Tag Archives: TV4

Pitch black

Swedish noir Modus is back for a second season, with a cast that now includes Kim Cattrall as the US president. DQ visits the Stockholm set to find out why this drama has global appeal.

TV drama doesn’t get any more glamorous than this. We are crouching in Stygian semi-darkness beside the monitor in a dingy corridor at the Swedish Defence Ministry in Stockholm. We can barely see our hands in front of our faces.

To add to the sense of doom and gloom, the windows are blacked out. Suddenly, with no warning, out of the gloaming come marching two very scary-looking, thickset heavies in smart suits wielding machine guns. They are clearly not here to sing Happy Birthday to anyone.

Unsurprisingly, this is the set of a Nordic noir offering – and this one is literally noir.

Melinda Kinnaman and Henrik Norlén return to lead the cast

Ever since the magnetic Danish crime story Forbrydelsen (The Killing) broke through internationally, winning a Bafta in the UK in 2011, and was immediately followed by the overseas success of series such as Borgen, The Bridge, Beck and the Swedish version of Wallander, Scandi dramas have been drawing huge and passionate audiences everywhere.

DQ is in Stockholm observing the filming of the newest such series to make waves globally. We are watching the white-knuckle denouement of the second season of Swedish drama Modus. Broadcast last year, the first season made a major impact around the world.

Its co-star Henrik Norlen, who has also appeared in such well-regarded Scandi dramas as Beck, Stockholm East, My Skinny Sister and Hotel, takes a break between scenes of this intense series to consider why Nordic noir has struck such an international chord.

“I think it’s because there is a lot going on behind these characters. They’re not just policeman or criminal profilers – they are also people. They have great depth.

“You get to go inside their head and see what they’re thinking. These dramas are also a bit darker than British or American series. It is a tradition in Nordic countries of telling stories that are dark, mystic and pagan.

“People from all over the world used to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means Abba and Volvo.’ Now they come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means The Killing, The Bridge and Modus.’ Of course, Modus is better than all of them!”

In the second season of Modus the leading duo are an item

Tobias Åström, the line producer on Modus, chips in: “In the past at television trade fairs, the only thing people wanted to see at the Swedish stall was what meatballs we had. Now they come up and ask, ‘What programme can you give me?’”

The second season of Modus is an eight-part adaptation by the Emmy-winning Danish screenwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe of Madam President, the novel by the bestselling Norwegian crime author (and former Minister of Justice) Anne Holt.

Holt’s work coheres with the sepulchral prevailing mood of Nordic Noir. As the British crime writer Val McDermid has observed, “Anne Holt is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.”

In this gripping season, intuitive Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik (played by Melinda Kinnaman, My Life as a Dog) and compassionate detective Chief Ingvar Nymann (Norlén), both returning from season one, are now an item.

But the pair, who made a big splash when they first appeared together in the widely acclaimed first season, have little time to enjoy their life together as they are immediately plunged into another life-or-death investigation. They have to scramble when the first ever female US President, Helen Tyler (Kim Cattrall, Sex & the City), is kidnapped during a state visit to Sweden.

As the US and Swedish authorities struggle to rescue the president and indulge in a bitter blame game, Inger is reluctantly forced to work closely with her former mentor, the Machiavellian FBI director Warren Schifford (Greg Wise, The Crown). When the details of their troubled shared past slowly start to emerge, Inger’s entire mental stability is put at risk.

Melinda Kinnaman returns as Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik

A coproduction from SVoD platform C More, TV4 Sweden, Miso Film Sweden and FremantleMedia International, the second season of Modus makes for a compelling tale of revenge, recrimination and retribution. It is due to premiere on C More later this year before airing on TV4.

British actor Wise is delighted to be dipping his toe into Nordic noir for the first time with Modus. He says what distinguishes this kind of piece is its willingness to treat its audience with respect. “What I’ve really enjoyed about working on this drama is the time spent developing the story and the characters,” he says.

“Very often, programme makers rush through their storytelling because they don’t trust the audience to get it. Things have to happen very fast – cut, cut, cut. Those productions imagine that we are the MTV generation and have memories like goldfish.”

But, continues the actor, who has also had leading roles in such memorable British dramas as Sense and Sensibility, The Outcast, Cranford and Madame Bovary, “viewers of Scandi dramas are really given time to invest in their relationship with the characters. They are allowed a proper glimpse into another world. It’s like the slow food revolution” – only in television.

International audiences are also attracted by the strangeness of the universe conjured up by shows such as Modus. Cecilia Bornebusch, the show’s production designer, comments: “It’s more exciting as a viewer if you don’t really understand what’s going on and you have to read between the lines. It’s more enticing than your own language because it seems exotic.

“Also, I think in Scandinavia we are very good at portraying relationships. We have never had great problems with war, so we have had other things to write about, like relationship difficulties. That’s in our blood.”

Like all the best Scandi dramas, Modus depicts a heightened world. Åström, who has also worked on The Bridge and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reflects: “As in fairytales, in Nordic noir you draw on things from the margins. Normal people are greyer than the characters in drama. So when you tell a story in a drama, you can make it more colourful than real life.”

But, he adds with a smile, “Of course, in reality Sweden is not that dangerous a place. It does not have a serial killer hiding in every bush. Have you ever been to Ystad, where Wallander is set? It’s so quiet in reality. If that drama were true, there would be no one left in that town!”

Modus also employs another of Scandinavia’s great resources: its pellucid natural light. Bornebusch observes: “The Nordic light is wonderful. The light in Southern Europe is earthier, whereas we are influenced by the snow and the winter. It’s always so dark here – that’s why we like bright colours.”

In addition, the drama makes tremendous use of its Swedish backdrops. Wise remarks: “One of the really appealing things about Modus is that it shows the world how beautiful Stockholm is. It’s a stunning city. But it’s also a place full of secret tunnels that people have forgotten about.”

The city’s duality mirrors a key theme in this season: the contrast between our private and public faces. Holt has written several more novels about Inger, and the production team are eager to make further series tracking this fascinating and complex character.

But, equally, they are well aware that the best way to maintain the audience’s interest is to keep Modus fresh.

“If we made another season,” Åström concludes, “we would want to make sure that we could add something to it. We wouldn’t want to just keep milking the same cow and producing the same milk.

“We would want to make a new flavour – like banana!”

tagged in: , , , , , , , ,

Flipping the script

A doctor and a teacher approaching retirement decide to secure their futures by robbing a bank in Swedish comedy drama Enkelstöten. Executive producer Pontus Edgren tells DQ about the decision to swap men for women in the lead roles.

When it comes to adaptations, there are a few techniques you might expect to see when a novel is being prepared for the screen. The story will be tightened or expanded to suit the number of episodes and, consequently, new characters might be added, or existing ones omitted altogether.

In the case of forthcoming Swedish series Enkelstöten (A Simple Heist), however, two women take the lead in roles that were originally written as men. Based on a book by Tomas Arvidsson, it follows a teacher and a doctor who decide to rob a bank.

It was first translated to the screen in a 1980 miniseries, which faithfully adapted the story. But in a new six-part series airing this autumn on TV4, those lead roles have been switched and aged up, as two women in their 60s decide to carry out the heist.

Pontus Edgren

The plot centres on Jenny Bengtsson and Cecilia Svensson, who enjoy a middle-class life in the Swedish town of Kalmar. But with retirement approaching and their bank accounts somewhat lacking, they decide to rob a bank in Stockholm.

The series follows the duo as they weigh up the pros and cons of the bank job, eventually deciding to go through with it, and goes on to detail the heist itself and the aftermath.

But as changing the lead characters might suggest, A Simple Heist isn’t exactly a traditional adaptation.

“We’ve taken basic core elements of the story but to a great extent we have created a new story,” executive producer Pontus Edgren says. “It’s still about a teacher and a doctor who feel that life has been unfair to them. One has gone through a divorce and doesn’t get much out of it economically, and the other has invested her money very badly and her husband doesn’t know that the money with which they were supposed to buy a house in France has virtually gone. They also have big demands on them, from parents and students to patients and their bosses, so they’re squeezed from many different positions.

“All that is similar to the basic story, but there’s a new element in our first episode where the doctor has a patient who’s a criminal and she tells him he’s going to die soon from cancer, so he confides in her that he was going to commit a bank robbery in Stockholm – and says she should do it. Of course, she says she can’t do it because she’s a 58-year-old doctor, but he says that’s exactly why she should do it – because she’s never going to get caught. That’s how it starts.”

It’s a story that is personal to Edgren, MD and co-founder of producer FLX, as Arvidsson is a family friend. The exec is also a native of the town in south-east Sweden where the story plays out.

From the outset three years ago, when FLX picked up rights for the series, women were at its heart. TV4 immediately liked the premise, and placed a commission a year later. The series had its world premiere at Série Series earlier in 2017.

A Simple Heist centres on a pair of 60-somethings who decide to rob a Stockholm bank

“For this specific series, we really wanted to build the story first, to really set something up that had a good driving force forward and with the twists and turns viewers would find exciting and suspenseful to watch,” Edgren explains. “Then we added a layer of comedy in the script and in the direction too. The original story, about two people with an academic background who become criminals, is set up for comedy and the actors were very carefully picked because they have a great track record of doing great comedy but they are also great actors. They’re not comedians, they’re just actors who can handle comedy.”

However, the actors who came to fill the leading roles, Lotta Tele (Jenny) and Sissela Kyle (Cecilia), weren’t originally in line for the show. “In the very beginning, when we first started looking at having female leads, we looked at them being around 40, but we couldn’t find exactly the right dynamic between the two so we moved up the age and changed the premise a bit to explain why they decided to commit this crime. Then we found them quite quickly.

“We knew Sissela and Lotta very well. Sissela, particularly, has done a lot of comedy and has proven herself to be a great comedic actor. Lotta has more recently gone into that genre and is perfect for this. They’re quite different characters.

“The part Lotte plays is more careful and reluctant; she’s not the one who’s driving this. She’s very hesitant and against the idea in the first episode, whereas Sissela’s character is the driving force. She’s the doctor who gets the idea from her patient. They’ve known each other since they were kids and Sissela is the one with the energy and the drive. It was perfect for what they’re good at. It’s a very good dynamic between the two.”

The show stars Lotta Tele as Jenny and Sissela Kyle as Cecilia

The limited budgets available in Sweden mean productions are largely filmed in and around Stockholm. But for A Simple Heist, the production team was keen to film as much as possible on location in Kalmar, a five-hour drive from the capital.

“When you produce drama or comedy in Sweden, too often you have to stay around Stockholm because you don’t have the finances to leave the area,” says Edgren, who notes that external shooting on location was combined with interior shots in Stockholm. “So that was a challenge to us because we wanted to stay true to the story. This small town is also an important element of the story. People know each other and what they’re up to; people gossip and talk and you’re never really alone. It’s much more difficult to hide things from others and that’s an important part of the story, so that’s why it takes place in a small town.”

As Nordic noir continues to evolve, A Simple Heist stands out as another example of how the region is pushing beyond the gritty, grisly crime dramas that viewers around the world have come to know and love. FremantleMedia International is selling the six-parter globally.

“With lots of brutal murders, trafficking and paedophiles [in Nordic noir], the international audience might get a horrific view of how we’re actually coping here [in Scandinavia],” Edgren says, “so I think, from a very general standpoint, if we can show ourselves and show the world that we can also make lighter series with hope and joy, that’s what motivates us. The combination of comedy and suspense is great if you can manage it.”

All six episodes of the show have now been delivered to TV4, ahead of its launch later this autumn. This is unlikely to be the last time viewers will meet Jenny and Cecilia, however. “TV4 believes very strongly in this series and has commissioned development for season two,” Edgren adds. “We’re going to start writing after the summer. We’re hopeful there will be opportunities for them to commit crimes again!”

tagged in: , , ,

DQ uncovers the hidden story of Farang

Red Arrow International is at Mipcom 2016 distributing action-packed Swedish thriller Farang. Producer Anna Wallmark Avelin and co-ordinator Frida Wallman reveal the hidden story behind the series.

Set in Thailand, Farang is a landmark new series about love, betrayal and the complicated ties that bind a father with his daughter.

Anna Wallmark Avelin
Anna Wallmark Avelin

The show features a stellar cast including Ola Rapace (Skyfall, Section Zero, Wallander, Together), Louise Nyvall (Girls Lost) and Yayaying Rhatha Phongam (Only God Forgives).

Former criminal Rickard (Rapace) has vanished. Fleeing Sweden and the old friends he has testified against, he abandons his name, his life and his family to start over in Thailand. Ten years later and still with a price on his head, Rickard knows that a return home would be a death sentence. And so he ekes out his existence as a small-time crook in the back alleys of Phuket. Life’s tough and dirty, but at least it won’t kill him. That’s the idea, anyway.

When his 15-year-old daughter Thyra comes looking for him, Rickard’s self-imposed exile in this gritty paradise is soon under threat. His attempts to push her away only drive her deeper into the dark underworld that Rickard knows only too well. After a momentary lapse in judgement, Rickard’s cover is blown and both he and his daughter find themselves in very real danger. Their only chance of survival is to strike back at those who are coming for them.

Frida Wallman
Frida Wallman

This story arc wasn’t always the path for Farang’s main character. Rickard was originally a policeman. He planned to start a new life in a Thai paradise, but throughout the development of the show, new angles began to develop and new people came along. So it all changed and he switched sides: from a cop to a criminal in the dark underbelly of paradise.

We found the most rewarding and yet challenging thing about the creative process in producing Farang was trying to keep a consistent voice and holding on to the uniqueness of the series through all of the different eyes and brains who have worked on the project over the years.

Another major change was that the eight-part series, produced by Warner Bros for CMore Entertainment and TV4 Sweden, shifted genre over the development period.

What initially started out as a light drama became a thrilling, edgy drama. Originally the show was about a policeman in paradise solving a minor criminal case, with tourists somehow involved in each episode, and with some added rom-com glitter.

Farang stars Ola Rapace
Farang stars Ola Rapace

We then felt we wanted to add a strong emotional theme to the series. We didn’t want the audience to know what was going to happen next – who would fool them, who would fall in love and who would be sacrificed.

So when this project and the scripts finally landed, it wasn’t so light anymore. We also needed time to tell the story in all its scope, so the thriller journey began and all of a sudden there was only one case left to solve over the whole season. We also found that it was far more exciting and complex if Rickard was a criminal with a hidden identity, on the other side of the law.

We then came to the visuals and the environment. The initial plan was to shoot the series on the sunny beaches of Thailand but, based on the above journey, we felt we had to move behind the postcard-worthy vistas. The new take on the story required something more.

Rapace
Rapace alongside Louise Nyvall, who plays his teenage daughter

We wanted to make a Scandi noir set in an exotic place to suit the story, but also to make it resonate with the themes, so all the reccies began to take place around corners, behind the glitzy hotels, away from the big streets. That’s how we built the universe of Farang.

The word ‘farang’ is used by Thais for people of European descent in Thailand, and usually denotes a foreigner. It sums up the feeling of unease and outsider-dom that pervades the series and Rickard’s psyche.

In terms of filming in Thailand, one small challenge was putting a very Scandinavian cast in a tropical location!

Ola Rapace’s character Rickard has been living in Thailand for 10 years and is consequently used to the warm climate. Rickard is comfortable walking around in jeans – even when the temperature reaches 45 degrees. Imagine the sweat on him after shooting 10 hours a day in jeans and boots for months in this heat! He lost one kilo a week.

Our lead actress, Louise Nyvall, who plays Rickard’s 15-year-old daughter Thyra, had similar difficulties. She arrives in Thailand in the first episode and then she has to stay pale throughout the whole series – a struggle when shooting for three months in sunny Thailand without getting any sunburn or a tan!

Ultimately we are hugely proud of the show and the journey it has taken to be what it is today. We hope viewers will be drawn into the world behind the glamour of a beach paradise, and delight in seeing a Scandi noir set among the palm trees.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

True crime tops TV trends

Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson
Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson

There’s a new trend in US TV and it’s called true crime. Cutting across the drama and documentary genres, it’s a category of shows that seeks to shine a light on the workings of the US justice system (usually by giving examples of its failings and weaknesses).

The most high-profile examples to date are Fox’s sophisticated drama series American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson and Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer. But more are on the way.

This week, for example, it was revealed that CBS is developing its own true-crime unscripted series, centring on the 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty pageant star JonBenet Ramsey. Also coming up soon is Guilt, a drama series greenlit by Freeform (previously known as ABC Family).

Guilt, which debuts on June 13, is about a young American woman in London who becomes the prime suspect in the savage murder of her roommate. Loosely based on the famous Amanda Knox case, success for this show would undoubtedly keep the true crime bandwagon rolling.

Freeform has actually been making a lot of trade headlines this week as a result of its Upfronts. One of its most interesting announcements is that it is making a local version of Misfits, the UK drama that aired on E4 from 2009 to 2013. Created by Howard Overman, the show focuses on a group of young offenders who develop superpowers after being exposed to an electrical storm. The new series comes from executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who previously developed Gossip Girl.

The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4
The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4

Other dramas coming through on Freeform include The Deep, Hunted and Lore, a sci-fi drama about the lone survivor of an ancient race of paranormal beings who is abducted and forced to put his extraordinary abilities to work for the government.

For 2017 there is Beyond, a one-hour drama about a young man who wakes up from a coma after 12 years and discovers new abilities that propel him into the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. Also of note, given the current trend towards series with a transgender theme, is New People. Executive produced by Joel Silver and writer/director Don Roos, in association with Lionsgate, this drama-comedy focuses on a middle class family who adopted identical twin boys at birth. One is all boy, one grew up trans.

Another trend gathering pace is that of dramas that explore the nefarious world of high finance. Recent examples that deal with this subject head-on or tangentially include Showtime series Billions, Sky/Canal+ show The Last Panthers and DR’s Follow the Money. Now, Zodiak Rights and Arise Pictures have joined forces on The Cleaners, a 10-part series about international money laundering.

Described as Casino Royale meets Wall Street, the drama revolves around CIA operatives working with illegal money launderers in the Middle East to achieve regime change. Coproduction partners already on board include Spain’s Arcadia Motion Pictures and the UK’s Propulsion Pictures. “This new drama could not be more topical after the recent leak of the Panama papers, highlighting how and where heads of state hide their money around the world,” said Caroline Torrance, head of scripted at Zodiak Rights.

Grimm has been given a sixth season
Grimm has been given a sixth season

In May last year, we looked at the success of NBC’s supernatural crime drama Grimm and the reasons it had been renewed for a fifth season. This week, NBC announced a sixth season of the show. NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said of the team behind the show: “They have created a whole new world of creatures and have a truly devoted fan base. We can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Season five of Grimm finished in April, with its ratings actually on an upward trajectory. The 4.5 million viewers it attracted to the 16th and final episode was the highest of the entire series. The show is also very strong in time-shifting, almost doubling its audience in terms of Live+7-day ratings.

Elsewhere, CBS has renewed NCIS: Los Angeles for an eighth season, while Fox has awarded renewals to two of its new dramas, Rosewood and Lucifer. Both have performed above Fox’s scripted average for the season without really setting the schedule on fire. Nevertheless, Fox Entertainment president David Madden said: “We knew we had something special with Lucifer, from the engaging performances of Tom Ellis, Lauren German and the rest of the cast, to Len Wiseman’s visually stunning look of the show.”

As for Rosewood, Madden said creator Todd Harthan “has put a fresh, playful spin on the procedural format, infusing it with wit and warmth, while Morris Chestnut, Jaina Lee Ortiz and the show’s supporting cast have turned in fantastic performances. We look forward to standout sophomore seasons from both series.”

Lucifer has also been renewed
Lucifer has also been renewed

Outside the US, Nordic broadcaster C More Entertainment, which owns networks including TV4 Sweden, has started production on a thriller about a bank robber who moves to Thailand to start a new life. Called Farang, the series was created by Malin Lagerlöf and Stefan Thunberg, and will premiere on C More in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland next year before later airing on TV4.

Bo Thörnwall, director of programmes at C More, said: “Announcing new local content is always a pleasure, since our strong Swedish offer makes us unique in the market.” Josefine Tengblad, head of drama at TV4 and C More, added that the show “will be a gut-wrenching thriller – a drama about the emotional, fragile connection between a father and the daughter he abandoned.”

The show is part of a concerted drive by C More/TV4 into the drama business. Other titles on their slate include Gåsmamman, a thriller that was doing the rounds at MipTV last week, Beck and upcoming crime drama Missing.

In other international news, UK indie Mam Tor Productions has joined with Escapade Media on the upcoming Australian drama series Art of Killing. The six-part psychological thriller is adapted from the novel A Dark Place to Die by Ed Chatterton. The scriptwriters include Paul Duane, Rob Cawley and Sarah Smith. Commenting on the partnership, Escapade Media MD Natalie Lawley said: “In the growing world of international coproductions, it’s imperative to have a producer who can drive the project to distinction, especially in face of the strong competition. Tally’s work is proof of this and she is a perfect fit for this project.”

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

AMC feels Terror as Soderbergh goes west

Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh

US cable channel AMC is making headlines again this week by commissioning a 10-part anthology series based on a 2007 novel by Dan Simmons called The Terror.

Set in 1847, The Terror unfolds as a Royal Naval expedition searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks their ships and crew. The show continues the recent fascination with thrillers set against a backdrop of snow and ice (Fargo, Fortitude, Trapped and Liam Neeson movie The Grey, to name a few).

The Terror is being exec produced by Ridley Scott and will be adapted for the screen by David Kajganich, whose recent credits include the movie The Bigger Splash. Kajganich will also be a co-showrunner with Soo Hugh.

Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, said: “Originality is still something that gets our attention every day, and the very unique mixing of historical non-fiction with a gripping and imaginative science-fiction overlay in Dan’s novel is something we hadn’t seen before. That, combined with an exceptional team behind the project, made this something we really wanted to bring to air on AMC.”

Meanwhile, Netflix has ordered an original western series from director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. Called Godless, it is set in a 19th century New Mexico mining town.

As yet there are no more details. However, the news is generating a lot of excitement because of the Soderbergh/Frank link-up. The last time they worked together was on the acclaimed movie Out of Sight. Since then, Soderbergh has shifted much of his energy in the direction of TV with shows such as The Knick, while Frank has been screenwriting movies including Minority Report, The Wolverine and Marley & Me.

Fuller House has already been given a second run on Netflix
Fuller House, a revival of Full House, has already been given a second run on Netflix

Netflix has also renewed its revival of US family sitcom Full House for a second season. The reboot, titled Fuller House, follows a pregnant and recently widowed woman who is living with her younger sister, best friend and teenage daughter. They all help to raise her two boys and prepare for the birth of the new baby. The original Full House aired on US network ABC from 1987 to 1995.

Elsewhere, projects now getting kickstarted out of the UK include Tina and Bobby, a three-part drama from ITV that will celebrate the life of England football legend Bobby Moore and his wife. The project writer is Lauren Klee, who has a strong track record on shows like EastEnders, Waterloo Road and Holby City.

Meanwhile, Colin Callender’s indie prodco Playground has picked up the rights to Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley’s book The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. It plans to make a TV series based on the book, which charts Kingsley’s journey to 17 countries where he met hundreds of refugees making their way across deserts, seas and mountains in a bid to reach Europe.

Discussing the decision to acquire the book, Sophie Gardiner, creative director of Playground’s UK office, said: “The New Odyssey is an epic piece of journalism that provides an intimate account of the people caught up in one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the Second World War. We believe this can be TV at its best – powerful, emotional and compelling storytelling that explores the complexities and human dimensions of the biggest story of our time.”

Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey
Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey

One of the most eye-catching stories to have come out of the US TV business in recent weeks was the news that Channing Dungey, executive VP of drama at Disney-owned network ABC, was being promoted to entertainment president, replacing incumbent Paul Lee. The story came as a surprise and got people wondering about how it might affect decisions over cancellations and renewals.

Well, Dungey hasn’t wasted any time making her mark, giving early renewals to a huge swathe of ABC shows this week. Among these are dramas like Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On the comedy front, Fresh off the Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Black-ish and The Middle got the nod.

Dungey’s renewals are interesting for a few reasons. First, because it looks like she is playing safe in season one. Rather than rip up the schedule, she has decided to play the percentages and give herself time to settle in. Second, because she has renewed the shows much earlier than Lee had a habit of doing. This is her way of quickly distinguishing herself from her predecessor.

Finally, Dungey’s list of renewals is also notable because of what she has not yet committed to. Long-running procedural Castle (nearly at the end of season eight), for example, has not yet been given the OK. Dungey has also delayed decisions on four other scripted series, Nashville, The Muppets, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Galavant.

Castle stands a reasonable chance of being renewed if star Nathan Fillion is prepared to sign up for a new season. However, the other series are harder to call.

Galavant's chances of renewal on ABC look shaky
Galavant’s chances of renewal on ABC look shaky

In January, Paul Lee said Nashville would probably be back for a fifth season. But the show has never really been a massive ratings hit, so it might not secure the same support from Dungey. In the case of The Muppets, a strong start has given way to sub-par ratings. But this is a Disney-owned property so ABC won’t necessarily want to give up on it just yet. Similarly, Agent Carter hasn’t been particularly strong in ratings terms but it does come from the Disney-Marvel stable of scripted shows.

Galavant, a musical comedy/fantasy series, is coming to the end of its second season and probably looks like the easiest of the five to say goodbye to. Ratings haven’t been especially strong and there’s no obvious Disney 360-degree reason to keep it alive. That said, it does have a top creator behind it in the shape of Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars). So that might be enough to persuade ABC to give the show another chance.

Finally, in Scandinavia, Swedish commercial broadcaster TV4 has ordered two 10-part seasons of a medical drama based on a Finnish format called Nurses, produced by Yellow Film & TV and distributed by Eccho Rights. Jan Blomgren, CEO of Swedish production company Bob Films, said: “The original version of Nurses is well written and produced. We believe the audience in Sweden will relate to real stories in a glossy drama series.”

This isn’t the first time a Finnish drama has been adapted for the other Nordic territories. It’s also just happened with DRG-distributed thriller Black Widows.

Although the Finns make dramas to a decent standard, tight budgets mean their shows often aren’t glossy enough to appeal to audiences in the other Nordic markets. In the case of Nurses, a third season is about to air on YLE in Finland. Eccho Rights, which licensed the format to Sweden, has also sold it into the UK. At the same time, it has licensed the first two Finnish seasons to ProSiebenSat.1. Eccho will also sell the Swedish version of the show internationally.

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

Modus: Is the TV4 drama Nordic Noir’s next big hit?

DQ travels to Stockholm to speak to the cast and creatives behind Modus, a new thriller hoping to change the landscape of the Swedish crime genre.

It’s a sunny September day beside Ladugårdslandsviken, a boat-lined bay in the centre of Stockholm, as DQ arrives in the Swedish capital for the launch of Modus.

The eight-part series tells the story of a psychologist, Inger Johanne Vik, who becomes involved in the police hunt for the murderer of a female bishop. She later learns that her daughter witnessed another murder and that the two killings are connected as part of a spate of hate crimes, and unwittingly puts herself and her family in danger.

Based on Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not), it is the first series produced by Miso Film’s Swedish base, led by Sandra Harms, and airs on TV4. The show is distributed by FremantleMedia International.

TV4’s head of drama Josefine Tengblad, who was previously an executive producer for the commercial network before starting her new role in April, has been looking for the channel’s next big drama for four years and had many projects in development, but she says it was clear this was the right show to bring to air.

Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik
Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik

“This is eight episodes of one story. TV4 hasn’t done that in eight years,” Tengblad says. “It’s mostly been 90-minute dramas. Wallander and Beck have been huge brands for us and have been a great success. But I felt that we needed to step into this area. We have to do these series because that’s the future. We’re really ready for it now and the audience is ready.

“It’s harder as a commercial channel, of course. We have commercial breaks and people are more used to getting something a bit easier. It’s important to get the best team behind and in front of the camera and then to get something that has quality storytelling. It’s interesting to see how the audience will react because it’s so important. This will open doors for future projects.”

Judging by the ratings for the show’s debut this week, it’s a risk that could pay off. The first episode drew 1.22 million viewers to TV4 at 21.00, scoring a 36.4% audience share – making it TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years (Inkognito debuted to 1.28 million viewers in January 2013).

Producer Harms says of the show’s format: “It’s told from a different angle. Our main character is not a policewoman, she’s a profiler and psychologist. So we tell stories about people, not about the investigation. We decided to limit the number of scenes during the investigation as much as we could so we didn’t get the obvious police series that we’ve seen a lot in Swedish television.

“We really focused on the characters rather than the investigation. That’s also a challenge because in the first two episodes, the main character is still not involved so we have to push the story in different ways. From episode three, she gets into the investigation.”

Integral to the project are Danish writing duo Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe (Unit One, The Team), who embarked on their first ever adaptation with Modus.

Brostrøm says: “Josefine and Sandra called us and introduced us to the book. Sandra then came to Copenhagen and it was a perfect match between us.

Modus is TV4's biggest drama launch in more than two years
Modus is TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years

“We were afraid of doing an adaptation in the beginning – it’s a private room you enter between the novel writer and her readers. It’s a difficult place to be, so we talked about it a lot. But we were fascinated to get under the skin of another writer and develop it from there. We were also in a place where we thought it would be nice to do something different and have a new challenge. It was important that we had the right team, and the four of us were a perfect match from the beginning.”

Thorsboe says he and Brostrøm were interested in twisting the crime genre by creating a “whydunnit,” rather than a traditional ‘whodunnit.’ They then drafted an outline of the entire story. “That’s really important,” he says. “Then we split up and had big battles about who wrote the best scenes!”

Brostrøm, who is now writing season two of European crime drama The Team with Thorsboe, continues: “But we agree about the whole story and the storyline, and we discuss the scenes. When it comes to the writing, we have to sit alone. We’ve been working together for 15 years. In the beginning, we wrote on the same computer, line by line. But eventually we built up another way of working because when you’re together that many hours, you have to find freedom in your own writing.

“Sometimes you can kill it if you keep talking about it – you just have to write and see what comes up in the moment. That’s why we’ve balanced it that way, and it works very well for us.

“We spend so much time talking and outlining but when it comes to the writing, we split up. Afterwards we read what each other has been writing and we discuss it and we argue again!”

The pair often rewrote scenes as they found the characters developing through different drafts and meetings with Tengblad and Harms, but all four creatives worked closely with concept director Lisa Siwe and director Mani Maserrat throughout the process to bring their shared vision of the series to air.

The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)
The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)

Siwe (The Bridge), who directed the first four episodes, says she found the project interesting from the moment she read the script: “I liked the characters and the fact it was a character-based story. For me, it always starts with character. It also has a strong and complex woman as the main character and it was political. It had so many aspects – it was not only a crime story, it was also about family. This was something new. The characters and the families were as exciting as the crime story.”

Speaking about Modus’s tone, Siwe says she wanted it to have a sense of heightened reality – believable but not necessarily realistic. “I wanted it to feel like a feature, realistic in its emotions and full of contrast in the colours, from light and dark to the city and the forest and the story,” she explains.

“Together with the set designer and cinematographer, we wrote a bible for what we were going to make. In Sweden we often do very realistic dramas but I wanted this to be in a universe of its own. We had such a great team. There was so much love in this project, in front of the camera and behind. Everyone felt they were doing something important.”

For co-director Mani Maserrat, who took charge of episodes five to eight, the show was a chance to develop his skills behind the camera. “I usually work with handheld cameras so because Lisa started it, it was a great experience to be forced to use American cinematic filmmaking techniques, using a dolly and wide shots,” he says. “Now I will continue to explore. I feel like I’ve developed as a director.”

Discussions are now taking place to decide which of Holt’s novels – there are five in the Vik series – could be adapted next if a second season is greenlit. One thing’s for sure, though – crime is still the genre of choice for viewers in Scandinavia.

“Crime still works so well,” says Tengblad. “We try to push it and make new types of crime series. In this series, you leave the police station and it’s more about what’s happening to the characters. You feel the audience wants that, and that’s super exciting for us.”

Harms adds: “This is a really big investment and let’s hope it goes really well because we really want TV4 as a commissioner for quality drama. SVT is doing it too but we need one more.”

The fact that Modus isn’t your typical crime drama was a big draw for many members of the cast. Melinda Kinnaman (Ørnen), who plays Inger Johanne Vik, says she had previously avoided police stories. “When I heard about it, I thought it sounded like another Swedish crime series. But when I learnt more about the ambition of the show and how the scriptwriters wanted to make every character rich and complex, I wanted to do it,” she explains.

“These scriptwriters are so good at not saying too much. You don’t understand exactly what each character is. As in real life, we’re all full of contradictions and they really captured that. Sometimes Swedish TV is more simplified and you don’t have that, so it’s very special. TV can be really fast. Here it felt like everybody wanted it to be as good as possible. The most important thing was to ensure the show was really good quality, and I think we managed it.”

In the series, Kinnaman’s Vik partners with police officer Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlén) to find the murderer. While Norlén has played lots of policeman, he says Modus was very different from what he had done before.

“This was new for me,” he says. “I like to think he’s a policeman but he’s in a thriller. That’s the difference with this kind of role. I also liked that we were doing one book for eight episodes. Usually we do 90 minutes for one book. In this series you really get to know the families and then there’s a murder and you see how it affects them. It’s very unusual. And it’s a nice world of characters that they’ve built.

The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop
The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop

“When I watch series like The Wire, I like to get to know people. I’d like to see more of that in Sweden, not just one case per episode.”

Married actors Cecilia Nilsson (Morden) and Krister Henriksson (Wallander) reprise their personal relationship as the Bishop and her husband. Henriksson signed on having previously worked with Tengblad. “Josefine was the producer of the Wallander movies and I like to work with people who I like, who I have confidence in, and I have a great confidence in her,” he says. “When she became the head of TV4 drama, she asked me about this show and, without reading the script, I said I would do it because of her. I saw the first episode and I don’t regret it.

“It’s a new genre. Wallander and Beck were more or less three hours with all the commercials. This is just one hour (per episode). And that’s quite new. It’s not crime, it’s more of a thriller.”

Nilsson, who will appear in SVT drama Springfloden (Spring Tide) in 2016, adds: “There is an interesting underlying story that will reveal itself. Anne is a fantastic writer and her spirit is very well taken care of in the series.”

Fellow cast members Simon J Berger (Torka aldrin tårar utan handskar), who plays Vik’s ex-husband Isak Aronson, and Alexandra Rapaport (Ulrika Sjöberg) both felt the script was too good to turn down.

“I thought it was another Nordic crime show but then when I read it, I realised it was a drama, a thriller. Both that genre, which interests me, and the quality of the script really made me keen on doing it,” Berger says. “It’s got a lovely quality and both the team and the cast are absolutely amazing. The plot is not just the case and then some drama scenes sprinkled on top. Here the drama storylines are the plot and among those plotlines there’s also the case.”

Rapaport (Morden i Sandhamn) adds: “It’s a great script and all of us had discussions with Lisa about our characters to develop them so that we’re not just a function, we’re real people in the series.”

Based on a book by a Norwegian writer, written by Danish writers and produced by a Swedish production company for a Swedish broadcaster, Modus is a truly Scandinavian production. And with the demand for a new thriller to follow the success of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Modus might just be what the international television market has been waiting for.


 

Anne Holt
Anne Holt

Holt’s life of crime

As one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime novelists, Anne Holt admits she was reluctant to allow a new television adaptation of one of her books and was waiting for the right team to come along.

With Miso Film and TV4 behind Modus, she thinks she’s found it – and the author likes what she’s seen so far.

“I really love it,” she tells DQ. “I’ve seen the first six chapters and I’m very impressed, both when it comes to the script – they’ve taken care of my universe in a very respectful way but still managed to convert it into a TV series in a fantastic way – and the actors.”

In particular, Holt speaks warmly of scriptwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe and says she was happy to leave her story in their hands, staying in the background during production.

“I love Peter and Mai’s earlier series,” she says. “You can’t argue with success. They have three Emmys – they know what they’re doing. The producer Sandra Harms made enquiries with several Swedish scriptwriters and was just not satisfied with them, so then she said, ‘Let’s try to go for the best.’

“Peter and Mai were somewhat reluctant to do Modus – they never do adaptations – but they’ve done an excellent job. I know a lot of authors who have had their work adapted and they all seem a bit unsatisfied afterwards. They feel something is lost or wrong. But this story has gained something.”

With her background working for Norwegian broadcaster NRK and as a police officer, lawyer and journalist – not to mention a short spell as minister for justice – Holt’s novels feature plots rooted in problems with society, such as Modus’s exploration of hate crime.

“As a writer I’m always asked if I have profited from the fact I’ve covered so many areas in my working life, but I make up my people. They’re not based on real people,” she explains. “My strength is probably that I’ve lived for a long time and I’ve met a lot of people, spoken to a lot of people and read a lot of newspapers. My position as a crime writer in Scandinavia has made it easier to do research because I can pick up the phone and call anyone.

“I was in the police force for two years and made some connections there, so if I need to know what the inside of a police car looks like, they can show me. That’s a benefit, but otherwise life experience is what inspires me and gives me my main advantage as a writer.

“My main goal is always to write a story that is entertaining. I write suspense, but it’s no fun for me or the reader if it doesn’t reflect my political engagement. My latest book is about extremism. I’ve written about child abuse, racism, everything.”

The BBC is adapting another of Holt’s novels, 1222, which features police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen, the author’s most prolific character. But would she ever write an original story for television?

“I’m too old to learn new skills. Why should I write TV when they do such an excellent job? I should stick with what has given me quite a comfortable life for the last 25 years.”

tagged in: , ,