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Israeli ‘Actor’ Subject of TV Reality Show

November 28, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Take a bit actor yearning for stardom, a cheeky director, and cameras hidden in the actor’s limo and makeup room.

The result is ``The Steve Show,″ an audacious piece of reality TV with a twist: the star had no idea he was being filmed, and the producers had no guarantee he would allow the show to go on the air.

A big gamble, producer-director Yigal Shilon admits, but one that has so far paid off _ and not just for him. The popular Israeli TV series also has brought fame to its hero, the hapless Steve Frankel, though not in the role he believed he was playing.

``We decided to take the story of an actor in a soap opera and follow him getting the role, and base it around life behind the scenes in the world of show business, from unknown to star,″ Shilon said.

``In fact, he isn’t a star, but he becomes a star by default because of being the victim of this hoax,″ Shilon said.

The first of the seven, hour-long episodes _ on Nov. 3 _ topped ratings. The final segment _ in which the hoax is revealed to Steve _ runs Dec. 15.

In the show within ``The Steve Show,″ Frankel’s soap opera character is a partner in a pizza chain who strikes up a friendship with an employee of a rival franchise.

On the set, he is kissed by a comely pizza princess Moran Eisenstein and slapped by her boss _ but the real plots unfold before hidden cameras. Frankel shares his hopes and fears with limo driver Meir, becomes privy to a series of thefts by a ``cast″ member and brings gifts and a love song to Moran.

Frankel, 31, was named Israel but has called himself ``Steve″ since childhood after action hero Steve Austin in ``The Six Million Dollar Man.″

He studied at Beit Zvi, Israel’s oldest theater school, but his career never took him much further than a few TV commercials and the odd school production.

Two years in Los Angeles failed to get him into movies. Back in Israel, he took up part-time work as an eyeglass salesman. By the time he auditioned for the imaginary soap opera, he was close to desperation.

Now, he’s a ``star,″ with viewers logging on to the show’s Web site to vote on whether they think Moran will seduce Frankel, who is married.

In the fourth episode, Moran cries on Steve’s shoulder after telling him she thinks she is pregnant by a former lover. She asks him to call the lab for the results of her pregnancy test.

``Can I have the test of the result, uh, the result of the test, for Moran Eisenstein please?″ he babbles.

When the fake lab assistant says ``congratulations to you both, you’re pregnant,″ he turns to the sobbing Moran with a rueful smile.

``Life’s a soap opera, huh,″ he says.

To preserve a modicum of decency, Shilon did not plant cameras in the Frankel home, but Steve’s wife, Yael, gives on-camera briefings on her chats her husband.

In filming a series whose hero could ultimately refuse permission for it to be shown, Shilon took a big risk _ legal and financial.

He reduced the danger of a lawsuit by involving Frankel’s family. ``If he had wanted to sue us he would have had to sue them as well.″

Colleagues feared Steve might become distraught when the truth was revealed. Shilon said the moment was handled ``very carefully,″ but would not give away the ending. He refused to let Steve be interviewed.

Though the show is _ so far _ a hit, not everyone agrees with the principle. Paul Porush, who teaches media studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said he finds the Steve Show distressing.

``It’s like watching someone being tortured,″ he said. ``It’s like putting an obstacle in front of a blind person.″