Valkyrien tells the story of a respected physician who is desperately seeking a cure for his dying wife. When the hospital stops her treatment, he continues to work in secret, aided by a former patient at their illegal clinic deep beneath the streets of Oslo.
Here, actor Pål Sverre Hagen and head writer and director Erick Richter Strand talk about the origins of the show and why they were attracted to it.
Strand also reveals the writing process behind the drama and how he juggled his writing and directing duties.
Valkyrien is is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK, and is distributed by About Premium Content. Streaming service Walter Presents has acquired the show for the US and UK.
Seven more series will take part in this year’s coproduction pitching session at the Berlin Film Festival – but what became of the shows that previously pitched for coproduction partners?
In the increasingly expensive business of television drama, piecing together the financial plan to pay for these shows has become more important than ever.
Since 2015, the Berlin Film Festival has invited TV projects to pitch for coproduction and financing partners at the CoPro Series, part of the Berlinale Coproduction Market.
Ahead of this year’s event, which takes place this week, seven shows have been selected for the exclusive pitching session. They include Freud, from Bavaria Fernsehproduktion and Satel Film (Germany and Austria); Cognition, from Catalyst Global Media and A Better Tomorrow Films (UK and US); Omerta, from Caviar (Belgium); and Metro, from Kelija (France).
The line-up is completed by State of Happiness, from Maipo Film (Norway); Hausen, from Tanuki Films (Bulgaria); and Warrior, which comes from Miso Film (Denmark).
But what has become of the shows that have been pitched in previous years? Here, DQ looks back at some of the series that have taken part to find out what happened next.
Valkyrien (pitched in 2015)
This Norwegian drama, produced by Tordenfilm, debuted in January on NRK, with 1.2 million viewers watching the first two episodes. It was also picked up by networks in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and will launch in the UK on Channel 4’s international drama-focused digital platform Walter Presents.
Written and directed by Erik Richter Strand, Valkyrien tells the story of a physician who fakes his terminally ill wife’s death but keeps her secretly alive in an induced coma while he desperately tries to find a cure for her illness. To finance his endeavours, he is forced to make alliances with the criminal world and treat a variety of patients who need to stay off the grid.
Babylon Berlin (2015)
This groundbreaking new German series (pictured top) brings together pay TV giant Sky Deutschland and public broadcaster ARD, as well as coproducers X Filme Creative Pool and Beta Film.
Based on the series of novels by Volker Kutscher, it tells the story of police inspector Gereon Rath (played by Volker Bruch) as he tackles crime in 1920s Berlin – the most exciting city in the world, set between drugs and politics, murder and art, emancipation and extremism.
Currently in post-production, it is due to debut on Sky on October 13 and then on ARD later in 2018. International broadcasters to have acquired the series include Sky UK, Sky Italia, Spain’s Movistar+ and Belgium’s Telenet, as well as SVT Sweden, NRK Norway, DR Denmark, YLE Finland and RUV Iceland.
Tabula Rasa (2015)
Produced by Belgium’s Caviar, Tabula Rasa is currently in post-production and is scheduled to debut this October on VRT. It is distributed internationally by ZDF Enterprises.
Starring Veerle Baetens, the show centres on Mie, a young woman locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. She is visited by detective inspector Wolkers, who is trying to solve a disturbing missing-persons case when it transpires Mie was the last person to be seen with Thomas Spectre before he vanished.
It appears to be a cut-and-dried case for the experienced DI Wolkers – except his only witness is a woman suffering from acute memory loss. In order to solve the puzzle and find Thomas, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her past.
Tabula Rasa is written by Malin-Sarah Gozin (Clan) alongside Christophe Dirickx and Baetens.
Das Verschwinden (The Vanishing, 2016)
Written by Bernd Lange and Hans-Christian Schmid, this show unfolds in Forstenau, a small town close to the Czech border. When 20-year-old Janine Grabowski (Elisa Schlott) disappears, no one suspects foul play except her mother, Michelle (Julia Jentsch), who is forced to begin the search on her own. But the more she learns about her daughter and her surroundings, the more she wonders how much her own behaviour in the past has helped to create a network of lies and secrets, in which Janine is not the only victim.
Currently in post-production after shooting finished in December, The Vanishing is produced by Germany’s 23/5 Filmproduktion. Since it was pitched at Berlinale, regional German broadcasters ARD Degeto, BR, NDR and SWR have come on board, with the series due to air on national public broadcaster Das Erste later this year. Coproducer Mia Film from the Czech Republic is also attached.
This drama centres on a flamboyant Turkish family that immigrates to the Netherlands in the 1980s. It follows Osman and Cansu Çelik and their four adolescent children, who each have to find their own way to adulthood, pulled between a seemingly more communal life in spacious and sunny Turkey and an individual, modern existence in the Netherlands.
Written by Sacha Polak and Stienette Bosklopper, it is produced by Circe Films. NTR in the Netherlands and BNN-VARA will broadcast the show.
The Illegal (2016)
From Conquering Lion Pictures and Canadian broadcaster CBC, The Illegal is based on a book by Lawrence Hill and reunites the team behind The Book of Negroes, which was also based on a novel by Hill.
