Tag Archives: BBC4

Spanish inquisition

The disappearance of a loved one tears a family apart in Spanish thriller Sé quién eres (I Know Who You Are). Director and executive producer Pau Freixas tells DQ six things we need to know about the series.

As the British home of international dramas such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Spiral, BBC4 has built a reputation for finding screen gems among the hundreds of television series produced around the world each year.

Pau Freixas

Currently airing in its prized Saturday evening slot, which affords fans of subtitled drama a rarely scheduled double bill of episodes, is its first Spanish thriller, Sé quién eres (I Know Who You Are), a crime saga originally produced by Filmax International’s Arca Audiovisual for Mediaset-owned Telecinco.

The first episode opens as a 55-year-old man staggers along a highway following a terrible accident, with no memory of what happened or how he got there. His name is Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido, pictured top), a successful criminal lawyer and university professor, married to judge Alicia Castro (Blanca Portillo) and father of two children.

When the police find the wreck of Juan’s car, they also find the mobile phone belonging to his 23-year-old niece, Ana Saura (Susana Abaitua), who disappeared on the same night as the accident, with all the evidence pointing to Elias having killed her.

Now he will have to find a way to prove his innocence, even though he himself isn’t completely certain of his innocence.

The series, which is distributed by Arrow Films, is directed by Pau Freixas and the head writer is Ivan Mercadé.

Here, Freixas, who is also an executive producer on the 10-part drama, tells DQ six things we should know about this captivating series, which Sue Deeks, head of BBC programme acquisitions, described as “the dramatic equivalent of a page-turning thriller.”

The show centres on Juan Elias, played by Francesc Garrido

1. I Know Who You Are is a thriller with a strong concept and one that combines an addictive storyline, full of unexpected twists and turns and shocking revelations, with an intricate psychological profile of its characters, who are faced with enthralling and tragic moral dilemmas.

2. The cast is full of stars of Spanish cinema and television, including Blanca Portillo (Volver, Broken Embraces), Francesc Garrido (The Sea Inside), Pepón Nieto (Paco’s Men), Eva Santolaria (7 Vidas) and Alex Monner (The Red Band Society). These actors have brought a complexity to their characters that goes far beyond the demands of the plot.

3. The series was shot entirely on location, without a single scene being filmed on a set. Despite the city that serves as the setting never being named in the series, Barcelona and its surrounding areas shine for their rich and varied environments. The urban landscape, the sea and the mountains all give the series a rich and symbolic aesthetic.

Blanca Portillo (left) stars as Juan’s wife

4. The filming of I Know Who You Are is unique in the sense that there is no one person telling the story. Each scene has its own narrator, and the character driving each scene is clearly accented. To do this, a steadicam was used, allowing the audience to move around with the character and see what they see. This enables the audience to wholly identify with the way the character lives each situation.

5. One of the most addictive features of I Know Who You Are is that the plot continuously thickens throughout the 16 episodes [two seasons that will be shown separately on the BBC]. Episode by episode, the story unfurls in such a way that everything you thought you knew is transformed, outdoing your expectations and keeping you gripped. Only when all the pieces of the puzzle are finally put together at the end will the clues with which the series is impregnated become clear. The shocking ending finally reveals the whole story’s raison d’être.

6. In Spain, the series has not only enjoyed great audience success, but it has proven addictive among its viewers, each episode generating varied speculation on social media as they tried to do their own detective work. Throughout the second half of the series, where the characters force us to decide whether we are for or against them, two opposing sides were generated among the audience and stimulating moral debates ensued.

tagged in: , , , ,

Peering into Bucket

Bucket is a bittersweet series about a dying mother who embarks on an ambitious road trip with plans to tick off a preposterous bucket list, and her daughter who has no choice but to go along for the ride. Here, writer Frog Stone, who also stars with Miriam Margolyes, reveals the inspiration behind the four-parter, produced by Solution 3 with Company Pictures for BBC4 and distributed by All3Media International.

