Danish drama Den Som Dræber (Those Who Kill) has returned for a new season, eight years after it first aired. Producer Zire Schucany talks DQ through the process of rebooting the dark crime series.
When a television drama is cancelled, it doesn’t take long for social media to become awash with messages calling for streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon to save them. Even up-and-coming rivals such as BritBox and Acorn TV have moved to resurrect series deemed prematurely canned.
Now Nordic streamer Viaplay has joined the game, following the launch of Den Som Dræber – Fanget af Mørket (Darkness – Those Who Kill). The gloomy crime drama, about a specialist police unit that deals with serial killers, first aired on Denmark’s TV2 in 2011. Eight years later, the series has been rebooted for Viaplay with a brand new cast and format. Where the first season told five stories across 10 episodes, this new run carries one serialised tale across eight instalments.
What links the two seasons, apart from the title, is the central relationship between a detective and a criminal profiler. In this new story, police investigator Jan Michelsen is looking for 17-year-old Julie, who disappeared six months earlier, when he finds the body of a girl of a similar age. Then when another girl is reported missing, he calls in profiler Louise Bergstein to get inside the mind of a killer and help him find the two kidnapping victims.
“Work started on a sequel with TV2 but in the end they weren’t interested,” series producer Zire Schucany explains. “But Viaplay were really excited about having the first season on their platform, so they really wanted to do a second season.
“It’s a reboot; it’s quite different in every way except the fact it’s still a crime series and a ‘whydunnit.’ In all other aspects, we have rebooted everything. That was quite interesting for me to be part of because I wasn’t part of the first season.”
The change in format, from two-part stories to one serialised plot, came down to the ambition of the filmmakers to go deep inside the mind of a serial killer. “It’s not just about why it happened, we’re trying to understand their motivations,” Schucany says. “We not only see them as a serial killer, but we ask what else do they do? Who is the person behind it? That was the ambition of a serialised show. So not only do we follow the investigation but the murderer and some of the victims too.”
Schucany left film school in 2017 and linked up with Those Who Kill producer Miso Film in June that year, immediately joining the production, which by that stage was into the writing process led by head writer Ina Bruhn.
The starting point, she says, was introducing the police officer and the profiler into a story where viewers will know who the killer is from the outset. “Jan and Louise quite quickly understand each other. The two of them have different abilities and they need to work together. The thing about them is Jan is more optimistic in believing they can save these girls and, because he has worked this case for so long, he feels obliged towards the families. He feels an obligation to find these girls. Louise is more pessimistic because of her experiences on other cases. That’s the difference between them, but they know they need each other to find the girls.”
On screen, Kenneth M Christensen (Borgen, Arvingerne) plays Jan, with Natalie Madueño (Bedrag, Kriger) as Louise. “With this being a dark show and going into a serial killer environment, Natalie plays Louise pretty well. She played a similar character in Bedrag [Follow the Money]. She has an amazing presence – she lights up the room. Kenneth was also great to work with. They have been an amazing pair.”
Behind the camera, director Carsten Myllerup and cinematographer Eric Kress filmed all eight episodes during a five-month production period as the producers sought to ensure the series employed the same visual style through the season.
“They did everything,” Schucany says. “It’s a handful because they have to keep the context of the story. It’s a long time to shoot and they had to structure the editing process around it. Normally, you have one director go into edit while another director is shooting. We couldn’t do that, so we had to structure the editing differently. But it feels more like a vision from one person. You feel when you watch the whole series that it’s the vision of one director. When you watch some series, you can feel it’s a new director. It’s been so fun. It was a great shoot.”
Filming took place in Copenhagen and on the outskirts of the city in an area called Greve. And although the story takes place over three weeks, the crew were forced to contend with weather ranging from snow to brilliant sunshine, while Myllerup was simultaneously shooting scenes, preparing future sequences, scouting locations and editing. “Of course, he had help,” Schucany says, “particularly in the editing. But it was our ambition to have one director and it was great.”
Following its launch last month on Viaplay, the Fremantle-distributed series will also air on TV3 across Denmark, Norway and Sweden later this year. But while there are some lighter moments in the series, the fact it was made for a streaming service without a schedule meant this version of Those Who Kill could push further into areas a traditional broadcaster might not be willing to enter. The word ‘Darkness’ isn’t part of the title for nothing.
“We’re not afraid to go into the darkness,” Schucany admits, adding that the tempo of the story also differs from other crime dramas. “It’s not very fast-paced. We took our time to go into the story and tell the story. The tempo is very different. In Denmark, when you do a crime show, you think of Nordic noir and everything is grey. We tried to a bit different and to not be afraid to go with some colours and go in a different direction.”
Swedish drama Eldmärkt (Hidden), commissioned by Nordic streaming platform Viaplay, is based on Filip Alexanderson’s novel in which dark secrets, unsuspected identities and supernatural forces converge in modern-day Stockholm.
The eight-part urban fantasy thriller stars Isabella Scorupco (GoldenEye) and August Wittgenstein (Das Boot), which mixes the paranormal, hard-hitting realism and psychological drama.
In this DQTV interview, Scorupco describes her character in the series as “the most empathetic person I’ve ever come across” who doesn’t care about looks or appearance.
The actor also discusses her love of working with directors, and opens up about her experiences in Hollywood after finding fame as Natalya Simonova in 1995 James Bond thriller GoldenEye, which was also Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007.
Hidden is produced by Yellow Bird (Wallander) in association with Tele München Gruppe and Lumière for Viaplay and Sweden’s TV3, and distributed internationally by Banijay Rights.
Swedish drama Den Inre Cirkeln (The Inner Circle) mixes political intrigue with personal dilemma as an ambitious minister plots his rise to the top. Writer and director Håkan Lindhé tells DQ about creating the series, which leaves the corridors of power for an altogether more hedonistic setting.
While Nordic noir is mostly associated with dark crime dramas like Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Denmark’s Borgen managed to conjure must-watch drama from the improbable source of coalition politics, winning an International Bafta in 2014.
Now, at a time when real-life politics are often stranger than the fictional shows set in the same world, a Swedish drama depicts the challenges facing an ambitious minister as he attempts to balance his family life with the demands of his day job.
Described as an intense, character-driven drama, Den Inre Cirkeln (The Inner Circle) is a thriller that plays out over the course of several days as enterprise minister David Ehrling (Niklas Engdahl) bids to become the next prime minister, all while his press officer Lena Nilsdotter (Nanna Blondell) attempts to keep his past misdemeanours away from prying journalists (Ebba Hultkvist and Melinda Kinnaman). Meanwhile, David must also juggle the demands of his job with his family life, which is under threat of falling apart.
“I think that’s the closest reference I can think of,” writer-director Håkan Lindhé says of the comparison to Adam Price’s Borgen. “In the second half, we go into the family drama a bit more. But for me, the main conflict is not so much about David versus the political world but the conflict within himself. Will he choose his career or his family? A lot of people can relate to that – I can, at least. It’s always a struggle. Do you pick up the kids from school or go to a meeting?”
That inner struggle is visible from the outset, with David clearly reluctant to leave his family when the prime minister suddenly summons him for a press conference at which she will announce her resignation. “Eventually, the price will be extremely evident for him. It may be too high. He has to choose,” Lindhé says.
Lindhé was first approached about the project in July 2017 and began writing in September that year. Commissioned by Nordic streaming platform Viaplay, the series is inspired by former Swedish political operative Per Schlingmann’s novel I Maktens Öga (In the Eye of Power), though Lindhé says that to call the series an adaptation would be disingenuous, owing to the number of changes that have been made.
“The book had some kind of political plot but it didn’t have what you need to make an interesting drama,” he explains. “The relationships between people were not very developed. The family almost didn’t exist, and the crazy brother [the disapproving Joel Ehrling, played by Olle Sarri] didn’t exist. So there were many elements I brought to the table as I wrote it because I had to widen the picture to make a bigger story out of it.”
In particular, Lindhé says the conflict between David’s political career and his family life didn’t exist at all in the book, while he also introduced an intriguing subplot involving Russians and the controversial sale of a harbour that could derail his leadership aspirations.
“I think Per was a bit shocked when he read the first episode and saw there was a brother, a different kind of a relationship with his wife and all that,” Lindhé notes. “But he was very open-minded and let me do it my way. I’m very happy about that.”
What was clear from the outset was that Lindhé wanted to present politicians in the series as “real human beings,” unlike the two-dimensional characters often portrayed on TV who are only interested in their image. That also opened up the opportunity for viewers to see both the good and bad in David – an ordinary person in an extreme situation.
David’s plight only worsens when an old friend reminds him of past loyalties on his way to the top, while his aide discovers him in bed with another woman. “We also decided early on that it doesn’t have to be true as a whole but everything separate could happen,” the writer says, referring to the scandals that occur during the series. “All these things could happen but it’s not really based on any real events. It’s possible it could happen and we’re trying to be as authentic as we can.”
