Reality TV casting call: One Jewish family needed, substantially observant and slightly neurotic, for test of strategy and endurance. There will be no island to get kicked off of and no cow’s testicles to eat, but you may have to face… the bar mitzvah caterer.
That’s right, folks, someone finally realized what a challenge it is to be Jewish. Word has just spread that two Canadians — Daniel Leipnik, president of Vibrance Alive Entertainment Inc., and Johnny Michel, Channel M’s vice president of programming — have been working on developing “The Mazel Tov Chronicles,” a new 13-part “docu-reality” television series that will feature one family as they go through a range of Jewish rites— from special affairs, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, to holiday celebrations such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah and the weekly Sabbath. One planned episode will even follow a young Jewish person as he or she travels to Israel through the Birthright Israel program.
Predictably, given the format of the reality television show — with its focus on the voyeuristic pleasure of watching “real” people spontaneously react to (and conflict with) each other — the producers are looking for families with personalities. “If they happen to be screaming or yelling at each other, even better,” Leipnik said.
That shouldn’t be hard to find in a Jewish family, but the producers do have a pressing concern: They want a family observant enough, but not too observant. “The challenge is to find a family that would agree to break the rules that they are trying to observe in order to educate the public,” Leipnik explained.
Which, aside from the fun aspect of the series, is in fact one the larger goals: Amid the rise in hate crimes against Jews, with the majority of televised coverage of Jewish religion and culture focusing on negative aspects such as terrorism, the ongoing Middle East conflict and the Holocaust, there seemed to be nothing that would speak of the rich, festive, not to mention neurotic, traditions of the Jewish people. “The religion and culture is somehow left out,” Michel said. So he and Leipnik, who met while working on a series about children of Holocaust survivors for Channel M, decided to fill this underrepresented “niche” with a series that would celebrate Jewish life and traditions.
“I think that’s where the appeal is going to be: It’s a show about real people and a rich culture that most people have heard about, but don’t really understand what it is,” he said. “We want this to be a celebration of Jewish life.”
“The Mazel Tov Chronicles” is set to begin filming in September and will be released for broadcast worldwide in April 2005. The series is expected to air in Canada on Channel M, and currently the producers are in talks with distributors in Australia and in the United States.
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Katherine Brodsky is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Today, MovieWeb and other entertainment-related publications.