The story of this show began with another idea entirely. But then real life got in the way and everything changed.

I had finished a film in the US and during the typical actor’s post-shoot slump I posted on Facebook that I feared never working again unless someone made a Miriam Margolyes biopic. My height and hair made me a shoo-in, right? I’d sold scripts before, so maybe I should even write it, I thought. It was as a private joke but then TV producers picked up on the idea. After a wonderfully fun lunch pitching my ideas, the legend that is Miriam was on board. Then came the commissioners with enthusiasm and backing, and soon I was writing a script. Then my father died.

Writer Frog Stone (left) stars alongside Miriam Margolyes

Dad had cancer and died within three months of diagnosis. There was no big reconciliation, no meaningful talks and suddenly no time left to mend our tricky relationship. He was very frightened and angry. So was I. Things were easier when we avoided the big stuff and chatted about doing one last trip to his beloved Lake District. We never made it. But stories give everyone a second chance. And so Bucket was born: two characters struggling with life, death and each other on the pot-holed road to wish fulfilment.

I must say, the similarities to my life and family end there. Mim [played by Margolyes] and Fran [Stone] are their own distinctive characters but I think everyone will recognise the sweet-and-sour dynamic of parent-child relationships. I wanted to bring the personal and generational conflict to screen, as we rarely get to see complicated, flawed women like this. Love and fury, that’s real life; funny, painful and without a fixed genre, an age limit or a dress code. Fran is a repressed 30-something scared to start life and Mim is a feckless baby-boomer outraged that life might end. They are both frustrated but forever bonded. The two women are unique but it’s a universal experience. We’d all like things to be better, we all make a mess of it and that’s both very sad and very funny. Life has this unknown expiry date and Mim says: “What are we going to do about it? Carpe bloody diem, that’s what!” Fran is dragged along fearing the worst, but it’s the best thing that could happen for them both. Ticking items off the ridiculous bucket list begins an emotional journey, too.

Bucket: the story of ‘two characters struggling with life, death and each other on the pot-holed road to wish fulfilment’

But there’s never going to be a Hollywood ending for Fran and Mim. As my comedy hero, the genius Victoria Wood, wrote: “Life’s not fair, is it? Some of us drink champagne in the fast lane, and some of us eat our sandwiches by the loose chippings on the A597.” There’s a lot of that bathos in Bucket. Although I’ll never match her, like Wood I’m from Lancashire. Stephanie Beacham, who plays cousin Pat, told me I write “Northern.” I took it as a compliment. I think it means to yo-yo from the sublime to the ridiculous, find the light in the bleakness and moan about it too. (FYI, Stephanie Beacham can always find her light.)

The scripts enticed a terrific cast and we had a wonderful team on both sides of the camera. It was a real labour of love working on a tight schedule and moving from silly to solemn on a sixpence in the coldest weeks of the year. I made septuagenarian Miriam Margolyes strip off in sub-zero temperatures, but I gave her all the best jokes too. The serial element makes Bucket a little different from other comedies; there’s a chance to laugh, scream, sigh and, I hope, reflect too before we hit the brakes and leave Fran and Mim on a cliffhanger. The journey is never straightforward with these two, but unlike real life, I do know what happens next.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Iceland joins Nordic Noir wave

Trapped
Trapped has received widespread acclaim

When I read, in December, how RVK Studios’ Trapped had become the top-rating drama in Icelandic TV history, I must admit I didn’t bat an eyelid. While a 90% share sounded high, the fact that this only converts into 130,000 to 140,000 viewers made me question the scale of the show’s achievement.

Perhaps I should have been more attentive, because the show has now proved to be a big hit for BBC4 in the UK. Launched on February 14 with the first two episodes aired back to back, it came in around the 1.2 to 1.3 million mark. This compares to shows like The Bridge and Deutschland 83, which both rated strongly in the UK.