Watching the first two episodes, what is notable is the fact that they both end on a nail-biting cliffhanger, with characters left at death’s door as the credits roll. It’s a feeling of suspense that Lindhé says will run throughout the drama, echoing the tension he carried with him during the writing process as he started to outline the episodes without a clear ending in sight.
Working with fellow writers Anna Platt and Maja Winkler, who each wrote episodes alongside Lindhé, they penned the first four episodes together before Lindhé began work on the final four. It was only then, he says, that he began to grasp the feeling of where the series would go. Episodes also begin with flashbacks or, in the case of episode one, a flash forward, to give context to a theme or relationship that features in that instalment.
“I had no idea how it would end,” he admits. “I think it’s really important, to me anyway, that I don’t know the ending myself. Then it’s boring to write. I want to explore it. I had this political plot but I wanted to see where the story would take me.”
But the ending he did come to was “the only ending,” he asserts. “It felt extremely natural because one thing led to another. I always try to think what is the natural choice in that situation because if you’re living under these conditions, what would anyone do? That’s how I tried to develop stories always. I hope it also adds to the authentic feeling of it. I hope they are choices anyone would make in that situation.”
As well as writing the majority of the series, Lindhé also directed the first two episodes and the concluding trio. He says he tries not to think about directing while he is writing, in order to ensure he doesn’t limit himself by considering what may or may not be achievable in production. But once the cameras are rolling, he says it’s much easier to direct a series having written it himself, as he already knows the answers to many of the questions a non-writing director might have.
In terms of filming The Inner Circle, Lindhé says he was looking a sense of authenticity and a tone that didn’t copy the cinematic language seen in other political series like Netflix’s House of Cards. “We didn’t have any dolly shots in corridors. We tried to be as close as we could to the characters, so we’re hand-held all the way through,” he reveals. “We didn’t want to put the camera in a position where that person would never be. The general idea was we wanted to be close to the characters and the camera should try to see what is inside the characters’ heads. That was the ambition.”
The series is set against the backdrop of Almedalen, an annual event held in a large park in Visby, on the island of Gotburg off Sweden’s east coast, where huge numbers of Swedish politicans, business leaders and influencers gather for meetings and, in the evenings, to let their hair down. The often-hedonistic festival atmosphere could not have been recreated, so the production spent five long days and nights shooting exterior scenes at Almedalen in July 2018. After that, the rest of the shoot was “a walk in the park,” Lindhé says, with a mansion in northern Gotland doubling for the Ehrling family’s summer home. A week of filming also took place in Berlin.
“We wanted to get out of the corridors and offices, and Almedalen was a great arena to do this,” he notes. “It was really refreshing.”
It’s that setting and the tone of the show that the leads Lindhé to believe The Inner Circle, which is produced by Fundament Film’s Håkan Hammarén, is quite different from anything else on Swedish television. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy during a production as this time,” he says. “Hakan is one of the best producers I’ve ever met because he has that unique view of how to deal with creators. He knows the only way to make a show really good is you find someone who has a vision and you let that person fly. I hope we are doing something really fantastic, but he gave me the feeling I could fly so I’m very happy about that.”
The series, distributed internationally by DRG, is due to launch on Viaplay across Scandinavia on March 22. In the meantime, it has already been nominated for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond prize, which recognises outstanding writing of a Nordic drama series. The winner will be announced at Göteborg Film Festival’s TV Drama Vision in the next two days.
“I hope people will start to see politicians as human beings – in a good way and a bad way,” Lindhé says of the impact of the show on viewers. “They are humans when they make their decisions and we should not always believe what we see, because there is a different world behind the headlines.”
Swedish political thriller Ingen utan skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) stars Jens Hultén as former arms dealer Robert Kastell, who is on an impassioned mission for revenge.
Having spent 30 years in exile after his escape from the corrupt Swedish weapons trade, Robert suffers a personal tragedy that he blames on the industry he left behind. However, his quest for revenge is thrown off course when he discovers he is a father and must protect his daughter.
With the help of a journalist, Robert must change his approach to bring down the man, and the industry, that took so much from him.
In this DQTV interview, Hultén and executive producer Helena Danielsson discuss the moral dilemmas at the heart of the series and what it says about contemporary Swedish society.
They also talk about how they have tried to push the boundaries of the Nordic noir genre that has proved so popular around the world.
Ingen utan skuld is produced by Brain Academy for Viaplay and distributed by Eccho Rights.
Scandinavian thriller The Lawyer may bear many of the hallmarks of Nordic noir, but this brighter series adds a new dimension to the ever-popular genre.
Despite the opening scene involving the brutal death of two people in a car bomb, it is difficult not to observe the warmth of Scandinavian drama The Lawyer.
Paradoxical though this may sound, it’s what gives the SF Studios-produced legal thriller a different feel to the long list of Nordic noir series of recent times.
The Lawyer centres on Frank Nordling, a young and promising defence lawyer who, along with his sister Sara, witnessed his parents’ death – the victims of the aforementioned car bomb – as a child. When he finds out who was responsible, he feels compelled to seek revenge.
So far so Scandi, but unlike its predecessors, The Lawyer’s action is not perpetually set in half-lit offices or dark, dank landscapes where the protagonists’ faces are obscured by shadow or washed out in monochrome. From the locations appearing in the first episode – a modern courtroom, a legal office in the centre of town, a nouveau riche mansion complete with pillars and swimming pool – you might think you are watching a daytime soap instead of a revenge thriller involving Stockholm’s criminal underworld. Even a murder on a boat is set in a prettily lit marina with a backdrop of distant, colourful fireworks.
Producer Nicklas Wikstrom Nicastro says this is no coincidence but, instead, part of the creative team’s desire to “add something to that [canon of] Scandinavian noir.”
Part of the show’s look can be attributed to Geir Henning Hopland, who directed the first five episodes. “He really has a sense of visuals,” says Nicastro. “We didn’t want to follow; we can use colour, we’re not all about everything [being in] different shades of grey, you know? We’ve found something here that has its place, it has an edge, even though it’s in the same camp of Scandinavian noir.”
Yet the series, produced for Viaplay and TV3 (Sweden and Denmark respectively) and distributed by StudioCanal, bears the hallmarks you would expect of the genre: corrupt police, psychologically damaged lead characters, murder and drugs. It’s clear the creators have gone to great lengths to depict the tension and intrigue Scandi noir commands, but the audience will feel it is still rooted in real life rather than the cinematic world of shows like The Killing. And this is not solely achieved by the lighting.
Jens Lapidus, internationally bestselling Nordic noir author and one of the people behind the concept for the series, believes a show must respect art and reality.
“There’s always this balance between real-life authenticity and dramaturgical effect,” he notes. “So, are you talking here about a documentary or some sort of reportage [style] or full-scale SFX, fantasy science-fiction stuff? You always have to land somewhere in between if you’re describing a real city, a real crime case or real human beings.
“So, in certain parts it’s not what would happen in the real world working as a police officer or a lawyer. Sometimes that’s itching to me, because I’m from the real world and I’m thinking, ‘No, this is not how it would work.’”
Part of this obsession over authenticity comes from Lapidus’s other career as a criminal defence lawyer, a position he has held for more than 15 years. As such, the environment of The Lawyer has been his “playground.” Lapidus says that, after seeing the input from the real courtrooms and underworld of Stockholm, and watching the finished product, “there’s so much in there that happened in real life.”
Lapidus’s attention to detail did not simply benefit the writers and the production team. Alexander Karim, who plays Nordling, says having the series based on real life was rewarding for the actors, allowing them to immerse themselves in the world their characters inhabit.
“I could move into the courthouse in Stockholm and just stay there – I was there for three months and I saw everything, every single case,” he says. “You have a lot of different sources to get your inspiration from. A small detail, for instance: Frank is supposed to be clean-shaven, and then I met with [bearded] Jens and I thought, ‘I want to look like that.’
“I want to base Frank on Jens. When I went into the fitting, they said you’re supposed to be clean-shaven, you’re supposed to be this young lawyer. But I’d been watching these defence attorneys in real life and none of them are clean-shaven, especially the young ones – they grow beards. The older they get, the more clean-shaven they get. It’s all about respect in the courtroom; it’s about not looking like a little kid, because no one’s going to believe you.”
Of course, this is still a piece of drama and Nicastro notes the setting for the series changed during the script development, with Viaplay wanting the show to be “bigger, greater.” It started out as a Stockholm-based programme, but with Sweden and Denmark so close, it became a Copenhagen- and Malmo-set series.
So where does The Lawyer sit in the pantheon of Scandi noir? Nicastro thinks it has evolved the genre through its modern take on the classic revenge tale.
“It has so many angles,” he enthuses. “Besides being a well-built thriller, we had this character Frank, all the rows, conflicts he has; he needs courage. This character is in an extreme situation seeking revenge.
