‘Boom!’ The game show about bombs. (Keshet International)
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U.S. Getting Popular Israeli Game Show ‘Boom!’

Contestants diffuse replica bombs by answering questions correctly. Seriously.

Stephanie Butnick
April 04, 2014
'Boom!' The game show about bombs. (Keshet International)

Move over Homeland and In Treatment—there’s a new Israeli television import in town. Coming to your television screen in the near future is Boom!, which the Hollywood Reporter describes as “a quiz show in which contestants struggle against the clock to defuse replica bombs by answering trivia questions.” So like Cash Cab, but with bombs?

It’s a somewhat off-putting—and hugely unsubtle—concept, but it’s also very much a show that lays bare the machinery of a competition show. It’s so spare and unadorned that it’s almost the ultimate game show. Still, it’s possible American audiences like their quiz shows more glammed up, with sequined women holding shiny briefcases, or with celebrities, or pop song lyrics. Or they might just really like Jeopardy. Boom!, with its use of bomb imagery and casual reliance on the threat of imminent violence seems somehow… different.

And that may be what ultimately makes it a success in the United States. Just before Homeland premiered its head scratch-inducing Season 2 (remember? things were so different then), Sarah Breger examined the success of recent Israeli television transplants in the U.S. market for Jewcy.

Sharon Shaif, who co-edited the book Global Television Formats: Understanding Television Across Borders and is currently writing a book on Israeli reality television, told me that traditionally, the rule of thumb when scouring for potential crossover hits is to find programs that are “culturally neutral” and adhere to established formulas. For Israel, though, the lesson has been almost the opposite. The Israeli shows that have succeeded in the United States have been steeped in Israeli cultural concerns, from war and terrorism to the specter of the Holocaust.

Still, Breger noted that dramas imported from Israel were generally better received by American audiences than comedies. After all, the first Israeli sitcom premiered in 1983, when programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family had already been on the air for years, and the genre remained very much under the influence of American comedy. Which, naturally, when mirrored back a decade later, might not seem as revelatory as, say, Homeland’s nuanced, unemotional depictions of terrorists.

What this all means is that there’s a chance Boom! is so out of the box, and so unconventional, that American audiences totally eat it up. Boom.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.