The critics also like Trapped, with The Guardian calling it “seriously, toe-tinglingly good.” The Telegraph added that Trapped is “so absorbing that within five minutes I’d forgotten it was subtitled, and tried turning the volume up.” The Daily Mail also approved, saying: “If you like crime stories set in tight-knit communities, from Broadchurch to Fargo, you won’t want to miss this.”

The reason why ratings on BBC4 matter is that international buyers pay close attention to what happens on the channel. Interviewed at the C21 Drama Summit last December, Danmarks Radio (DR) head of drama Piv Bernth was asked what the turning point was in terms of her own company’s rise to international prominence. Her response was that it was BBC4’s decision to air The Killing – “From then on, it did amazingly well.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that in the case of Trapped, a strong BBC4 performance is more of a validation of the show’s quality than a call to action for the international community.

This is because the series is based on an idea by Hollywood director Baltasar Kormakur, who is also one of the principals at RVK Studios. The involvement of Kormakur, who directed a couple of episodes of Trapped and serves as a producer, encouraged a number of leading broadcasters to jump on board at an early stage.

Aside from the BBC, for example, Trapped has been acquired by France Télévisions, ZDF in Germany, SVT Sweden, YLE Finland, NRK Norway and DR1 Denmark.

Will The X-Files be renewed, or is a spin-off more likely?
Will The X-Files be renewed, or is a spin-off featuring different actors more likely?

Like BBC4, France TV has already started airing the show and, if anything, is achieving even better ratings. The first episode on its France 2 channel drew more than five million viewers (18.5% share), making it the second most popular programme of the evening after the new drama Le Secret d’Elise on TF1.

Interestingly, Trapped has also been picked up by The Weinstein Company (TWC) in the US, in a deal brokered by Dynamic Television. There’s no word yet about where TWC will place the show in the US but, thanks to the initial buzz, it stands a good chance of following Deutschland 83 into the US cable market or being picked up by one of the big SVoD platforms.

So my somewhat belated New Year’s resolution is to watch more Icelandic TV, starting with Global Screen-distributed series Prisoners and Red Arrow International-distributed Case. Also keep an eye out for RVK’s next projects, which include a film called Oath, a psychological thriller about a father who plans to commit the perfect crime to save his drug-addicted daughter.

Elsewhere in the world of TV, Fox’s six-part reboot of The X-Files finished with a respectable average of 9.5 million viewers (same-day ratings, which means you can expect an uplift once time-shifted viewing is factored in). The show did drop quite considerably from its opening episode, ending with 7.6 million, but this was still strong enough for everyone to start speculating about whether there will be a follow-up.

Given that the show ended with a huge cliffhanger, there is clearly an intention on the part of show creator Chris Carter to make another season. And Fox would certainly like another instalment, given that the new X-Files is also rating well internationally.

In the UK, the show seems to be settling down at around the 2.5 million mark on Channel 5, which is a strong showing.

As discussed before, the big challenge with making another batch of The X-Files is co-ordinating the diaries of lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. So while everyone waits to see if that can be sorted out, there is also a debate around whether a spin-off might be the best approach.

This possibility has been fuelled by the fact that the last two episodes of the reboot introduced a new pair of agents that were very similar to Mulder and Scully at the start of the Fox series.

Vinyl's viewing figures don't make good reading for HBO
Vinyl’s viewing figures have been underwhelming

The question of a possible spin-off series was put to Carter by The Hollywood Reporter, but he played a straight bat, saying: “I really love those guys [the new characters]. They’re terrific actors, and excellent to work with. It would be nice to include them. But, at the same time, we didn’t make series deals with them. I can’t imagine they’re not going to be scooped up and be somewhat unavailable to us. It will just be practical about how we’re able to work with them in the future.”

That doesn’t exactly sound like a no, however. More important than the actors’ intentions (who would say no to starring in an X-Files spin-off?) is whether Fox gets positive feedback on the Mulder and Scully mini-me’s.