“The story of revenge is so simple, but if the protagonists have moral issues, it adds a dimension. Take Hamlet – the great stories of revenge have these. We renew ourselves all the time. If you look at Scandinavian noir 10 to 15 years ago, we had all those police officers in trench coats solving crimes and everything.
“And if you compare that to The Lawyer, it’s still Scandi noir, the arena people know – the psychology, the inner demons – but we needed a new way to express it [and I think we’ve done that].”
Karim agrees that by making Frank a lawyer, it bucks the convention of the genre, which tends to focus on police officers.
“We’ve chosen another setting – we’re going into the courtroom. Courtroom dramas there are plenty of, but this is a courtroom thriller with elements of the police force, brothers and sisters, the family, so what makes it stand out is the setting.
“Law, and what it is in its essence, is such a beautiful way of telling a story of revenge. I went back to the movies of the 50 and 60s and watched every single lawyer movie there was before we did this. The one that falls closest to this is The Firm [the 1993 film starring Tom Cruise], that sort of infiltrating place where you have no friends and you have to get in there and find your way out, the good guy turns bad. Putting a lawyer in a morally ambiguous place is very interesting.”
Lapidus says The Lawyer twists the conventions of legal practice as much as it twists the genre. As a criminal defence lawyer, he adds, you have a set of rules to follow, set out by the Bar Association, the foremost of which is “loyalty to the client.”
“Not loyalty with the court, nor the police force; it’s not loyalty to society, or the truth,” he continues. “Now what happens if you take that rule and you twist it 180 degrees.”
In the series, which debuted last month on Viaplay, Frank’s faithfulness to this mantra is tested “in every scene,” Lapidus adds.
Despite The Lawyer’s creators believing they have added something different to the Nordic noir canon, some in the wider industry speculate the genre has had its day and the drama world has moved on.
Understandably, the team behind The Lawyer disagree, but Lapidus concedes that the unstable world we live in could be the reason for opinions changing.
“Why do you have the great interest still? Why don’t you see French, German stuff coming out the way you see [Scandinavian noir]?” he asks. “The reason the world has been so interested in Scandi noir in all its forms is because Scandinavia is probably one of the safest places on Earth, and out of that comes the most stories about killing and crime.
“I think that paradox has played very well because that makes people interested. I wonder whether that’s going to change, because we live in very insecure times. Now things [like murder and terrorism] do happen in Scandinavia because we don’t belong in secure times anymore.”
As such, people are looking for different kinds of drama, and Lapidus suggests that perhaps in a few years we might see the Scandinavian version of The Wire – gritty social realism that reflects today’s society.
If that is to be the next iteration of the genre, you can be sure it will extend the Scandi noir shelf-life, akin to the length of a Stockholm winter night.
Swedish actor Dragomir Mrsic and producer Nicklas Wikström Nicastro tell DQ about crime drama Alex, which turns the ‘good cop’ image on its head with a story about a corrupt officer in the pocket of the mafia.
When it comes to discussing his personal life, Swedish actor Dragomir Mrsic is as candid as they come. “Twenty years ago, I was on the other side of the law,” he admits. “I committed some robberies and was in jail, I escaped from court – I had a really bad life.”
It was through his life of crime, however, that he says he came to meet different kinds of police officers, the sort of cops that weren’t always portrayed on screen.
“I’ve been interested in movies since I was a kid – Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Dirty Harry, all kinds of cop movies,” says Mrsic, who co-created the series. “In Sweden, we have something similar to these cops, they are a little a bit older and always the good guy, but I wanted to show something [on television] that is more realistic to how we have it in Sweden because I’ve met them close up and they’re not always like this. So the idea came from there.”
Mrsic is talking about Alex, a six-part crime drama produced by SF Studios and Nevision for Nordic streaming platform Viaplay and distributed by About Premium Content. It debuted in November last year but had been in the works for eight years by the time it finally aired.
The actor had initially shot a short teaser to pitch to potential producers before he teamed up with Nicklas Wikström Nicastro and they began evolving the series, which Mrsic says has always been rooted in real life.
“It’s interesting because it’s based on reality,” he says. “Nothing has been made like this. I hope people enjoy it.”
The drama centres on Alex Leko (Mrsic), a police officer who earns extra cash by carrying out small jobs for the local mafia. When his detective partner gets killed in shady circumstances, Alex tries to cut his ties with the mob, they kidnap his son in return for one last job – to unmask a police snitch in their ranks.
The series is written by Niklas Rockström and Michael Hjorth, based on an idea by Mrsic and Mikael Cross.
“We were blown away by it. We loved the idea instantly and then we had to crack the story,” says producer Nicklas Wikström Nicastro. “It took a long time to develop but it is the reality of Scandinavian society. There is corruptness. It’s not as black and white as in traditional Scandinavian noir, where the cops are always good and you always see the good guys against the bad guys. We see that on the public broadcasters, everyone likes it. But movies could show police officers who were heroes, but they’re still doing coke; they have a bad side.
“HBO, Netflix and other streaming platforms and cable channels have much more value in the market now and when we pitched it to Viaplay, I have never closed a pitch so fast. They loved it. So the timing wasn’t right eight or six years ago. The timing was right now.”
What sort of partner has Viaplay been? “From my perspective, they are involved but they’re so respectful,” Nicastro says. “They want to know what’s the genre, what’s the big picture. We’re really doing a show with them, not for them. It’s a pleasure to work with them.”
Looking to push Alex further from the norms of Scandinavian crime series, the visual style also offers something different from anything else on television.
“It’s dirtier, but at the same time it’s more cinematic,” explains Nicastro. “You have really dramatic action.” One scene he describes sees Alex pinned down in a fire fight as he trades bullets with an enemy. “It’s a one-take steadicam shot. So it’s not Scandinavian noir television. We really wanted to push the visuals so it’s something within the Scandinavian noir spectrum but one step further.”
Mrsic, who says he didn’t go home for the 14-week shoot to ensure he could stay in character, continues: “The car chases look amazing, you don’t see them so often [in Swedish television]. Usually in Sweden, when you have a car chase, you see the start and the stop, you don’t see them in action.”
With season two already in development, Nicastro says the biggest challenge of making any series today is staying ahead of the audience.
“The audience is getting so much smarter all the time,” he says. “Just look at the biggest shows we have, Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. You sympathise with characters who have so many dark sides, and that’s the same with Alex.”
But he warns that as with every trend or popular cycle, international interest in Nordic dramas could one day fall out of fashion.
“That is why we have to find ways to renew it,” he adds. “Ten or 15 years ago we had Wallander – old guys in trench coats solving crimes. Then we had the Millennium films. We made a trilogy called Easy Money, it made a few waves and was groundbreaking.
“Today, we’re still doing great things. The whole genre of Scandinavian noir is very broad and lots of things fit into it. But we have to find ways to renew and push ourselves, and because if we were still making shows about men in trench coats solving crimes, no-one would care. We have to push ourselves. The bar is being raised all the time, the audience is getting smarter all the time. There are no easy ways [to succeed], basically.”
Ten years after Forbrydelsen (The Killing) first aired and with the final season of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) starting next month, Nordic crime drama has dominated the international landscape for a decade. But what does the future hold for the genre and where will those who make it go next?
The impact of Nordic noir has changed the landscape of television drama forever. It gave audiences around the world a taste for serialised TV beyond what comes out of the US, and spawned thousands of imitations, including high-profile Hollywood remakes such as AMC’s version of The Killing (based on Denmark’s Forbrydelsen) and FX’s version of The Bridge (originally Swedish/Danish drama Bron/Broen).
But in an industry that prides itself on ingenuity, the region does not want to be seen as resting on its laurels. In the small town of Lubeck, northern Germany, the film festival Nordic Film Days recently showcased the latest attempts to reboot the crime genre.
“We were nervous about the reviews,” says Bjorn Ekeberg, writer of Grenseland, TV2 Norway’s new series about an Oslo cop who goes to visit his home town only to find his family is implicated in a local murder. But much to Ekeberg’s delight, the reviews were very positive. One newspaper gave it a top rating, though the title of the review read: “Makes you forget you’re watching Nordic noir,” underlining the point not only that audiences at home are sometimes harder to please than foreign ones, but also that the backlash against genre is significant
Ekeberg, who had worked on Valkyrien, another hit from Norway, believes audiences and reviewers received Grenseland well because they were not merely watching a crime series. It’s a “family drama at its core,” he says. “The crime story is the ‘wrapping,’ so to speak.” This twist on the genre was noticed by Sky Deutschland and Netflix, which have bought the rights to air the eight-part series.
Innan vi dör (Before We Die) experiments with a different narrative style from what viewers are used to in Nordic crime. In the series from Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, detective Hanna Svensson discovers a new threat from a restructuring of power in Stockholm’s underworld.
But the story does not start with a spectacular murder that is then investigated over 10 episodes, a structure familiar to many crime drama viewers. “This is different,” says director Simon Kaijser. “It’s not relying one on question – who did it? – It’s relying on constant tension.”
