in the male-dominated entertainment agency business of the ’70s, she didn’t so much channel male power as co-opt it. Rather than share dominion with men, she ruled single-handedly, representing some of the most iconic names in entertainment at the height of their careers: Barbra Streisand, Cher, Faye Dunaway, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte and directors Mike Nichols, Peter Bogdanovich, Brian De Palma, Bob Fosse and Sidney Lumet. She was unabashed, ingenious and uninhibited, especially when it came to building her career. According to Nikki Finke, Mengers once rented a mink coat just to approach a producer at dinner. Later, she wouldn’t have to — she became one of the most powerful agents in the biz.
Both women had a penchant for parties — glitz and glamour being a girl thing. But judging by temperament, the two women could hardly be more different: Wasserman, who nurtured strong ties between Washington and Hollywood through elaborately detailed affairs and her impeccable manner, epitomized elegance, sophistication and propriety. Mengers, who nurtured strong ties among the creative and media industries by hosting intimate Hollywood salons, epitomized glamour, prestige and rebellion. Wasserman wore pins; Mengers, caftans. Wasserman liked politics; Mengers smoked pot.
But they both commanded attention and respect. Both were known for being strong, not sentimental, forceful, but not fearsome. They knew that as women, the best way to lose power is to act powerful, so instead they settled for witty and wise. Both women were Jewish; Mengers was born in Germany and narrowly escaped the Holocaust; Wasserman was born Beckerman in Cleveland and moved from the Great Depression to the American Dream.
Both inhabited a world of lights, legend and seemingly ludicrous wealth. Even after their deaths — Wasserman in August and Mengers in October — myriad obituaries glorified the grandeur of their lives. But to celebrate only their sparkle belies the many sacrifices they made along the way.
Susan Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, wrote on her blog that “interviewing Sue Mengers was one of the saddest experiences of my professional life.” In a 1994 profile, she quotes Mengers as saying: “I couldn’t imagine more to life than getting a good part for Nick Nolte ... . I never had children … . I didn’t think I could be both a great agent to Barbra Streisand and be a mother to a kid. I chose Streisand. I wouldn’t choose Streisand if I could do it again.”
Mengers probably looked at Wasserman and thought, “She has it all.”
Wasserman had the big family — a daughter, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. But as a woman, her achievements will probably never be seen as distinct from her husband’s — or even possible without him. No matter how many leaders she ushered into office or how many ideas she contributed to the success of MCA, or how many students she enabled to study at UCLA or how many elderly she saved through the $100 million she raised for the Motion Picture & Television Fund, she never got singular credit for her contributions. Some probably snickered, “Easy if you’re married to a mogul.”
Wasserman probably looked at Mengers and thought, “She did it all herself.”
In an industry perennially preoccupied with numbers, how do you measure a life? Number on tax return? Number of dollars raised? Children reared? Number of movie stars at your dining room table? Wasserman and Mengers were disparate emblems of success, working their way through life according to a self-styled system of metrics.
Who was the more successful woman? To answer the question is to miss the point.
October 26, 2011 | 3:38 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The official ruling on the death of soul chanteuse Amy Winehouse was pronounced this morning by British coroner Suzanne Greenaway as “death by misadventure”. But that was really a polite way of saying that Winehouse drank herself to death.
According to the coroner’s report, Winehouse had a lethal amount of alcohol in her system that ranks at five times the British legal limit on drunk driving. Winehouse was found dead in her apartment last July, surrounded by empty bottles of vodka—“two large, one small,” according to the Associated Press and Detective Inspector Les Newman, who found her body.
Despite speculation that Winehouse, whose dark and troubling lyrics suggested depression, may have committed suicide, the death was ruled accidental. According to reports, Winehouse had begun to give up drinking and reportedly endured a period of abstinence just prior to her death. But in the end, the bender of late July shocked her system which had begun to clean itself out. The only surprise to come out of the coroner’s report was that Winehouse had no trace of illegal drugs in her blood, just a hint of a prescription drug which helped to reduce the side effects of alcohol withdrawal.
“Misadventure” strikes me as a foolish and misleading attribution of her death since it implies one-time recklessness. Even if Winehouse was on the mend, her death was the result of many years of a painful, powerful and self-destructive addiction.
October 26, 2011 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It pays to have friends, as Marta Kaufman, co-creator of NBC’s decade-long mega-hit “Friends” can attest - especially if their last names are Silverman and Spielberg.
After a long hiatus from high profile success, Kaufman may be close to getting back on top. According to Deadline.com’s Nellie Andreeva, Kaufman got a whopping 7-figure commitment to develop two projects for ABC; Red Band Society, a hospital drama, and The Avalon, a musical show set at a cabaret. Steven Spielberg reportedly liked the concept for Red Band Society because Dreamworks TV signed on to co-executive produce. And Ben Silverman, CEO of Electus and producer of “The Office” is co-executive producing The Avalon, which is based on a popular Asian format, The Kitchen Musical. Andreeva wrote that it is being described as “a ménage à trois of sensual food, sexy performances, and adult drama” and that “the setting is reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge.”
This news represents a big change for Kaufman, who has privately struggled with what to do next. After the immense success of “Friends” Kaufman worried she couldn’t replicate that the scale of that achievement. In an interview in 2009, she described the transition as a kind of identity crisis that led her to channel her passion into more personal projects. “[Y]ou don’t know, when you’re going to change your identity, if it’s going to work,” she told me. But in reality, changing her career identity meant digging in deeper to her Jewish identity. She partnered with filmmaker Roberta Grossman to produce a series of Jewish-themed documentaries. The first, “Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” was about the WWII resistance fighter who was tortured and killed after a failed mission to rescue Hungarian Jews from death camps; next, came “Hava Nagila: What is it?” about the classic Jewish ditty and its complex history (the movie is currently in post-production and has not yet been released).
The high-profile ABC projects and the prestigious partnerships involved sound promising, plus, Kaufman will return to her roots as a scribe since she is working on scripts for both. But of course, without a completed pilot, Kaufman is a long way from knowing whether either of these projects will re-invigorate what was once an enviable career.