Meanwhile, there’s no particular evidence that the audience is finding its way to Martin Scorsese’s new series Vinyl, which is set in the 1970s music business. The show, rumoured to have cost $100m to produce, has already been gifted a second season by HBO in the US – despite the fact that the first two episodes of its first series have come in at just 764,000 followed by 667,000. This is some way short of other HBO shows like True Detective, Silicon Valley, Ballers, The Brink and Veep.

The series hasn’t started especially well in the UK either, with 178,000 (seven-day rating) tuning into Sky Atlantic for the first episodes. HBO can console itself with the fact that Game of Thrones is poised to return – and that Vinyl may eventually find its fanbase.

Still, this hasn’t prevented observers from asking whether Vinyl’s under-performance is symptomatic of a bigger creative challenge for HBO.

tagged in: , , , , , , , ,

ITV’s Endeavour pays off

Endeavour
Endeavour consistently attracts in excess of six millions viewers

Among the many different TV drama formats that exist on the international market, one that seems to work consistently well for the British TV audience is the feature-length story-of-the-week drama (circa 100 minutes) based around a recurring character. Examples over the years include Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, Cracker, Prime Suspect and Sherlock.

UK broadcasters don’t commission these shows in very big numbers, usually in batches of three to five on an annual basis. But the successful ones are so durable that, before you know it, there’s a huge library of episodes that can be repeated ad infinitum and sold to broadcasters around the world. Midsomer Murders, would you believe, now runs to 109 episodes, while Morse – starring the unforgettable John Thaw – racked up 33 episodes.

ITV’s Morse, of course, has given birth to a dynasty of dramas. After the initial series (based on the novels by Colin Dexter), ITV launched a franchise around his sidekick Lewis. And then it turned its attention to the adventures of the young Morse in series called Endeavour – written by Russell Lewis, whose many credits include Kavanagh QC, Sharpe, Hornblower and Marple.

When ITV first announced it was making a pilot of Endeavour in 2012, it would have been easy to complain about broadcaster risk-aversion. But the combination of Morse folklore and 1960s Oxford seemed a dead cert to succeed. And so it has proved – after attracting around 8.2 million viewers for the pilot, the first batch of four films in 2013 pulled in an average audience of around seven million.

Ratings have dipped slightly since then, but not enough to damage the franchise. In 2015, for example, the fourth series attracted an average of 6.3 million viewers and a 22% audience share – which is better than most dramas on British TV. So it’s no real surprise that ITV has just announced a new series will go into production in Spring 2016.

Commenting on the decision, ITV director of drama Steve November said: “We’re delighted with the audience’s reaction to Endeavour. It was an easy decision to recommission due to the quality of the scripts from Russell Lewis and the excellent production values from (producer Mammoth Screen).”

Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire’s performance in Happy Valley has won wide acclaim

While SVoD and pay TV platforms are currently in the golden age of drama experimentation, the success of Endeavour (when contrasted with ITV’s lacklustre ratings for Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands) is symptomatic of how difficult it is for mainstream commercial networks to be adventurous in their programming choices. This isn’t just an issue in the UK, but also in markets like the US, Germany and France, where there’s a clear difference in audience tastes between the established free networks and subscription TV.

Another positive point worth noting about Endeavour is that is distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVSGE). This means the show is a revenue generator twice over for ITV (unlike Downton Abbey, for example, which was distributed by NBC Universal).

Mammoth Screen’s involvement is also interesting. An ITV-owned production company, Mammoth Screen has developed the kind of track record that would make it very tempting to back if it were a horse. Aside from Endeavour, it has also made Poldark, And Then There Were None and Black Work in recent times. All of that must make ITV feel pretty confident about the prospects for upcoming series Victoria – also produced by Mammoth Screen.

Still in the UK, this week saw the return of Happy Valley, from Red Production for BBC1 and written by Sally Wainwright. The first series is widely regarded as one of the best British dramas of the last few years – so there was some anxiety that the second series might prove to be a let down. However, the new run has started incredibly strongly, attracting 6.5 million viewers for its first episode, the highest for the show so far.