“The fast pace is different to much of Scandi noir,” adds the show’s writer, Niklas Rockström. “Every scene is moving the story forward. In Wallander [a show for which Rockström also wrote episodes], the audience is always told how you get the information that then leads to the next scene. In Before We Die, we’re trying to jump to the next plot point. The Americans are good at that; we’re trying to use their way.”
Stella Blómkvist (pictured top) is the first original Icelandic show ordered by regional SVoD service Viaplay and was the most dramatic move away from the world of Nordic noir to be shown at Lubeck. “It’s noir,” says director Oskar Thor Axelsson, “but it’s not Scandi noir.”
The femme fatale character of Stella (who is based upon the heroine of a series of books by a mysterious and anonymous author rumoured to be part of Iceland’s political establishment), electronica soundtrack and neon visual style of the show give it an air of film noir on steroids rather than nordic noir’s naturalism. The world has its own rules that are not our reality. “You can get a crazy idea and throw it into the world and it will be fine, because that’s the world,” says Axelsson, a successful feature film director who also directed episodes of 2016 Icelandic hit Trapped.
Grenseland uses some of the familiar visual tropes of Nordic noir, such as beautiful shots of the forest on the border between Sweden and Norway, and thus eases the viewer into a world they are familiar with – but then gives them something different. Other shows, meanwhile, actively shun these tropes.
Before We Die does not make use of the famous aerial shots of lush Nordic landscapes or impressive settings (the classic example being the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen in The Bridge) that have come to define Nordic noir.
“We did not want to do that. The story is told from the point of view of the mother and son, shot on the ground, from their point of view,” says Kaijser, who is also a feature film director. Kaijser made the acclaimed film Stockholm East with producer Maria Nordenberg, who collaborated with him again on Before We Die.
Hassel, a Swedish series (also from Viaplay), is based on as series of pulp-fiction novels about a cop investigating serious crime in Stockholm. The books were adapted for the small screen in the 1980s and the recently rebooted version is very much in the trend of moving away from the visual style of Nordic noir.
“We have used a warmer colour palette, using reds instead of blues that form the colder world of Nordic noir,” says the show’s writer, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer. “Much of Hassel is shot on location, in particular around the bridges that connect the famous, beautiful old town of Stockholm to the less wealthy suburbs. Again, this is a statement that we are in a different world with different characters.”
“Hassel is not at home drinking scotch and listening to opera,” says director Amir Chamdin, a former musician and music video and feature film director. “He came from the streets, from the same neighbourhood as the bad guys. He’s not a desk cop, he’s a street cop. He’s going to be even badder than the bad guys to get the job done.” This also reflects Chamdin and Jansson-Schweizer’s influences, which include classic 70s films such as The French Connection and Mean Streets as well as the TV cop shows they fondly recall from their childhoods, such as Baretta and Kojak.
Chamdin’s musical background provides an exhilarating operatic rhythm to the show that is in obvious contrast to the moody, brooding and ethereal soundscapes of Nordic noir. Hassel’s hard-boiled titular character, played by Ola Rapace, is certainly taking cops in a new direction from the heroes and heroines of the genre. Symbolical of the changing of the guard, one of Rapace’s early career breaks was playing Wallander’s junior officers in the Swedish series, in which Krister Henriksson played the grouchy detective.
Ironically, however, the show is similar to traditional Nordic noir in that it reflects social issues in Sweden right now. “There’s a big debate going on that the police don’t get enough pay, so we tried to reflect that,” says Jansson-Schweizer. Chamdin adds: “They are not wealthy people. It’s not a fancy lifestyle, it’s a commitment. Cops are struggling, man.”
But not all crime shows screened at Lubeck were trying to escape the Nordic noir tradition. NRK’s Monster is instantly recognisable as pure Nordic noir – the atmospheric and beautiful Norwegian Tundra landscape, the missing girl, a lone female detective. Even the cinematography is done by Jørgen Johansson, who worked on the genre’s most iconic series, The Bridge and The Killing. But somehow the combined storytelling skills of writer Hans Christian Storroston and director Anne Sewitsky have created something completely new.
“We have to keep the strengths but also see where can we push the archetypes, push the conventions, push this art form into something new and figure out where we can go next,” says Storroston. International broadcasters were quick to snap up the rights to air Monster, with buyers including US cable channel Starz.
Crime drama from the Nordic region is certainly going through a transitional period. Some writers and directors are pushing at the familiar tropes of Nordic noir to come up with something new, whie others reject them completely. The level of creativity and experimentation on show at Lubeck makes it clear the Nordic industry is in rude health. It seems Scandi crime drama is on a thrilling journey that viewers from around the world will no doubt be keen to watch.
Swedish period drama Vår Tid är Nu (The Restaurant) begins in 1945 with celebrations to mark the end of the Second World War. At Djurgårdskällaren, a high-end restaurant run by the Löander family in the heart of Stockholm, oldest son Gustaf (played by Mattias Nordkvist) has managed to keep the restaurant afloat by somewhat dubious means and intends to carry on down that path.
But when middle son Peter (Adam Lundgren) returns home from the war, he discovers changes are needed to keep the business from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, a brief encounter with kitchen hand Calle (Charlie Gustafsson) leads to untold consequences for daughter Nina (Hedda Stiernstedt), who has designs on opening a nightclub in the restaurant banquet hall.
In this video, stars Hedda Rehnberg (Suzanne) and Gustafsson reveal how the mix of drama and comedy drew them to the project, which has filmed two seasons and has been recommissioned for a third.
They also describe the “bold” decision made by broadcaster SVT to heavily invest in an epic period drama that charts the growth of the Swedish welfare state and discuss why it stands out against the ever-popular Nordic Noir crime series.
The Restaurant is produced by Jarowskij for SVT and Viaplay and distributed internationally by Banijay Rights.
Poldark’s Heida Reed takes centre stage in Stella Blómkvist, a super-stylised Icelandic drama that is set to add a new dimension to Nordic noir. DQ chats to the actor and the key players behind the series.
When it comes to Nordic noir, there are certain traits viewers have come to expect. Moody visuals are often set against dark, foreboding landscapes, creating a style that has become synonymous with Scandinavian crime dramas like Wallander, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Trapped and Bron/Broen (The Bridge).
But a forthcoming Icelandic drama starring Poldark’s Heida Reed looks set to breathe new life into the genre with a radical, heightened and heavily stylised look that marks it out from anything that has come before. Imagine Sin City or Marvel’s Jessica Jones filmed in Reykjavík.
Stella Blómkvist follows the exploits of the titular lawyer across three feature-length instalments – The Murder at the Ministry, The Murder at Swan Lake and The Murder at Harpa. The first film sees Stella hired to defend a low-life thug accused of murder, but she soon finds herself plunged into a violent political conspiracy that threatens Iceland’s very future.
“This is not another Scandi noir,” says director Óskar Thór Axelsson (Black’s Game, Trapped). “I like to call it ‘neo-noir.’ It’s more playful and is set in a parallel world. We’re not trying to be super naturalistic, as you would be in Scandi noir. It’s more stylised and we’re trying to have fun with it.”
Lead writer Jóhann Ævar Grímsson adds: “With the noir thing, I’ve been wary of the word because it’s being used for almost anything Scandinavian these days. Political drama Borgen has been called Scandi noir when it’s just Scandi. We are not following the Scandi noir rules, we’re going back to the roots of noir.
“We’ve got an unreliable narrator, voiceovers, flashbacks, harsh lighting and all the trappings of the noir format. It goes against the typical Scandi noir format – when there’s so much of it, you want to go in a new direction.”
The show is based on a character created by a mysterious, anonymous author, who shares the same pen name as the lead character. The first episode is based on book one in the series, with two new stories completing the trio. The project has been developed by producer Sagafilm for two-and-a-half years, with Simínn (Iceland Telecom) and Scandi SVoD platform Viaplay on board as broadcasters. Red Arrow International is distributing the series.
From the outset, the creative team sought to replicate the Sherlock format of three feature-length episodes, as opposed to one 10-episode story, for example, in another bid to shake up the Nordic noir format.
“I’ve been writing a crime series in Iceland called Pressa [The Press] and experimented with the format there, but with that show we mostly focus on longer stories,” Grímsson says. “I thought it would be more fun to have shorter bursts of stories. We’re mimicking Sherlock, a show we really like. It’s a perfect vehicle for it.”
Working together in a small writers room, Grímsson, Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir and Andri Óttarsson stripped down the first Blómkvist book, threw out what they didn’t need and filled in the rest. Series director Axelsson was also a regular presence in
“Stella is almost all of the things you don’t want to see in female characters – she’s crass, rude, cold-hearted, inconsiderate,” Grímsson explains of the title character. “She’s sexually promiscuous, drinks and does whatever she pleases. It’s a fun character to work on.”
Axelsson picks up: “She’s a detective and a femme fatale, so she’s a super-interesting character. We had some discussion about the tone and where to place it early on, and that was something I really liked.
