“Israel is such a small country, and the issue of prisoners of war is such a raw subject that I was sure somebody did it,” he said. “But the more I researched, the more I realized there was a world of drama that hadn’t been tapped into.”
“Prisoners of War” quickly became a TV phenomenon in that country, and was soon adapted in the United States as Showtime’s “Homeland.”
The original series was shown in more than 40 territories, and the format was sold to broadcasters in several more countries. Besides the United States, localized versions of “Prisoners of War” have now been created in India, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and Argentina.
“The story seems to have touched many people around the world,” Raff said. “Unfortunately, Israel is not the only place with conflict. So many places have been torn with conflict and war… I just saw the Indian version, and it’s amazing how much you learn about the locale. But the feeling is universal.”
The original “Prisoners of War” centered on two Israeli soldiers, Nimrode (Yoram Todeano) and Uri (Ishai Golan), who return home after 17 years in captivity. But it’s not easy for them and their families to adjust. And then there are the discrepancies to their stories, which leaves one military psychiatrist suspicious.
“The reaction in Israel was astonishing,” Raff said. “Once it aired you couldn’t open the paper or turn on the radio or TV without seeing a story about prisoners of war. It gave them a voice for the first time.”
Raff called the show a “labor of love” and said he’s proud that the success of “Homeland” opened the door to more Israeli formats finding a home in the U.S.
“The minute ‘Homeland’ became a success, Hollywood looked into the Israeli market to see what was hiding there,” he said.
Two seasons of “Prisoners of War” have been produced; Raff said he’s still kicking around ideas for a third season, but he has been busy working on shows in the U.S., where he created the series “Tyrant” and “Dig.” But it all began with “Prisoners of War.” Said Raff, “In terms of my career it meant everything.”
Link TV and Los Angeles’ KCET air the U.S. broadcast premiere of “Prisoners of War” on Monday, Oct. 24 at 10 p.m. ET and PT. IndieWire spoke to Raff as part of a special geared toward the launch; here are a few excerpts.
“Creators: Gideon Raff’s Prisoners of War” airs Monday, Oct. 24 at 11 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV and KCET following the premiere of “Prisoners of War.”