The X-Files
The X-Files’ debut on Channel 5 in the UK brought in 3.35 million viewers

Not only that, the second series is drawing critical acclaim. IMDb’s rating of 9.2 puts the show right up among the best dramas in the business, while The Daily Telegraph was also effusive in its praise. In a five-star review, the paper said: “The plot is already full of suspense and possibilities. Performances were uniformly excellent. Sarah Lancashire was charismatic: fast-talking and teak-tough at work, bursting into tears of anguish when she got home. The cast additions were promisingly classy, too.”

Another strong performance in the UK came from the reboot of Fox US’s iconic series The X-Files, which is airing on Channel 5. The first episode of the six-part show attracted 3.35 million, the highest launch of any US drama on the channel since 2009. In the US, meanwhile, episode four of the new X-Files attracted 8.3 million viewers, very similar to the previous episode’s figure.

Another series that deserves some credit for its remarkable consistency is The CW’s highest-rated show, The Flash. Over the course of a 23-episode first season, the show averaged 3.84 million. Season two started slightly softer, around the 3.5 million mark, but has got stronger as the series has progressed. Now on episode 13, it has just recorded a season high of 3.96m viewers and its highest share of 18- to 49-year-olds to date.

Flash
The Flash continues to draw strong audiences for The CW

The Flash is based on the DC Comics character and is part of a much broader alliance between The CW and DC that is working incredibly well. At the time of writing, The CW’s number-two show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (which launched in January), while number three is fellow DC-based show Arrow. The CW, it should be noted, is 50% owned by Warner Bros, which also owns DC.

Linking all three shows are writer/producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, who were also both involved in CBS’s reboot of DC’s Supergirl. CBS owns the other 50% of The CW, creating another nice link back into the extension of the DC franchise.

Finally, on the programme acquisition front, UK channel BBC4 has acquired Nordic Noir drama Modus from FremantleMedia International. Commenting on the Miso Films-produced drama, Cassian Harrison, editor of BBC Four, said: “BBC Four continues to bring the very best international drama to its audience. With its gripping storyline and rich, complex characters, Modus is a clever, entertaining Saturday night treat.”

Jamie Lynn, FMI exec VP of sales and distribution for EMEA, said the BBC4 pick-up would help boost his company’s international sales effort on the show: “BBC4 is recognised by the international broadcast community for its quality foreign drama and has landed and launched some of the industry’s biggest Scandi titles in its Saturday night slot, all which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. This prestigious slot has become a beacon, and when searching for the next big non-English language hit, the international world looks here.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , ,

BBC4 beats language barrier

The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén
The Bridge performs strongly on BBC4

This week, the BBC formally approved the closure of its youth-oriented television channel BBC3. Despite plenty of protest, the channel will move online from March 2016 as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

As yet, no one really has a clue what that will mean for the 925,000 viewers who tune in to the channel. The best guess is that many of them will be lost to the corporation for good.

The closure now raises questions over the future of BBC4 as a TV service. Although the BBC has not yet threatened to take the axe to the channel, neither has it guaranteed its future. If the BBC is faced with further cuts (likely under the current Conservative government), BBC4 could suffer the same fate as BBC3.

If that happens, it will be a blow to fans of non-English language drama. Over the past few years, BBC4 has played a pivotal role in introducing such shows to the international market. This week, for example, it has started airing season three of acclaimed Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge, showing the first two episodes as a double-header.

Picking up where season two left off, The Bridge attracted an audience of 1.2 million for episode one and 925,000 for episode two. The first of these two figures is a record for the channel, beating the 1.1 million who tuned into the second to last episode of the previous season.

