January 1, 2004 | Issue 8

When "Fein" Meets "Nein": "Average Jew" Debuts on NBC

BROOKLYN, NY — [TheKnish.com] Tired of TV dating shows that give good-cooking women the run of the house with 16 masmidim? The producers of NBC's "Average Jew" were and decided to turn the genre on end.

They found a geshikteh balabusta - former Prospect Park Yeshiva valedictorian Shulamith Israel - put her in a kollel project and then introduced her to 16 average- to not-so-great-learning guys.

"The casting was a little complicated," said executive producer Steve Kutscher. "Part of our show was wanting to find guys who didn't learn like - how do I say this politically correct? - who weren't the greatest kups in the beis medrash."

The cast includes men who are not learned in gemorah, unfamiliar with the GRA, not versed in the Ramban and unstudied in Hilchos Crock Pot.

"These are not the guys who got the great cooks in high school," Kutscher said. "But to call them average is unfair."

Israel didn't know she would be faced with regular guys.

Indeed, in the first episode, airing May 27 at 10 p.m., her visible glow fades as the average Jews emerge from a station wagon to say hello. At one point Israel turns off camera and suggests she's being duped - which she was, as part of the latest evolution in the reality genre, which is to add a twist. "Jew Millionaire," for example, lies about the net worth of its bochur. Here, the bochurette was misled by omission.

Realizing there was a chance that Israel would quit, the producers had a backup girl ready to walk in to meet the guys.

"Was she happy with us right after? No," Kutscher said. "I think she understood that when you fill out an application and you want to meet a guy who is funny and smart, and put 'ability to impress Shver with Torah knowledge' fifth or sixth, that's what can happen."

Likewise, the men didn't know they were being cast as a group of average guys either.

"It's 25% gimmick and 75% story," he said. "It's a lot of emotion, it's a lot of people getting upset, it's a lot of people having a great time."

The six-episode series was shot over five weeks. In each installment, some of the men get kicked off, leading to the end, when Israel will pick one.

And then, if all goes well, NBC will air a second edition, which has already been shot.

Said Kutscher, "I think we're the anti-'Bochur.'" - referring to NBC's previous reality show hit.

Writer

Pencil Martin Bodek is short, dark, handsome, runs marathons (finishes them too!), can solve a Rubik's Cube in 1:47, is a big TED chasid, can whup your keister in Scrabble, loves halva, co-founded TheKnish.com, and writes books from 5-9: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom


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