Described as a dystopian story by writer and director Clement Virgo, the novel tells the story of Keita Ali, a refugee compelled to leave his homeland and flee to a nearby wealthy nation – a country engaged in a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
There, Keita becomes a part of the new underground. He learns what it means to live as an illegal: surfacing to earn cash prizes by running local races and assessing whether the people he meets will be kind or turn him in. As the authorities seek to arrest Keita, he strives to elude capture and ransom his sister, who has been kidnapped.
It is currently in its second phase of script development, with shooting scheduled for January 2018.
Wars Inc (2016)
This newsroom-based drama, hailing from Israel’s Drama Team, is currently in development.
Norway’s NRK is blending medical drama with thriller in Valkyrien, which sees a doctor fighting to save his dying wife beneath the streets of Oslo. DQ catches up with writer/director Erik Richter Strand.
As plot lines go, it certainly catches your attention. “It’s about a doctor trying to find a cure for his dying wife – while everyone thinks she’s dead,” says Erik Richter Strand of Norwegian drama Valkyrien.
The eight-part drama, due to air on NRK in early 2017, focuses on Ravn (Sven Nordin), a respected physician who is desperately trying to save the life of his wife Vilma (Pia Halvorsen). But when the hospital ends her treatment, he continues working at a secret underground facility, aided by corrupt civil defence man Leif (Pål Sverre Hagen), who is also a doomsday prepper and a former patient of Ravn.
Writer/director Strand (pictured instructing actors above) says the show – produced by Tordenfilm and distributed by About Premium Content – combines a medical drama that, at its heart, is about life and death, with thriller elements to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It has already been picked up by UK VoD service Walter Presents and will have its world premiere at C21’s International Drama Summit later this month.
Central to the story is its main location, from which the show also takes its name. “The name comes from an abandoned metro station in Oslo – Valkyrien Square station,” explains Strand. “It was shut down in 1985 – you won’t know it’s there unless you know about it. That station became the setting for our series. The main character has a dark secret he needs to protect and there’s something unsettling about the setting being underground, right under your feet.
“Once you get the idea of doing it that way, it really lifts everything. Everything is heightened and falls into place at the same time. It has this great name and a feeling of secrets and suspense. We shot inside the station but once you go through the doors [to Ravn’s chambers], the interior was filmed in a studio. We worked hard to keep the illusion of everything happening underground. We also shot in real locations around Oslo – we got access to places and locations people won’t have visited. It’s not ‘postcard’ Oslo! Putting it all together to create a seamless universe was something we spent a long time on.”
Shooting took place over 110 days from August 2015 to April this year, with Strand directing every episode. However, he was often jumping back and forth between the writers room as the early footage revealed how the characters were developing on screen.
“I love it because you can write about things you’re already shooting and you can adapt,” he says. “I also feel it’s the best way to get the most out of time and budget constraints. It gives us room to place resources where we need them most. But it’s a delicate balance between enjoying that creative freedom and feeding the production office and crew members, who want to have a shooting schedule.”
“I do continue to write throughout shooting but it’s good for everybody to have major decisions made long before you start shooting. It’s all about time. Writing and directing are two full-time jobs, so doing them together is something you want to line up as parallel as possible, but it’s also very fulfilling.”
Though the basic premise of the show – a doctor secretly treating his wife – was set up before he joined the series, Strand’s vision was supported by writers Thomas Seeberg Torjussen, Bjørn Ekeberg and Kathrine Valen Zeiner, who each supported the ‘voice’ of the show.
“I hope viewers will be intrigued,” Strand adds. “It doesn’t just stroke viewers in the direction of their fur. It sometimes goes the opposite way. We’re challenging the viewers with Leif and his desire to live outside the system, but with Ravn and his wife it’s also a contemporary love story.”
In a relatively quiet week on the commissioning front, one of the more interesting stories is that US network CBS is developing a prequel to its hit comedy series The Big Bang Theory.
Now in its 10th season, the Chuck Lorre/Bill Prady-created show continues to attract an audience in excess of 14 million, so it’s no surprise that CBS would want to build on that strength.
According to US reports, Lorre, Prady and showrunner Steve Molaro will oversee the project, which will focus on the younger years of key character Sheldon Cooper. None of The Big Bang Theory cast will be involved in the new sitcom except Jim Parsons, who plays Cooper and will executive produce the spin-off.
Interestingly, rival network ABC has also announced plans for a spin-off from its sitcom The Goldbergs, created by Adam Goldberg. Unlike the CBS project, this will be a sequel as opposed to a prequel. The Goldbergs, now in its fourth season, is set in the 1980s, but the new show will be set in the 1990s. It will star Bryan Callen, who plays a gym teacher in the current series.
The spin-off trend is not new – think Cheers/Frasier and Friends/Joey. But it fits well alongside the TV industry’s growing reliance on TV-to-movie spin-offs and TV reboots, giving networks a promotional boost from the outset.
And, for the most part, it works well. In the drama procedural arena, for example, we’ve seen franchises like Gotham (ABC), CSI and JAG/NCIS (both CBS) prosper, while Dick Wolf has created an entire world out of Chicago-based dramas for NBC. More recently, there have been examples such as NBC’s The Blacklist: Redemption and CBS’s The Good Fight, the latter an extension of The Good Wife.