While The Bridge is an exceptionally strong performer, BBC4 has had repeated success with non-English-language scripted series. Another Scandi show that has been airing in recent weeks is Arne Dahl, which has been picking up audiences of 600,000 to 700,000 consistently on Saturday evenings. Prior to that came Beck, a series of feature-length TV films based on the novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Again, ratings were in the region of 600,000 to 650,000.

asdasd
Arne Dahl is also doing well on BBC4

And while Danish period drama 1864 didn’t manage to hold its audience as well as some of the contemporary Scandi shows (954,000, 687,000, 530,000, 495,000 over four consecutive episodes), this still rates as a decent performance compared with the channel average.

It also attracted good reviews, with The Telegraph saying 1864 “oozed ambition, quality and an epic, cinematic scope. The latest offering from DR, the powerhouse Danish broadcaster that brought us Borgen and The Killing, has taken a key moment in their nation’s history and made it as compelling as any noir drama.”

Although Scandi shows are BBC4’s hottest property, the channel has also shown that people who are willing to watch foreign drama are not overly fussy about where it comes from. Over spring and summer, Italian detective drama The Young Montalbano regularly attracted between 600,000 and 700,000 despite having to contend with lower audiences in the warmer months (it’s noticeable actually that the show dropped a bit in June/July).

Prior to that, the year opened with a storming performance from French drama Spiral (a winner at this week’s International Emmys). Having kicked off with an audience over just over one million, the show stayed rock steady throughout January and February – bringing in audiences of around 850,000 to 900,000.

So what would happen to this kind of drama if BBC4 did disappear at some point in the next couple of years? Well, it would take away an important high-profile platform for such shows. But the truth is the channel has done its job so well that non-English-language drama would probably still find other homes.

1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics
1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics

Platforms like Netflix and Channel 4-backed Walter Presents are both buyers of such shows. And it’s even possible that BBC4 sister channel BBC2 might decide Scandi drama is worth investing in. In the meantime, though, expect The Bridge to keep doing well on BBC4.

Still in the UK, this week saw BBC1 launch Capital, a three-part drama from Kudos that stars Toby Jones. Jones, who is one of the stars of the upcoming Dad’s Army movie, helped the show to 3.8 million, which is OK but not spectacular. Scheduling didn’t help, with Capital up against ITV’s entertainment juggernaut I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. So it will be interesting to see if the show picks up significantly in terms of time-shifted viewing.

The issue of how we judge the success or failure of a drama is an ongoing debate these days. At Fox in the US, for example, senior management recently decided they will no longer have anything to do with Live + Same Day ratings.

“We will not acknowledge them for any programming other than live events,” said joint chairmen/CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman. Instead, the emphasis will be on Live+3, Live+7 and multi-platform data – all of which provide a more holistic view of the audience.

Fox’s decision is understandable and follows the lead of many cable channels. In essence, it allows a measured judgement once all of the time-shifted/non-standard viewing data has come in. Still, it would be a mistake to regard Live + Same Day as irrelevant to the ratings discourse. In the same way that the movie industry places so much emphasis on opening-weekend box-office figures, Live + Same Day figures provide a valuable insight into whether a TV network has got its pre-launch publicity right, and whether it has found an editorial formula that excites the audience.

Toby Jones in BBC1's Capital
Toby Jones in BBC1’s Capital

It’s also a guide to whether a show has been scheduled correctly. There is a risk, for example, in putting an expensive drama up against a show that demands live viewing – such as Capital vs I’m a Celebrity.

If viewers don’t come to a drama on its opening night, it might mean they’re saving it up for a special moment. But it might also mean that it is regarded as back-up viewing, a second-best alternative. Or it might mean there is a schism within the family – the men want to watch but the women or children don’t, for example.

You could argue that none of this matters as long as word of mouth supports the show and the audience comes to it eventually. But any good sales executive will tell you to try to clinch the sale straightaway rather than let the punter go away and think about it.

In my house, many dramas get saved for later and then deleted or forgotten about. Any delay in viewing means a window is opened up to non-viewing or viewing via piracy or via SVoD, both of which change the economic return on a show.