“Creating the look for Stella was more in the lighting, the production design and the acting. We definitely go for more intense angles than you would go for normally because it’s a noir. Some scenes we would design to be energetic, so I knew I had to speed up or shoot it in a particular way. But it’s a mixed bag – all three shows are very different. They look very different.
“It definitely has the Scandi noir elements in there but they’re pushed into a different angle. It will be more playful, it has more of a sense of humour. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It also takes an interesting look at Reykjavík. We’re changing the scenery a little bit in the series.”
The director, who is currently filming episodes for the second season of fellow Icelandic drama Trapped, says Stella’s character influenced the way he shot the series. “Stella’s bisexual, she’s very opinionated and she’s constantly tricking people; she can put on a mask,” he explains. “That was something I was definitely trying to play with. Because Stella has so many faces, Heida maintained that she should not change her costume a lot and she should look the same, as that helps us identify with her because she’s always pretending.”
The casting process was a drawn-out affair as the creative team sought to find the perfect actor to fill the role, eventually securing Reed, who is back in period costume to shoot season four of BBC period drama Poldark.
“Heida had something we’d seen in the character in the books,” Axelsson says. “She’s really carrying the series – she’s in almost every scene. Hiring a young actor who doesn’t have much experience could have been suicide for us, but Heida coming off three seasons of Poldark and having that experience was a huge bonus.”
“Stella is the series,” says Sagafilm Nordic CEO Kjartan Thor Thordarson. “It was a very important piece of the puzzle to get Stella right. We did test a lot of actresses – we wanted to see who would catch Stella and her tone, looks and demeanour. She’s a very tough woman but she also has her vulnerable sides. Heida basically nailed her.”
With more than 90 speaking roles, rehearsal time was at a premium, with Axelsson admitting the 48-day shoot was shorter than he would have liked. This meant the director, working with a script that contained flashbacks and one-line scenes, had to prioritise which would be afforded the most time.
Production was complicated further by the lack of darkness in Iceland during the late-spring and summer months when filming took place. “It’s a noir so it has to have a lot of darkness, but we started shooting in early April, which meant we had a month to shoot night scenes,” Axelsson says.
“In mid-May, we’re almost into 24-hour daylight, so we had to do all the night scenes first. We started really front-heavy with that. It was a night shoot throughout April and the days gradually got longer. In May, we might still have had a night scene to do, so our schedule would be midday to midnight and we’d try to get this one night scene at the end that we’d missed.
“That was difficult, and in grading now we’re trying to match stuff we shot in June to what we got in April when it was snowing. We were really unlucky with the weather. It was a really tough shoot, actually.”
For Sagafilm, the project was born out of a desire to create an Icelandic series that could be marketed around the world. Stella Blómkvist fitted the bill, as the novels are already known across Europe and would draw the kind of production partners – and budget – needed to turn the property into a global franchise. The decision to make the series available in three 90-minute episodes or six 45-minute versions was also taken to maximise international appeal.
At €3m (US$3.6m), the show’s budget is double the standard cost of an Icelandic drama, but this was “part of the plan to up the game and we can see it in the series,” says Thordarson. “There’s a lot of different things we haven’t seen before from smaller-budget series. We tried to make it look like a €10m series.
“It’s definitely not like other things in Scandinavia. I just think we’re competing with ourselves, trying to do better every time. We don’t really want to follow what others are doing; we want to be our own voice – that’s what we’re trying to do and I think we did that with [crime drama] Case, our last series. That was unique in the market. In many ways, we played with the filmmaking aspect a little bit there and we are continuing to do that with Stella. It’s very unlike Case. So I think that will continue.”
Another appeal of making Stella Blómkvist was the potential to create a long-running franchise. Thordarson adds: “We have at least eight books and they’re still being published, so who knows how many there will be in the end. We have already started looking into what’s next in the Stella saga.”
Heida’s Stella performance As Elizabeth Warleggan in BBC period drama Poldark, Heida Reed is more used to being part of a large ensemble cast than taking the lead. So when she won the title role in Stella Blómkvist, there was only one person she turned to – Ross Poldark himself.
“I actually texted Aidan Turner saying, ‘How did you do it?’” she reveals. “Suddenly I realised what it felt like to be in his position and I remember asking him, ‘Were you shitting yourself in the beginning at the first read-through and on the first day of filming?’ He just told me not to worry and had some nice, encouraging things to say. It was interesting to feel what it would be like in his shoes a little bit, and it was nice to be able to talk to someone who understood where I was coming from.”
Having moved to the UK to embark on an acting career, Iceland-born Reed’s Stella Blómkvist part marks her first leading role in a homegrown series, after previously appearing in 2014 miniseries Hraunið (The Lava Field).
“It’s an old-school noir but in a modern setting,” she says of her new show. “Stella’s a femme fatale and detective in one, and all the villains are grotesque and over the top. It’s fun to step out of realism sometimes. All the Scandi noir stuff is as raw as you can get. We did that [in Iceland] with Case and Trapped, so it’s actually refreshing to do something a bit more fantasy-like.”
Adding to the appeal was the chance to play a role far removed from that of Poldark’s Elizabeth. “It’s always really nice and fortunate when you don’t get pigeon-holed into one thing and you get to explore how far you can take a different type of character,” she says, describing Stella and Elizabeth as extremes of her own personality. “I didn’t think I’d get it, because she’s blonde in the books – she talks about using her blonde hair as her weapon. Elizabeth was supposed to be blonde as well, so I’m always going up for blonde characters and thinking I’m not going to get them. I’m fighting the good fight [for brunettes].”
In addition to late-night shoots and unpredictable weather, another key challenge the actor faced was reacquainting herself with the Icelandic language. “I was told I had to be less clear,” she says. “Maybe because I’ve been doing Poldark for so long, I was being so careful with how I was pronouncing things because I don’t speak that much Icelandic except to my family. I got direction to be less clear and maybe more sloppy because that’s more natural, and Stella is not someone who necessarily enunciates every word. She’s someone who blurts stuff out. The longer I was there, the easier it became.”
Reed now has her sights set on a comedy role, having starred in a period drama and a heavily stylised series. But with the success of Poldark and the potential to play Stella Blómkvist for many more seasons, she could soon have two huge returning hits on
Ola Rapace stars as a detective investigating a brutal murder in Swedish drama Hassel. The show’s lead director, Amir Chamdin, reveals the demands of taking charge of his first television series.
Coming from a background directing commercials and music videos, Amir Chamdin has an ear for a tune. So it’s no surprise that when he started work on his first television drama, the soundtrack played an integral part in shaping its mood, tone and style.
Hassel, based on the novels by Olov Svedelid, tells the story of Roland Hassel, a street-smart detective fighting increased levels of crime in Stockholm. When his mentor, Yngve Ruda, is brutally murdered, he leads a below-the-radar task force to investigate and avenge his death – with consequences for his family.
One of the first meetings Chamdin had with star Ola Rapace (Section Zéro, Farang) was in a music studio where they shared ideas about the soundtrack – provided by Nicke Andersson, the frontman of Swedish rock band The Hellacopters.
“We sat in the studio working out how does Hassel sound, how does the street sound and how does our Stockholm sound?” the director reveals. “To start in that corner, you lay a pretty good foundation for the TV show because you know how it sounds. Then you build your characters. We started in that way so when we were on set we knew who the characters were; we didn’t have to discuss that.
“Then when we were filming, I started with a close-up most of the time to get the acting pure and natural, because the first couple of takes are often magical. When that’s done, I go for the wider takes because then I know it’s more about the scenario than the acting. For many people, that way is upside down, but for our world it really worked.”
Svedelid first introduced Hassel in 1972 novel Anmäld Försvunnen (Reported Missing) and his most recent appearance was in 2004’s Död i Ruta Ett (Death in a Box). The author died in 2008.
The 10-part series, which debuted in September, places Hassel in a brand new story set in contemporary Stockholm. It was created by Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Morgan Jensen, who wrote the scripts with Björn Paqualin, Charlotte Lesche, Johanna Ginstmark and Oliver Dixon. Hassel is produced by Nice Drama for Nordic SVoD streamer Viaplay and distributed by Beta Film.
“I’ve never done a TV series before. Five or 10 years ago, people were laughing at TV and thought films were the big thing,” says Chamdin, who also has feature films God Willing and Cornelius to his name. “Then TV swept everybody away and now they want to be in TV. Feature films are either art house or really big – there’s nothing in between. But it’s the same as in the 80s, when nobody believed in cinema because TV and video players were taking up all the attention. It’s all cyclical.
“For me to get into TV was more an opportunity because I knew the showrunner [Jansson-Schweizer] and it felt like common ground. TV today is much more cinematic than it was 10 years ago – especially this show, because it’s only one case, it’s character-driven. As a director, you can pay more attention to detail or the characters, so for me it was a really good experience.”
This isn’t the first time Hassel has been dramatised for the screen, with the novels first adapted in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a series Chamdin remembers, recalling how the police officer and the look of the series stood out from other cop dramas on television at that time.
“He’s not a one-line detective, he’s not pretentious at all,” the director says. “In Sweden, we have a problem that many police officers leave because they think the salaries are really bad. I wanted to portray that. They do so much work but no one really gives them any thanks. Hassel will get the job done. If he crosses the line, who cares? Because the bad guys do all the time and nobody cares.
“He’s a working-class hero. That’s a cliché but we’re portraying it in that way. That led me to build the cop family more realistically. I grew up with [1970s US police series] Baretta and Kojack so it’s a dream to do a crime series, but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of clichés. I tried to treat it in a different way and not focus too much on the action scenes, even though there is action. It’s pretty hard-boiled.”
Chamdin describes an “organic” shooting practice on set in which he shoots the action with long lenses, with the aim of following the actors instead of leading them. “It’s a mix between shooting it very much 70s-style with long lenses or handheld and up close, so you get more of a spaghetti western feel to it. [It’s not] the Scandi noir thing where everything is very perfect and clean – this is more gritty and the look of it is not cold and blue. I went for a warmer colour scheme, so it’s more about the reds and the greens. Almost all the Scandinavian series are blue for some reason, I don’t know why. I’m more into the warm colours and I think that shows more of the truth of Stockholm.”
The director also found that his background in music videos and commercials meant he well suited to the faster nature of television shoots compared with feature films.
“If you need more than three takes, something is wrong with the script, the actor or I haven’t done my job preparing it as a director beforehand,” he asserts. “So everything is in the preparation and understanding how long a scene will take. You really learn that from music videos and commercials because you’re on the clock. I don’t get stressed if it’s late in the day because I know how much time I need. That’s why it’s so important you’re well prepared and know what you want. That has helped me.”
Chamdin directs six episodes – the first four plus episodes seven and eight – and says he had loved exploring television, which he describes as a new world. “I love this format and it’s so accessible for everybody,” he concludes. “I’m so glad I can do this – if it’s film on the big screen, lovely; if it’s TV, great. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can do the craftsmanship. It’s a magic world.”
As technology continues its assault on traditional television models, success is no longer just about overnight viewing figures. So in today’s crowded drama marketplace, what defines a hit – and how are our views of success changing?
When the BBC and FX announced there would be a second season of Tom Hardy’s extraordinary period drama Taboo (pictured above), the UK pubcaster took the unusual step of spelling out exactly why the series would return.
Taboo was a solid, if not spectacular, performer on BBC1, drawing three million viewers to its Saturday night debut and staying above 2.5 million for subsequent episodes.
Yet it earned its recommission by becoming one of the most successful dramas ever in terms of views on iPlayer, the broadcaster’s digital catch-up service, a result credited to word of mouth and social network mentions that led new viewers to seek out the series.
Within seven days, episode one’s audience rose to 5.8 million and episodes averaged seven million at the 28-day cut-off. The first episode achieved iPlayer’s third highest audience ever, following Sherlock and docudrama Murdered By My Boyfriend.
Announcing the recommission in March this year, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “Taboo has been a phenomenal success and proves overnight ratings are not the only measure of success, as the series continues to grow beyond live viewing. Launching in a new Saturday night slot on BBC1 provided us with an opportunity to take risks and showcase distinctive drama, and the growing talkability of Taboo has engaged younger audiences, seeing record numbers coming to BBC iPlayer, with the availability of the box set maximising audiences even further.”
The BBC went further, suggesting BARB audience data underestimated the final audience for Taboo as it only recognised iPlayer viewers using the service via a connected television and not through laptops, mobiles and tablets.
Sue Gray, the pubcaster’s head of audiences, added: “The live broadcast audience remains important and we know audiences highly value collective viewing experiences. However, an emerging younger audience group is increasingly influenced by social recommendation and will come when the ‘noise’ around a series becomes compelling. The broadcast moment can fan this flame, with BBC1 and iPlayer providing a virtuous circle which maximises audience opportunity to engage. Broadcasters and commentators increasingly need to play the long game in their quest to understand audience behaviour.”
In truth, the emphasis on viewing figures has been waning for several years as box set binges have become a worldwide phenomenon. Ratings for a single episode no longer provide a clear picture of how many people have watched – and will watch – a programme over the days and weeks after it airs, while digital platforms ensure programmes can be watched and rewatched long after their initial debuts. So how do those in the industry now define a successful series?
Despite putting less focus on overnights, writers, producers and commissioners will admit to still keeping an eye on the ratings just to see whether they have an instant hit on their hands – unless you happen to ask people at Fox, the US broadcaster that decided overnights were “no longer relevant” in November 2015.
In a letter to staff, co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman explained why the network would no longer be publishing Live + Same Day ratings. “The connections between viewers and our shows today are more complex and, in many ways, deeper than ever – but they no longer only happen overnight,” they wrote. “So why do we, as an industry, wake up every morning and talk about those Live + Same Day numbers?
“This has to stop. It’s time for us to ‘walk the walk’ and change the conversation. The Live + Same Day rating does not reflect the way people are watching our series. It leaves out the vast majority of fans who choose to watch on DVRs, and virtually ignores those who stream our shows or watch on-demand.”
Though they might not admit it quite as openly, other US broadcast networks are clearly taking less notice of overnights, if the decline of early cancellations of freshmen scripted series is anything to go by. Once upon a time, it would only have been a matter of weeks, or a handful of episodes, before the first series would be cancelled each fall as a result of low ratings. But for the past two seasons, shows that have received a lukewarm reception have been allowed to play out their first-season orders to try to generate the catch-up numbers that are now such an important part of the business.
Only those dramas seemingly without any hope – see 2016/17 examples Doubt (CBS) and Time After Time (ABC) – are unceremoniously pulled from the schedules.
The Walking Dead aside, most cable shows would be happy to have the ratings scored by cancelled network series, as pay TV provides a supportive model for dramas tackling niche genres – particularly science fiction.
That’s why IDW Entertainment, producer of Wynonna Earp and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, defines a ‘hit’ on a case-by-case basis. “It’s looking beyond the ratings, as the audience varies widely from network to network and digital,” says president David Ozer.
“IDW plays in the genre space, so the fandom plays such a huge role in determining a ‘hit’ for us. What’s happening on social media? What’s the audience saying? Are they trending? Who’s showing up to cast promotional events? We obviously need to deliver as large an audience as possible for the network and/or streaming platform, but there are other factors definitely involved now beyond traditional ratings.”
These days, actors can often be found live-tweeting along to their show as it airs, speaking directly to fans, while events like Comic-Con can propel a drama’s popularity, often before it has begun airing.
“Wynonna Earp is fascinating to watch,” Ozer says. “Week after week, we saw ratings growth [on Syfy], but also social media growth where we were trending weekly. The series gained a large LGBTQ audience because of one of the storylines, and you felt momentum. When it came to time for a renewal, Syfy was inundated with fan responses, and not just the usual letters but genuine notes about how important the series was to them.
“With Dirk Gently, BBC America saw immediate time-period growth and, again, a lot of activity across social media, and a second season was ordered. There was a buzz about the show that continued to grow, and reviews were very positive. While we don’t see actual results with Netflix [where both shows are available in certain territories], we were able to see success based on the social media conversations internationally.”
At Irish broadcaster RTÉ, acting MD of television Dermot Horan describes a hit show as one that “delivers more than its timeslot’s average consolidated audience, but which also delivers well on the RTÉ Player and gets positive social media and press coverage.”
That definition has emerged because much drama is now consumed via DVRs or VoD services, due to “the increase in linear channel competition, the rise of SVoD players in Ireland, the numbers of homes with PVRs and the increase in homes without TVs,” Horan adds.
For Piv Bernth, head of drama at Danish pubcaster DR, a successful drama is one that both attracts a strong audience and stands out from the crowd. “Of course, the enormous competition makes you look more over your shoulder, but I think the conclusion so far is not to get confused by the oceans of TV series and instead to keep the focus on what kind of content you think will make a difference,” she says.
“From a public service point of view, the choice of story and the way it is told is as important as the obligation to tell stories that reflect the lives of the audience and create a debate. At DR, we try to do original stories, like Avingerne (The Legacy), Bedrag (Follow the Money) and, coming soon, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) – all series with complex stories told through relatable characters and, therefore, entertaining and understandable. That is still the way to measure a success – get good viewing figures on series that makes a difference.”
Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, broadcast group MTG’s exec VP of programming and content development for the Nordic region, found success this year with comedy-drama Swedish Dicks, which set viewing records on MTG’s Nordic streaming service Viaplay. “We believe a hit happens every time a viewer is engaged by our content,” he says. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to create an inclusive portfolio that speaks to everybody while raising important questions. We’re on a journey to become the Nordic region’s leading producer of original content, and today we have more than 50 projects in the pipeline.”