US cable network AMC has also got in on the act with Breaking bad spin-off Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead spin-off Fear The Walking Dead – both of which have rated well enough to justify their existence.
There are also reports that Netflix is planning a Daredevil spin-off with The Punisher (based on the Marvel Comics anti-hero), while outside of the US the success of ITV’s Morse prequel Endeavour has encouraged the network to follow up with a Prime Suspect prequel called Tennison (coming soon). In Italy, Rai has also enjoyed decent levels of success with Young Montalbano, a prequel of its hit detective series Inspector Montalbano.
However, as the Friends/Joey example shows, spin-offs aren’t always guaranteed to succeed. And there has been a more recent example of an unsuccessful spin-off in the shape of Ravenswood, which grew out of Freeform’s hit series Pretty Little Liars. But overall there is enough of a hit record for networks to take notice.
There are a couple of reasons why they seem to stick. One is that spin-offs often centre on actor/character combinations that the audience still loves – unlike TV reboots where the audience is being asked to like something that was popular 20 to 30 years ago. Another is that they are generally written by the same team that created the original, so there is a continuation of tone that audiences connect with. Again, expecting a new creative team to run with something that is decades old is not a simple process.
Prequels, of course, require the audience to accept a new actor or actress in the central role. But there is something inherently appealing about seeing the youthful back story of a mature character you’ve grown to love over several seasons. Besides, the time gap from original series to spin-off is usually shorter than the kind of TV reboots we’ve witnessed in the last few years.
In fact, the hit rate on spin-offs is such that networks would be foolish not to at least consider them. Is there any reason, for example, why ABC would not consider some kind of extension of Modern Family? Imagine a young Phil Dunphy at college – the only downside here being the likelihood of getting anyone to live up to the high standards set by actor Ty Burrell. Or what about a Game of Thrones prequel? It will be a major surprise if HBO lets its biggest franchise go without trying to create a follow-up.
Returning briefly to the subject of comedy, there are also reports this week that NBC is developing a US remake of UK comedy Pulling, which first aired on BBC3. The original show was written by Sharon Horgan and Denis Kelly, who are attached to the US adaptation as exec producers.
Actor/writer Horgan is already well known to the US market having written HBO comedy Divorce, which has Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role. She was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe, alongside Rob Delaney (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series).
Also this week, pundits are predicting that ABC’s legal drama Conviction is destined for cancellation. The first season of the show, which stars Hayley Atwell, has been limited to 13 episodes, which doesn’t augur well.
However, this setback doesn’t seem to have reduced US network interest in legal subject matter. CBS, for example, is developing a drama about a US senator who withdraws from office to join his brother’s private-investigation law firm, unearthing the truth in high-profile and top-secret cases.
In other stories this week, Glee star Darren Criss is working with Fox on a new project called Royalties. According to Entertainment Weekly, Royalties is a “workplace comedy detailing the unseen, unsung, and unglamorous heroes behind the pop stars – the producers and songwriters whose day job it is to crank out hits. Sometimes it’s sexy, but most of the time it’s just like every other workplace: day-to-day minutiae, office politics, and clashing personalities. Royalties is about a small publishing company, Royalty Music, and a one-hit wonder who returns to the fold in the hopes of making it big again.”
Fox is also trying to get into the vampire scripted series business. This week it ordered a pilot based on Justin Cronin’s boot trilogy The Passage.
Away from US drama, Netflix has acquired the upcoming second season of Fauda, a hard-hitting Israeli political thriller that follows a unit of the Israeli army working undercover in Palestine. The global SVoD platform has also picked up the show’s first season, which initially aired on cable broadcaster Yes last year.
Following up on last week’s column about Nordic drama, this week has seen UK-based SVoD platform Walter Presents pick up Valkyrien from distributor About Premium Content.
The eight-part series, produced by Tordenfilm for NRK and written by showrunner Erik Richter Strand (Occupied), revolves around an illegal hospital hidden in an Oslo underground station. It tells the story of a physician who fakes his terminally ill wife’s death to secretly keep her alive in an induced coma while he tries to find a cure. To finance his activities, he makes alliances with the criminal world and treats patients who need to stay off the grid.
In the UK, meanwhile, BBC3 has joined forces with actor Idris Elba on a series of short films that will bring established talent together with new writers and actors. Called Five by Five, the project will consist of five standalone five-minute shows that are set in London and question identity and changing perceptions.
Elba will appear alongside talent such as Nina Yndis (Peaky Blinders) and Andrei Zayats (The Night Manager) in the shows, which are being produced by Elba’s production company Green Door Pictures and BBC Studios.
The films are written by Cat Jones (Flea, Harlots) and new writers Lee Coan, Namsi Khan, Selina Lim and Nathaniel Price.
“I have spent time with these talented five writers and observed their storylining process,” said Elba. “The scripts are uplifting and incredible, and with this group of young actors now attached to star, BBC3 viewers are in for an absolute blast. I couldn’t be prouder of what they have achieved.”