On the subject of how we should assess ratings, the opening episode of Sky Atlantic’s six-part heist drama The Last Panthers saw its UK audience rise from 228,000 to 696,000 once non-live figures were added in. But episode two’s live numbers dropped to 112,000.

NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot
NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot

This is a classic example of the mixed messages broadcasters have to deal with these days, though with an IMDb rating of 7.2 the message seems to be that the show hasn’t quite captured the audience’s imagination as yet. By about episode four, however, we should have a clearer picture of whether the show has gained enough support to merit a renewal.

Elsewhere in the Sky family of channels, US drama Blindspot debuted on Sky Living with an audience of 383,000, a healthy start. In the US, the show is the top-rated new series of the season and has been renewed for a second run by NBC. As such, it should settle in nicely on Sky Living and do a good job for at least a couple of seasons.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bridging the gap

Like a plot from Doctor Who, Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge has regenerated for its third season without its leading man. Michael Pickard hears how the cast and crew overcame this change to keep the hit series on track.

For fans of Bron/Broen – aka The Bridge – the relationship between leading characters Saga Norén and Martin Rohde has been the centrepiece of the compelling crime drama.

But after Kim Bodnia, who plays Danish detective Rohde, announced he was leaving the series after season two, the cast and crew faced the dilemma of whether they should replace him – and, if so, how they could do it.

And while everyone on the Danish/Swedish coproduction was forced to deal with the emotional impact of Bodnia’s decision, there was also the practical issue of writing out the show’s leading man.

“Kim Bodnia decided to leave the show in April or May and we were shooting in September and had already done the first four scripts with a storyline with him still in it,” explains series creator and writer Hans Rosenfeldt, who is currently working on his first UK series, Marcella, for ITV.

The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén
The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén

“That was a huge problem for us. But it forced us to think about what The Bridge could be without Saga and Martin. It gave us really good energy and a feeling that we could use it as a chance to see what new situations we could put Saga in and what a new could partner give her that Martin didn’t, as well as seeing other sides of her and a new relationship.”

To ensure Saga’s new partner, Henrik Saboe (played by Thure Lindhardt), wasn’t immediately compared to Martin, the show’s creators decided to delay introducing him until the second episode – a tactic Rosenfeldt describes as “a blessing in disguise.”

“We got a lot of good things out of it,” he continues. “We’d already planned the third season to be very much about Saga because Martin had huge personal stories in seasons one and two. So before this, we decided season three should be very much about Saga, her history and her backstory as her mother comes back to haunt her.”

Sofia Helin, who stars as Swedish detective Saga, describes Bodia’s departure as “a hard and difficult process. But when we accepted that, it was a gift because suddenly I had my character. She had failed at being a girlfriend and failed at being a friend, so she’s almost alone, and I could use that so much to put her in a very vulnerable place. Now I see it as a gift. It also gave us new energy. Suddenly we were on our toes. It was good.”

Launched in 2011 on Denmark’s DR and Sweden’s SVT, The Bridge opened with a body found on the Øresund Bridge, exactly on the border between Copenhagen and Malmö that links the two countries. Norén and Rohde were subsequently paired up to solve the case, a relationship that continued into season two, which aired in late-2013.

The-Bridge-s3-7
The third season follows detective Norén leading a new murder investigation

Following Bodnia’s decision to leave, the writers opted to leave Rohde languishing in prison at the beginning of season three as Norén teams up with a partner to solve a new spate of chilling murders after a Danish woman is found murdered on a Malmö construction site.

“It is a good place to start if you’ve never seen it before; you could easily start with season three,” says Rosenfeldt. “You quickly understand where Saga is, you don’t need the backstory, you don’t need to have seen Martin and she will get a new partner and things will develop from there. We don’t look back much. Season two was much more dependent on season one than this one is (on season two).”

One thing that does continue from previous seasons, however, is the show’s brooding visual style that mixes bleak landscapes with the often dark and grey skyline.

