Apple is in talks to buy a violent Israeli TV show and sign Richard Gere as lead, dispelling the myth that it wants only family-friendly video

Key Points
  • Apple is negotiating for the rights to adapt "Nevelot" ("Bastards"), a violent Israeli drama starring Richard Gere.
  • "Homeland's" Howard Gordon and "Law and Order: SVU's" Warren Leight are in talks to serve as showrunners.
  • The company has been pushing the idea that they don't just want family-friendly, safe content as it looks for its version of "Breaking Bad."
Actor Richard Gere filming on location for 'Arbitrage' on the streets of Manhattan on April 11, 2011 in New York City.
Bobby Bank | WireImage | Getty Images

Apple is in advanced talks to buy rights to a gritty Israeli TV show called "Nevelot" (English translation: "Bastards") and adapt it for the U.S., beating out bids from competitors including Showtime, FX and Amazon, according to several people with knowledge of the deal. The show's plot involves two military veterans who go on a youth-focused killing spree because they believe today's kids don't understand the sacrifices of their generation.

While the details are still being worked out, show-runners Howard Gordon and Warren Leight are in negotiations to reformat it for the American market, perhaps under a different name, according to people familiar. Both have had critical success as TV show-runners, with Gordon co-helming "24" and "Homeland" and Leight behind "In Treatment," "Law and Order: SVU" and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent."

Richard Gere is also in talks to star in the series. Apple and 21st Century Fox will be co-producing. The project was previously in development at HBO.

All sides are still talking, and the deal is not yet finalized. It could fall though, the people said, if certain agreements were not reached, including budget.

Apple, Gordon and Gere declined to comment. Leight did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fox said no deal is done and declined to discuss details.

The purchase of a violent show seems in contrast to Apple's traditionally prudish standards for apps it sells in the App Store. In that vein, the Wall Street Journal reported in September that Apple did not want shows that included violence, politics or rude language.

But multiple people who have spoken to Apple and have knowledge of their thinking in recent months say that's simply not true, and TV-MA content is fair game.

Apple's heads of programming, Zach Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who started in June, have been working overtime to dispel the myth that Apple is interested only in family-friendly material.

In general, Apple wants high-impact content based on things people have heard of, like books, franchises or ideas that have resonance, according to people who have spoken to the company. It's not wedded to existing formats that need commercial breaks, emphasizing unusual formats like anthologies and content that doesn't fit within the traditional 30-minute and 60-minute time slots. The company is emphasizing it's looking for "different" content, as long as it has substance and isn't gratuitous.

The push is pitting them directly against deep-pocketed distributors like Netflix and Amazon, who also are hungry for content that is likely to get acclaim. Apple has indicated it is willing to pay premium prices for shows that have awards potential.

Looking for Apple's 'Breaking Bad'

Van Amburg and Erlicht, who were previously presidents of Sony Pictures Television, are highly respected in the entertainment industry. One of their biggest successes was bringing "Breaking Bad" and its showrunner Vince Gilligan to Sony.

The duo has made it very clear they are now looking for Apple's version of the series, which revolved around an high school teacher turned meth dealer.

But so far, the projects Apple has announced aren't rocking the boat. "Amazing Stories" has been described as a softer version of Netflix's "Black Mirror," while "Top of the Morning" is a broadcast news drama — basically a safer version of HBO's "Newsroom," as one person characterized it.

Despite the push for its "Breaking Bad," Apple is not only interested in adult content. It's also in the market for kids' programming, focusing on buying shows for preschoolers this year. Starting next year, the company will start looking at shows for school-aged children. It is expected Apple will have parental controls to help parents shield children from watching inappropriate content.

The immediate goal is to build a content library for an upcoming media service, several people said. At some point next year, Apple will announce the product and offer the content for free on its devices. The first slate of shows have a tentative deadline of spring 2019, and the company is expected to spend $4.2 billion on content through 2022 per Variety.

But in conversations with TV show creators and agents Van Amburg and Erlicht have also painted a long-term vision of more advanced interactive and immersive content. These plans are not imminent and are not driving which shows they're aiming to buy, but are rather an example of the kind of advantages Apple could bring to the table.

Some industry executives have questioned if Apple has a chance to steal eyeballs away from Netflix, Amazon and other industry leaders considering the already competitive landscape. WarnerMedia has indicated it too is willing to invest heavily into new shows and movies.

Still if the money is there, there's no reason for show makers to turn it down. More services mean more players to bid up prices. As one executive noted, everyone is more than happy to take Apple's money until it ends.

Apple wants TV content without R-rating: Wall Street Journal
Apple wants TV content without R-rating: Wall Street Journal