NBC's new quiz show "Who's Still Standing?" has contestants dropping through the floor, and the burgeoning Israeli TV industry whooping with delight.
The fast-paced trivia game, which sends losers falling through trap doors, makes its U.S. debut in a week-long series of shows this coming Monday, December 19, as the first Israeli reality program to find its way to the United States.
Judging by the in-roads being made by Israeli producers and creators on television around the world, it won't be last.
Twenty years after Israeli television broke away from its one channel model of mostly news, and British or U.S. drama imports, young producers are making their mark internationally with original programming often made on shoestring budgets.
"It has been a quick learning process," Tel Aviv-based producer Lisa Shiloach-Uzrad told Reuters. "We started with simple game shows and buying international formats and adapting them. But in the last few years we have seen more and more original programming, scripted shows, reality shows or game shows."
"Who's Still Standing?" (or "Still Standing" as it is called in Israel), has been sold to 13 countries including Spain, Hungary and France since Shiloach-Uzrad created the show in 2010 with business partner Amit Stretiner.
The duo are also the creative team behind "The Frame", a reality show hybrid of "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race" that has sold in 30 countries and is due to make its way to the CW network in the United States in 2012.
Elsewhere, cable channel Showtime's critically-acclaimed psychological thriller "Homeland" has its creative roots in Israel, and HBO is making a U.S. version of Israeli crime drama "The Naked Truth".
QUIZ, COMEDY AND TRAPDOORS
"Who's Still Standing?" will be hosted on NBC by Ben Bailey and features one main competitor and 10 challengers in a battle of wits for a $1 million jackpot. As soon as a contestant answers a question incorrectly, they disappear through trap door and are out of the competition.
Shiloach-Uzrad, co-partner of Israel's July August Productions, said she believed the show owed its success to a format that combines "a trivia show where the viewer is playing along and the comic effect of physical humor."
"The Frame" was developed specifically for international audiences. It features eight couples who live in small rooms around the clock for all to see, and gives them challenges. The audience votes off the least popular couple.
"You see lots of reality shows where you take people out of their natural environment and put them into a fantasy land. In this case we said, what can be more intense than being closed in with your partner for 6-8 weeks in a very small space?," Shiloach-Uzrad said.
The claustrophobic effect is both a product and a bonus from working with limited resources. HBO's therapy drama "In Treatment", adapted from another Israeli original, also found success by using a small number of actors sitting in one room.
"We have to work with low budgets. This means you really have to find smart and creative solutions to make things work," said Shiloach-Uzrad.
"With scripted shows, you have to lean on high quality writing and good acting and great characters because there is no money for Hollywood special effects or car chases to cover up for weak plots," she said.