While fellow Americans celebrated over the July 4 weekend,
Gordon was back in Israel for his latest whirlwind visit to
fine-tune upcoming episodes, based on feedback he has received
about the series set in a Middle Eastern dictatorship buffeted
by demands for change arising from the Arab Spring.
There were complaints from Muslim American groups to weigh, as
well as input from Middle Eastern dissidents. They are factored
in to Gordon's drive to empathize, though he wants the series to
work as a universal drama divorced from actual events.
"I like to think that, as sort of amateur cultural diplomat, I
create these stories as bridge-building," Gordon told Reuters.
"We are listening to our Muslim colleagues and adjusting the
material as much as possible. I appreciate the sensitivities,
and no one is setting out to perpetuate or exacerbate
stereotype, but we are here to tell a good story, a family
drama, a saga."
He likened the tale of an Arab-American doctor embroiled in the
Middle East autocracy run by his father and brother to "The
Sopranos" or "Sons of Anarchy" - shows about a New Jersey mob
and a Californian motorcycle gang, respectively.
"Tyrant" take place in a fictional Arab country stripped of the
sectarian or political labels that abound in the news.
"You will never hear Sunni or Shia or Alawite or Hashemite,
because it is too complicated to render dramatically," Gordon
"This is at some level a totally challenging show - by
definition reductive on one hand and on the other a distillation
of many of the countries and people and characters we've seen."
While hearing real accounts of life under oppressive rule
prompted Gordon to rewrite episodes 2 and 3, he said he sought
to preserve a balance by also showing the tyrant of the title
had economic achievements to his credit.
"He's not just a monster," Gordon said. "It's fascinating, but
also a minefield of potential controversy. The storyteller in me
was very attracted to the hornet's nest of it."
"Tyrant" began broadcasts last month to middling reviews - a
factor that may decide if the U.S. producer gets his wish of a
[to top of second column]
Gordon learned to take critics' flak over his hits "Homeland" and
"24". Both tended to view the Middle East through counter-terrorist
gunfights and are enjoying long runs.
"Homeland" was inspired by an Israeli television series, "Hatufim",
and partly shot in the Jewish state, an experience that contributed
to all the episodes of "Tyrant" being made there, too, after the
pilot used locations in Morocco.
The Israeli crews were highly professional, Gordon said, and while
not as keen as American counterparts to work overtime, thrifty. He
estimated each "Tyrant" episode cost 15 percent less than it would
have in Los Angeles, where relative paucity of tax breaks has driven
much television production to cheaper sites.
The "Tyrant" cast also appreciated the quality of life available,
after hours, in Israel, Gordon said - although an initial
arrangement to use a studio near freewheeling Tel Aviv fell through,
forcing the entire production to relocate to sound stages erected on
strawberry fields outside rural Kfar Saba.
"We've had some glitches," he said.
Gordon, who is working on two other shows concurrently, said that
should there be another season of "Tyrant" he would likely limit
shooting in Israel to secondary footage like exteriors and consider
alternative locations in neighboring Turkey or Jordan.
"If we were to get the LA tax break, it might be an inducement to
move much of the photography back," he said.
"There is also the political consideration of it," he added, noting
the "potential political or perceived political incorrectness" of
making a show about the Arab Spring in Israel.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los
Angeles; Editing by Michael Roddy and Raissa Kasolowsky)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.