Behind the Scenes at TJC


How The Jewish Channel was created, the variety of programs offered, and the biggest challenge currently facing the CEO.

by Christian Niedan

The Jewish Channel (TJC), which “brings your culture home,” premiered in 2007, but only after years of planning and consideration regarding the kind of programming to broadcast and how to present it in an accessible manner. Rather than creating a fixed lineup, the decision was made to base programming on the premium “On Demand” format so viewers can have unlimited access to all of the programming each month. A monthly subscription fee of approximately $6 was settled upon. Says Elie Singer, the CEO of Compass Productions International, TJC’s parent company, using the On Demand style means “viewers can watch what they want, when they want it, and they don’t have to wait for, or worry about missing, their favorite programs.” Once this first decision was made, attention was focused on establishing the type of content that would best appeal to the Jewish masses.

Jewish movies and shows you’d otherwise never see

TJC staffers decided to offer a blend of more expected, nostalgic features, as well as films outside the mainstream. So, on any given day, viewers could catch an airing of Yentl, Exodus, or a Woody Allen classic, as well as a film like Amen, a thriller about an SS officer who fights the Church establishment in an effort to save Jewish lives, directed by Oscar winner Costa-Gavras. Singer explained, “There are so many great Jewish movies out there that just don’t get much play on the movie channels, or at your local movie theater, because the response from those making purchases for those places is ‘we already had a Jewish film this year.’ Well, many in the Jewish community are interested in seeing more than one Jewish movie a year.”

TJC also produces original series and entered into an exclusive relationship with the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper in late 2007. This has allowed TJC to create programming around topics pulled straight from the headlines. There is Forward Forum, which takes on the hot topics of Jewish life; a Charlie Rose-style interview program called Inside the Issues; and a series in which former arts and culture editor Alana Newhouse explores the channel’s movie collection with guests such as Eric Lax, Woody Allen’s biographer. Program topics range from a comparison of Judaism and Rastafarianism in Awake Zion (see “From Reggae to Revelation”) to a recounting of American Jewish socialist enclaves in A Home on the Range to the stand-up comedy of a Catholic who converted to Judaism three times and is now Orthodox.

Another focus is Israeli programming. “For American Jews who want to experience more of Israel on the day-to-day, TJC is the perfect medium,” Singer says, noting “we offer an exploration of Israeli culture and music, investigations into pressing issues in the Jewish State, and some of the less often heard stories of its growth and history.”

Rabbis Roundtable is yet another groundbreaking original series in which leading rabbis from across the religious spectrum discuss major issues affecting the Jewish community. “It’s the kind of discussion that would be considered immensely important if it only happened once every couple of years at some plenary in front of a few hundred people,” Singer says, “and we’re doing it every month or so in front of tens of thousands of Jewish households.”

The biggest challenge faced by TJC

TJC has been available on Cablevision—the fifth-largest cable company in the country—since September 2007. It was added to Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey in June 2008 and launched nationwide in July 2008 with Verizon FiOS. TJC is now available in 15 states and millions of households. But, according to Singer, “We’ve had to work very hard to get cable companies to believe that there’s a real Jewish market out there that’s interested in Jewish television programming.” The truth is, it continues to be a challenge and Singer asks that Jews” help us expand to more communities by getting involved and telling their cable providers that they want TJC made available as part of their cable lineup.” To find out if you have access to The Jewish Channel, check out TJC’s “subscribe” page, which specifies where the channel is available and on which cable provider. Basically it’s available to anyone in the New York metro area who has Time Warner Cable (channel 528) or Cablevision’s iO digital cable (channel 291), and to anyone nationwide who has Verizon FiOS. Subscription fees differ slightly depending on the provider.

About the Author

Christian Niedan
Christian Niedan is a staff writer for The Jewish Channel and He previously worked as a reporter for the Jersey Journal in Hudson County, New Jersey.

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