HBO’s Plepler has a steller Shimon Peres imitation

Richard Plepler, Chairman and CEO of HBO, on The Atlantic Interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: “[Shimon Peres] was a transcendent figure on the world stage. The story is that the then Consul General in New York, Ido Aharoni, asked whether I would host a dinner for the [Israeli] president when he was here, and I said, ‘My wife and I, it would be our pleasure; we would be honored.’ I said to Ido, ‘Who do you think he wants to come?’ Ido thought and said, ‘Well, let’s set up a call, and we’ll ask the President who he’d like.’ So we arranged the call, and I said, ‘Mr. President, who would you like to come? Would you like David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker? Would you like Jeff Goldberg, a noted and eminent American journalist? Would you like the President of CNN, Jeff Zucker? Who would you like to come?’ Without missing a beat, he said (Plepler imitating Peres), ’Those people are fine, but I like the girl from The Sex and The City.’ I said, ‘Oh, Sarah Jessica Parker.’ ‘Sarah Jessica Parker would be good to have.’… So I said to him, ‘Alright, that’s fine. Would you like Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria? Which public intellectual we can talk about the future of Israel with?’ (Plepler imitating Peres) ‘I don’t care. Do you know Seinfeld?’ I said, ‘Yes, as a matter of a fact.’ (Plepler imitating Peres) ‘I like Seinfeld to come. Ask big old Seinfeld.’

“So when I walked into my own home that evening very excited, he was already there, and there was an Israeli film crew there that, of course, was going to film him with Sarah Jessica and with Jerry. At the beginning, we said to him, ‘Well, we’re so honored you’re here. Talk about the history of Israel.’ Then he was (Plepler imitating Peres), ‘Before we begin, how many seasons of the Sex and The City will continue, and when will HBO come to Israel?’ Those were his fundamental questions… It ended up being a wonderful, memorable evening. But those were his priorities.”

Listen to Plepler’s imitation at the 29:27 minute mark here

Plepler on how a documentary about the first Intifada led him to HBO: “JFK said, ‘The best things in life happen by accident.’ So, I had an idea right after the first Intifada started (in 1988) – as somebody who cared deeply about Israel – that the coverage of the Intifada was reductive, and that all you were seeing on American television screens was the imagery of young Palestinian kids throwing stones, and Israelis firing back at them. The idea that I had was that only by bringing context around this complicated story could you illuminate for an American audience, a European audience, how deeply emotion this conflict was, but how potentially insoluble it was because you had these two competing narratives of history. I decided that it might be a good idea to make a documentary…”

“I went around trying to see whether anybody had any interest in doing this, and I came to Peter Kunhardt, who is now one of the most successful and prolific documentary filmmakers — he does a tremendous amount of work for HBO — and I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know anything about documentary filmmaking. I know a little bit about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and I think I have an idea for the way they tell the story.’ We teamed up and we made this documentary for public television called, A Search for Solid Ground: The Intifada Through Israeli Eyes, and it was nicely reviewed and that really was a catalyst for bringing me to HBO because the then CEO of HBO, a gentleman named Michael Fuchs, was intrigued by what I had done.”

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