MTG is reaching viewers across streaming, free TV and pay TV services, and Mejlhede Andersen says the multi-platform approach allows the broadcaster to differentiate its content depending on where it is being made available. For example, Viaplay’s latest original series, Veni Vidi Vici, explores the descent of a struggling Danish movie director into the adult film business – a story the exec says “works much better on-demand through a streaming service than on primetime linear TV.”
Beyond ratings, MTG is now also using international distribution deals to measure success, with Swedish Dicks being picked up for global sales by Lionsgate. “Of course, we’ll keep listening to our audiences to ensure our stories always entertain and engage,” Mejlhede Andersen adds.
Christophe Riandee, vice-CEO of Gaumont, which produces Pablo Escobar drama Narcos for Netflix, says that while the way people watch TV today means it is harder than ever to define a hit, “one way that speaks the loudest is when you have volumes of fans engaged with your shows.”
He continues: “From social media engagement to consumer products, fans across the world let you know that you have a hit. Netflix does a great job activating fans, developing extensive campaigns that are unique to different platforms, creating hundreds of original assets for social media channels and engaging directly with fans.
“Within the first three months of the launch of Narcos, Netflix had amassed a social following of two million fans [of the show] across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and, over the course of the campaign, afforded Narcos the title of the most mentioned Netflix original series on social in 2015.”
Gaumont was also behind another Netflix drama, horror series Hemlock Grove – and while the streamer famously keeps even its own suppliers in the dark about viewing figures, Riandee highlights one surefire way you can judge ‘success’ online: “I would say by the number of seasons a media partner is ordering. Netflix ordered two additional seasons of Narcos at the same time; we are currently in production on season three.”
Despite their reluctance to release ratings, SVoD services are now key to building audiences, often long after a drama has debuted, and later seasons can see a bump in live ratings after viewers have caught up online. AMC’s Breaking Bad was one of the first to enjoy that kind of success in a world where TV shows are finding it harder and harder to break through.
“First and foremost, a show has to be good.It needs compelling storytelling and quality production with a best-in-class team and talent,” IDW’s Ozer says when asked what it takes for a show to be deemed a success in today’s crowded market. “We are spending quite a bit of time ensuring we’re bringing unique properties to the market, with major elements attached. Our recently announced Locke & Key deal with Hulu is a great example, where we have bestselling author Joe Hill, Carlton Cuse as our showrunner and Scott Derrickson as our director.
“With so much programming in the market now, it has to stand out. There are shows that are perceived as hits now based on outside influences, series that have catapulted through word of mouth. There is also the ‘hang around theory,’ meaning if a show is around for multiple seasons, because of content distribution platforms like EST [electronic sell-through] and SVoD, more people can find it later in its run, creating value for the networks.”
In an ideal world, RTÉ’s Horan would like to see a single rating – combining live and non-live views – used to judge the success of series, but that may be several years away.
“The other point to make is that less can be more these days,” he notes. “For free-to-air channels, it is all about cutting through and having programmes in your schedule that make an immediate impact. Thus short-run series like Doctor Foster, Happy Valley and The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story can work better than the longer-running US network dramas.”
For now, though, Riandee believes success will continue to be measured through a combination of ratings and social media. “But to have that success, now more than ever we have to provide the market with shows that are compelling,” he says, “with novelistic and addictive storylines, AAA showrunners to deliver highly visual cinematic programming and, of course, relatable actors.”
Danish drama Veni Vidi Vici, which airs on Nordic SVoD streamer Viaplay, tells the story of a struggling film director who decides to take a job in the adult entertainment industry.
Thomas Bo Larsen stars as Karstan Daugaard, who is soon confronted by the industry’s darkest aspects and is forced into a double life that endangers his whole family.
Speaking to DQ, writer/actor Rafael Edholm reveals the origins of the story and the enjoyment he took from playing with a genre still considered taboo.
Meanwhile, Jakob Mejlhede, Viaplay owner MTG’s exec VP and head of programming and content development, gives his verdict on the “truly original” series, which he says is not about porn but the vivid characters who make up the industry.
The 10-part show is produced by MTG Studios and distributed internationally by DRG.
Nordic drama has made its mark on the international stage over the last few years. But what’s coming next? A good source of information is the Nordisk Film & TV Fund, which provides regular updates on shows in development, production and distribution. So this week we look at some of the latest developments from the region.
Next Summer: Bob Film is remaking Norwegian comedy Next Summer for Kanal5/Discovery in Sweden. The original version aired on TVNorge/Discovery and was one of the country’s most popular local TV dramas. The Swedish remake, which will air in 2017, centres on a man who shares a summer house with his wife and in-laws in Stockholm’s archipelago. Bob Film also remade the Finnish drama Nurses for TV4 Sweden. That show, known locally as Syrror, launched on October 19, attracting an audience of one million. It’s part of wider trend of local Nordic adaptations that also includes Gåsmamman and Black Widows. Bob Film is also working with Sweetwater on a crime drama called Missing (Saknad) for CMore and TV4, which focuses on the investigation into the murder of a young girl in a Swedish Bible-belt town.
Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family): Nordisk Film & TV Fond has just allocated a total of NOK9.4m (US$1.14m) to a slate of new film and TV projects. One of them is season two of The Bonus Family, a comedy drama about a recomposed family and the complications that go with it. Season one is due to air on SVT in 2017, as well as on NRK, YLE, RUV and DR. Season two, granted NOK2.4m (US$290,000), started filming in September and will continue until February 2017.
Downshifters: This Finnish series has just secured a French sales rep (ACE Entertainment) while Sweden’s Anagram has optioned remake rights for its own market. The 10-part comedy from Yellow Film & TV has been generating a good buzz since it launched on OTT service Elisa in late 2015. More recently, it aired on YLE2 and established itself as the second most watched programme. The series tells the story of a couple who face financial problems and are forced to cut down on their extravagant lifestyle. A second series, Upshifters, will launch on Elisa in December 2016.
The Rain: News of this Danish show has been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks. Produced by Miso Film (Dicte, 1864, Acquitted), The Rain is a dystopian drama commissioned by Netflix. The series is set in Copenhagen 10 years after a biological catastrophe that wipes out most of the population in Scandinavia and sees two young siblings embark on a search for safety. Guided only by their father’s notebook about the virus and the hazards of this new world, they start a dangerous journey through the country and join up with a group of other young survivors. Miso has had a busy few months, with the second season of Acquitted recently launching on TV2 in Norway.
Midnight Sun: This Swedish/French crime show recently debuted to 1.39 million viewers (38.1% share) on SVT1 in the Sunday 21.00 slot. According to the channel, this performance is comparable with The Bridge (Bron/Broen). Midnight Sun also trended at number two on Twitter – and online viewers, which are still to be added to the count, could pass 200,000. The show also secured strong reviews in the Swedish media, with five stars out of five in Aftonbladet. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Midnight Sun will premiere on RUV on December 5. DR, NRK and MTV3 are likely to air the show, which is distributed internationally by StudioCanal, in early 2017.
Nobel: Trapped and Nobel were among 26 European fiction TV series selected for the Prix Europa Media awards last month. Trapped, an Icelandic crime show, won Best European TV Series while Nobel, a Norwegian political/war drama, won Best European TV Movie/Miniseries. Nobel was described as “a precisely crafted original script, perfectly executed and directed, that takes the viewer on a journey into a world of lies, betrayal, mistrust and political games.” Produced by Monster Scripted for NRK, Nobel secured 800,000 viewers for its first episode across NRK1 and NRK streaming service NRK.TV. Both Trapped and Nobel were supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Nobel was directed by Per Olav Sørensen, who also directed The Heavy Water War.
Heartless: In a recent interview with The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, SVoD service Walter Presents’ curator Walter Iuzzolino said 25-30% of the platform’s shows are from Scandinavia. In terms of titles doing well, he mentioned Heartless: “Our curated programme goes way beyond the tradition of Nordic Noir that has been established by the BBC. I would say that 30% of our audience is 16 to 34, the rest 35-plus. The sexy Danish vampire series Heartless, for example, was a huge hit among 16-24s. Normally I hate fantasy and sci-fi but it’s elegant, poetic, cleverly done and an interesting portrayal of a family – a sort of vampire version of The Legacy. It was a huge success, pushed only by word of mouth.”
Watchdog: At last month’s Mipcom market in Cannes, ZDF Enterprises announced an exclusive first-look rights deal for all scripted content from the Finnish producer Fisher King. Matti Halonen, Fisher King MD and producer, said: “ZDF Enterprises is a well-established company that can give a lot of support to a smaller player like Fisher King.” The first joint project that ZDFE is working on is the upcoming political thriller series Watchdog. Set in present-day Helsinki, The Hague and London, it’s described as an adrenaline trip into the heart of European justice policy and security regulations concerning source protection and privacy insurance. Fisher King is also behind Bordertown, which is represented worldwide by Federation Entertainment and has been sold to Sky Deutschland and CanalPlay France, while English-language series Crypted is also in its pipeline.
Deadwind: Paris-based financing and distribution boutique About Premium Content (APC) recently picked up Finnish crime drama Deadwind. The 12-part series is about a detective in her 30s who is trying to get over her husband’s death when she discovers the body of a young woman on a construction site. At Mipcom, APC launched Norwegian drama thriller Valkyrien, which is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK. It also distributes another Norwegian show, the youth-oriented Young & Promising, which was recently sold to the UK, Germany and France and has a US deal is in negotiation.
Dan Sommerdahl: This autumn it was announced that Nikolaj Scherfig (The Bridge) would be co-creator/head-writer on Dan Sommerdahl, a new series based on Danish author Anna Grue’s bestselling book series. Distributor Dynamic Television (Trapped) is pre-selling the series on behalf of Germany’s NDF and Denmark’s Nordisk Film. TV2 Denmark is attached and a German broadcaster will soon be announced. Scherfig said the project is different from classic Scandi noir: “It is a tight, clean crime series reflecting on life outside cities understanding how modernity and social development affect life in the province.” Klaus Zimmermann, Dynamic co-MD, told nordicfilmandtvnews.com: “NDF originally acquired the rights to the books and wanted to make it in the tradition of a German crime series with German actors for an international market. But then we felt it made more sense to make it as an original Danish show with a Danish writer and Danish actors. It’s simply the right way to tell the story.”
Hassel: Speaking to the Nordisk Film & TV Fond about Viaplay’s strategy for coproducing original content for the Nordic region, CEO Jonas Karlén said upcoming original Nordic scripted series on Viaplay include Swedish Dicks, Svartsjön/Black Lake, Hassel, Our Time Is Now and Occupied season two. Hassel is a Nordic noir starring Ola Rapace as the iconic detective created by author Olov Svedelid. The show is produced by Nice Drama in coproduction with Beta Film, which handles global sales, and is due to launch in late 2017.
Spring Tide: Eight brand new Nordic TV dramas have been selected for The Lübeck Festival’s Nordic Film Days. “TV drama is the big new thing. It was time for us to open up our festival to TV series, as Germans are so fond of Nordic noir,” said the festival’s long-time artistic director Linde Fröhlich. Shows to be introduced include Splitting Up Together (DK), Living with my Ex (FI), Trapped (IS), Nobel (NO), and Modus, Hashtag and Spring Tide (SE). The latter crime drama, based on the novel by Rolf and Cilla Börjlind, is about two cops who come together to solve the murder of a pregnant woman. The show is distributed internationally by Endemol Shine International.
Below the Surface: This is a new drama based on an idea by Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) – now principals in Studiocanal-backed firm SAM. The thriller series centres on an operation to rescue 15 hostages from a Copenhagen subway train. Price and Sveistrup said: “There is something both eerie and fascinating about [taking hostages] as a criminal act. The close and complex relationship between the hostage and hostage-taker immediately opens up strong character-development possibilities and can also put a number of highly topical issues about our time to the forefront, such as fear of terrorism.“ The eight-part series has received DKK14m (US$2.08m) in production support from the DFI’s Public Service Fund and will air on Kanal5/Discovery Networks.
Skam: Cult Norwegian youth series Shame (Skam) launched on NRK and was recently acquired by DR3 for Denmark. Danish newspaper Politiken called it “a youth series about high-school life that makes Norway cool for the first time.” Steffen Raastrup, director of DR3, said: “The series’ premise is that when you’re young, you should not be ashamed of who you are but stand up for yourself and deal with the fear that many feel during their formative teen years.” Skam – which is now up to three seasons in Norway and is a strong performer on social media – has also been acquired by SVT in Sweden and RUV in Iceland.
Interference: This is an eight-part English- and French-language sci-fi thriller in development by Stockholm-based Palladium Fiction. Palladium, which is minority-controlled by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), is producing the show alongside Atlantique Productions. SPT is distributing the show internationally. The Palladium team was also behind the critically acclaimed drama Jordskott, and is now working on a second season of the show. Palladium is also developing an English-language project with UK writer/producer Nicola Larder.
Established in 1990 and based in Oslo, the Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s primary purpose is to promote film and TV productions of high quality in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). It is funded by 17 partners: The Nordic Council of Ministers, five national film institutes/funds and 11 public service and private TV stations within the region. Its annual budget is approximately NOK100m.
Echoing a growing trend in the TV business, US cable channel TNT has ordered a fifth season of its hit series The Last Ship before the fourth run has even begun.
Based on the William Brinkley novel, the summer series follows the aftermath of a global catastrophe that ravages the world’s population. Because of its location, the navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. Now, however, Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and his crew must confront the reality of their new existence in a world where they may be among the few survivors.
According to TNT, the show is currently averaging around 7.1 million viewers per episode across multiple platforms and ranks as one of basic cable’s top 10 summer dramas among adults aged 18 to 49. Seasons four and five (2017/2018) will both have 10 episodes.
TNT executive VP of original programming Sarah Aubrey said: “The Last Ship has taken viewers on an exciting ride through three truly thrilling seasons. We look forward to watching the cast and production team ratchet up the drama, action and suspense even more over the next two seasons through summer 2018.”
The series is produced by Turner’s Studio T in association with Platinum Dunes, whose partners – blockbuster filmmaker Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form – serve as executive producers. Co-creators Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane are also executive producers, along with director Paul Holahan.
Less fortunate this week is ABC’s summer series Mistresses. The show, which has just completed its fourth season, will not be back for a fifth. Based on the British series of the same name from Ecosse, Mistresses revolves around the lives and loves of a group of sexy female friends.
Although the show was never a huge ratings performer for ABC, it has been a decent franchise, selling to broadcasters like TLC in the UK, RTÉ in Ireland and TVNZ in New Zealand. It was also subject of a Chilean remake called Infieles.
Still in the US, HBO is only three weeks away from the launch of its much-anticipated sci-fi reboot series Westworld (October 2). There has been a lot of industry speculation that the show might bomb after filming was temporarily shut down at the start of the year. The rumours at the time were that something must have gone wrong with the series to result in such an interruption.
Now, though, those close to the production are saying that the hold up was to ensure that Westworld has a strong enough foundation to become a long-running returnable franchise.
Actor James Marsden told Entertainment Weekly: “It wasn’t about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next five or six years are going to be. We wanted everything in line so that when the very last episode airs and we have our show finale, five or seven years down the line, we knew how it was going to end the first season. [The production team] could have rushed them and get spread too thin. They got them right, and when they were right, we went and shot them.”
HBO will certainly be hoping that Westworld can run and run – because it will soon be faced with the end of mega hit Game of Thrones.
Also in the US this week, there has been a sudden burst of development news. SVoD platform Hulu is developing a fantasy-adventure series based on the Throne of Glass book series by Sarah J Maas. Kira Snyder will write the adaptation, which comes from The Mark Gordon Company.
USA Network has ordered a pilot for a crime drama that stars Jessica Biel as a woman who commits an out-of-character act of horrific violence. Called The Sinner, this is based on a book by Petra Hammesfahr.
ABC, meanwhile, has commissioned a pilot called American Heritage – about two families forced to work together to run LA’s premiere real estate firm.
Elsewhere in the world of scripted TV, Nordic-based streaming service Viaplay and Swedish TV channel TV3, both part of Modern Times Group (MTG), have linked up with German distributor Beta Film on a new Nordic noir series called Hassel. The 10-part show is based on books by popular Swedish author Olov Svedelid, who died in 2008. It will be produced by Nice, another arm of the MTG empire.
The central character of the series is Roland Hassel (played by Ola Rapace), a police detective who is the protagonist of 29 books by Svedelid. So if the show is successful there is plenty of scope for it to come back.
Hassel will be the third Viaplay original series following Swedish Dicks and Occupied. It has been created by Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Morgan Jensen, with scripts by Bjorn Paqualin and Charlotte Lesche. Shooting starts this year.
Over in Australia, Network Ten has commissioned an adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s classic 1961 novel Wake in Fright. The two-part show will tell the story of a young schoolteacher who becomes stranded in the small outback mining town of Bundanyabba.
It will be produced by Lingo Pictures in association with Endemol Shine Australia, with backing from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. It has previously been remade as a movie, released in 1971.
Network Ten head of drama Rick Maier said: “There are few Australian stories as original or compelling as Wake in Fright. Kenneth Cook’s novel, now re-imagined for a new generation, deals with the biggest themes. Provocative, morally complex and brilliantly realised, this story is guaranteed to stay with you long into the night and – possibly – for years to come.”
Finally, Endemol Shine-owned production company Fifty Fathoms (Fortitude, The A Word) is adapting Lisa McInerney’s debut novel The Glorious Heresies, with Entourage’s Julian Farino attached to direct and exec produce. McInerney will adapt the novel, which was first published in 2015 and looks at the lives of a collection of misfits living in modern-day Cork in Ireland. It won the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.