Producer Anders Landström says: “We’ve been working a lot with the style of the show. We started it on season one and have adjusted it over the series. Shooting in Scandinavia in the winter is very dark and grey so we go with that and try to do something really nice with it.”

Director Henrik Georgsson continues: “Our ideal time (to film) is November with no leaves on the trees. We don’t like anything that’s cute or picturesque. There’s no architecture from the 19th or early 20th century – only from 1930 onwards. It’s always glass, concrete or other hard materials.

“We try to make a cold world around the actors and characters. The visual world is very harsh and gloomy – in a good way, we think. We have a filming style; we don’t use wide angles close to the characters and a lot of the time we have things in the foreground and the camera is not high up, it’s always low. We think about it as if we’re doing cinema, not television, so we try to be cinematic. We try to make pictures for the screen rather than for the television.”

The-Bridge-s3-8
The Bridge is distributed by ZDF Enterprises, airing overseas on channels such as BBC4 in the UK

The new season also deals with contemporary themes and topics such as gender equality. One character is also a prominent video-blogger who records hate-filled rants in the opening episodes before being told her targets are later found dead.

Rosenfeldt says Scandinavian broadcasters demand these storylines outside the main plot. “It’s a requirement from our broadcasters that we should have something called the second story,” he explains. “When we pitch it, we say ‘this is what happens to our characters, this is the plot,’ but then they also want to know why it should be shown in 2015 and not five years ago or five years from now. And you always have to have an answer for that, which is good because it makes it very contemporary.”

With distributor ZDF Enterprises sending the series around the world, including to the UK where BBC4 launched season three this month, The Bridge is a bonafide international hit. But what’s behind its global appeal?

“We’re quite fortunate that we have done good stuff for a while and the rest of the world has caught up to us doing it,” Rosenfeldt says. “We have a long tradition of crime storytelling, both in books and films. We are and have been very good with characters. Plotting is the easy part of a crime show; it’s the characters you carry with you after the show and we’re quite good at creating compelling characters in Sweden and Denmark.

“I also think we are looked upon as a little eccentric. We don’t have curtains for our windows. Saga is quite free about her sex life, there’s her leather trousers, her Porsche. Maybe this isn’t so much the case in England, but I know that in Germany they love our crime shows and novels because there’s an image of us as the perfect society from the 1960s and 1970s where social security works perfectly and no one has to suffer. But those crime series show us that’s not really true. It’s another side of the story. It’s not the elks and small houses and everybody’s not jumping along singing happy tunes. It’s not Pippy Longstocking.”

Indeed, Cassian Harrison, channel editor of BBC4, says The Bridge is one of the most successful foreign-language series ever to appear on the channel.

The-Bridge-s3-9
It is not yet known if the series will get a fourth run

“It’s an incredibly successful drama series worldwide and has done incredibly well for us here in the UK as well,” he says. “We’re incredibly proud of The Bridge and of being able to show it on BBC4. It’s a series on which we are only but one of many partners – (the others being) Filmlance International, Nimbus and ZDF.

“The Bridge is one of the most successful foreign-language dramas we’ve had on BBC4 and it’s been one of the real unique calling cards of the channel. Since 2006 when we started to run foreign-language dramas, particularly on Saturday nights, we’ve had some brilliant properties – Arne Dahl, The Young Montalbano, Hostages, 1864, The Bridge. Next year we’ve got some stunning new series, including a really brilliant thriller from Iceland.”

So can fans look forward to crossing The Bridge once again for a fourth season? Rosenfeldt says this has not yet been confirmed but believes the show can run and run.

“We can go on as long as we think we can do slightly better than or as good as the last season,” he says. “So we have to come up with stories worth telling and find the best way of telling them. From my point of view, we can do it for as long as it feels fun.”

A fourth outing is also likely to depend on Helin’s commitment to the show. “I have a hard time seeing The Bridge without Saga,” Rosenfeldt adds. “We managed to stay alive losing one of our main characters. I think it would be very hard to lose the other one as well.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , ,