Set in Sicily in the 1970s, Maltese tells the story of one man’s fight against the Mafia.
Dario Maltese (Kim Rossi Stuart) is a talented detective battling to stay moral in an immoral world. But when he returns to his hometown to attend a friend’s wedding, he is suddenly and violently sucked back into the world he fled 20 years before.
This time, however, he must stay to uncover the truth – but what starts out as a simple murder investigation quickly escalates, uncovering more disappearances, further murders and ultimately exposing a network of corruption and lawlessness.
In this DQTV video, Italian actor Stuart talks about why he chose to take on the role and how this 1970s set series speaks to modern-day audiences.
Meanwhile, Walter Iuzzolino, the curator of Walter Presents, reveals why he fell in love with Maltese and the elements that elevate it above other series to ensure it would become the first Italian drama to air on the streaming platform.
Iuzzolino also compares Maltese to two other shows – Spain’s Locked Up and Germany’s Deutschland 83 – that went on to become flagship series for their respective countries.
Maltese is produced by Palomar for Italian broadcaster Rai and distributed by ZDF Enterprises. It launches in the UK Channel 4 on February 4, with the entire series immediately available to view on Walter Presents.
Swedish actor Ida Engvoll is on a roll, having appeared in hit series The Bridge, The Restaurant and Bonus Family. As UK streaming service Walter Presents premieres her crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, the star talks about avoiding typecasting and working with mosquitos.
If you follow Swedish drama, there’s a fair chance you will have come across Ida Engvoll. The actor has steadily built her career on appearances in some of the country’s biggest series that, thanks to the global interest in Scandinavian fiction, mean she has been on screen around the world.
Roles in Beck, Arne Dahl and Fjällbackamorden (The Fjällbacka Murders) charted her early life on television before she took roles in pan-European crime drama The Team and the third season of Broen (The Bridge).
Engvoll has become much more recognisable, however, since starring in 2015 award-winning feature En man som heter Ove (A Man Called Ove). More recently, she has starred in TV4 crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, period drama Vår tid är nu (The Restaurant) and comedy-drama Bonusfamiljen (Bonus Family), both of which have been renewed for third seasons by SVT.
It’s her versatility that makes her screen credits stand out, switching between genres with ease – a trend that isn’t entirely accidental.
“I always look for good parts and projects that are attractive but we have a lot of crime series in Sweden,” the actor explains. “It’s not easy to avoid doing crime series but it’s always about the character and the genre and the director as well. I try to not get stuck [in one show].
“When you’re in a successful show, especially in Sweden because we’re such a small country, people can’t tell the difference between you and the characters so I always try to be in flow between things so people can’t judge me.”
Engvoll is speaking to DQ ahead of the UK launch of Rebecka Martinsson, which has been picked up by Channel 4-owned streaming service Walter Presents. The first episode will debut on More4 this Friday before the box-set becomes available online.
The eight-part series, produced by Yellow Bird and distributed by Banijay Rights, is based on the novels by Åsa Larsson, telling four stories each set over two episodes. The first instalment sees high-flying lawyer Martinsson (Engvoll) return to her hometown of Kiruna, in the northern most part of Sweden within the Arctic Circle, following news of her friend’s death. But when what appears to have been an accident turns out to be murder, she becomes embroiled in the investigation while also facing up to the terrible trauma that forced her to leave her childhood home behind.
“The script did stand out, especially after the first movie,” Engvolll says of the series, which first aired on Sweden’s TV4 in spring 2017. “After episode one and two, the adventure for her really starts. The ending of the first story opens her trauma and who she is and why she’s there and why she can’t go back to Stockholm. So after the first one, I was really intrigued by the character.”
The actor describes Martinsson as a character of many faces, but one who is very much grounded in reality.
“For me, it was really important to make her true and not just a character,” she says of the lawyer who never seems at ease, unsure whether she belongs in the Stockholm metropolis or the isolated community in which she grew up. “It’s not easy to say she’s this or that. She’s very believable. She’s very alive. She’s not just one face, she’s really vulnerable and very tough in her own way, but she’s also very scared, even at the beginning when the series starts and she’s on top of her career and everything’s going her way. Inside she’s still scared and hasn’t found herself yet. She’s not your stereotypical crime character. You can’t pin her down. She’s complex.”
In the case that unfolds across the first two episodes, the murder victim is known to Martinsson, leading her to return home. She quickly forges a friendship with a local police officer, through which she ingratiates herself in solving the case. “But in the story she’s always on her own, she has her own way of doing things,” Ingvoll explains, describing this most flawed of criminal investigators. “She really makes some bad judgements, with her relationships and friendships and the way to do things right, she’s always doing things wrong and that’s a fun thing about her too. The drama is really in her personal life. It’s her personal life and her relationships that make you want to see more.”
Viewers may recognise Kiruna, the show’s Arctic setting, from 2016’s French-Swedish coproduction Midnight Sun, which saw a French cop head north to investigate the murder of a French politician. During the summer months, there is near 24-hour sunlight, a scenario of which that show took advantage to heighten its fish-out-of-water premise.
The midnight sun is also present in Rebecka Martinsson, though it serves simply as the background of the story rather than a driver of it. In any case, the environment proved no less challenging to film in.
“There are many challenges working there – there’s no food and lots of mosquitos and you can’t really go everywhere by car,” Ingvoll says. “But it’s also very nice being there. That’s one of the reasons why I want to do a second season because I want to spend as much time there as possible. It kind of feels homely, even though I haven’t spent much time there. I really like it. Something happens to your body – it’s the midnight sun. Those long days never end and the sun never sets. I was really in love with the landscape.
“The mosquitos were the biggest challenge but the locals we had on the set were like, ‘Just let them eat you,’ because they’re immune to them now. After a while you get used to it.”
With the temperatures dropping to -17C, one scene called for Ingvoll to swim in a frozen lake. “That was some experience. I’m quite hardcore but that was really cold,” the actor admits. “Your body stops working and my Finnish colleague actor had to swim with his head down. We also shot underwater but that was in warmer water. I have done it before but the air was so cold, the acting was really tough.”
With all four Rebecka Martinsson novels adapted in the first season, the character would have to appear in some original stories should the series return for a second run. Until then, Ingvoll is keeping busy with turns in hit series The Restaurant and Bonus Family.
“For some reason I’ve been picking the projects that have become really successful,” the actor jokes. “They have been breaking viewing records in Sweden so that’s really good for me.”
Ingvoll notes the irony, however, that she is most recognised for roles in which she plays ‘the wife’ or ‘the girlfriend,’ as in A Man Called Ove and Bonus Family, instead of more substantial parts such as in Rebecka Martinsson or The Restaurant, in which she says her character Ester will come to the fore in season two, airing later this year. “It’s really strange because I’m working on more interesting characters so it’s weird people recognise you from something that’s not your favourite moment.”
Crime series remain a staple of television in Sweden, across Europe and around the world. It means producers and broadcasters are continually trying to find ways to invigorate the genre and keep up with the demand, particularly in Scandinavia where the Nordic noir boom has seen global audiences drawn to its gripping plots and dark and moody landscapes.
That many series coming out of the region are backed by European funding presents a problem for Ingvoll. “We could never produce the amount of series that we do without the financial support from Germany or other European countries, but with that money also comes demands,” she notes. “The Germans want 90-minute films and this country wants 10 one-hour-episode seasons. There are so many layers, even when you haven’t really written the dialogue yet, the setting has already a shaped so it’s quite hard. There’s less room for the genius of writing or storytelling.
“If someone would let us do our own thing 100%, it would let us raise the bar even higher. Money talks, even down to the lines of the script. Bonus Family and The Restaurant, it’s SVT so they’re the richest channel [in Sweden]. The more money you can buy yourself freedom from, the better the quality because the idea will get stronger.”
Ingvoll first became aware of the Nordic noir trend when she starred in 2015’s The Team, cast alongside Lars Mikkelsen, Jasmin Great and Veerle Baetens in the story of a team of police officers brought together across Europe to solve a series of cross-border murders.
“I realised on that show that we had a genre [in Scandinavia] that was so specific. My co-stars from Germany and Belgium were asking, ‘How do you do this genre?’ We were like, we don’t do the genre, it’s just a show. That’s when I realised we had created a style, a way of doing things.
“It’s not really a conscious decision,” the actor adds. “We’re not really aware that we created a strong style of what a Scandi noir is. I think we were the last to find out what a Scandi noir was.”
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.”
A few years ago, Israeli producers started to make serious inroads into the US market with local adaptations of their dramas. Exemplified by shows like In Treatment, Traffic Light and Homeland, we looked at this trend in a column in June 2015.
Subsequently, Israel has also started to have notable successes in other parts of the world. A good example is Keshet International (KI)’s The A Word, a comedy drama adapted by the BBC in the UK. Having secured strong ratings in BBC1 primetime, the show has now been recommissioned for a second season and is being adapted for the Greek market. It has also been licensed to broadcasters including Sundance in the US, CBC (Canada), BBC First (Australia) and, ironically perhaps, pay TV broadcaster YES in Israel.
It’s not just Israeli adaptations that are winning over buyers. Original Hebrew-language dramas have also started to generate interest. In October 2015, for example, Fox International Channels acquired KI drama False Flag – the first time it had bought a non-English-language scripted series for use on a global scale.
Federation Entertainment and Armoza Formats, meanwhile, have had a lot of joy selling Hebrew-language series Hostages internationally, and there is also an English-language version of the show. Additionally, Endemol Shine International recently sold Israeli thriller Mossad to Turner Latin America.
This week, there was another positive development for Hebrew-language drama, with the news that Channel 4 in the UK is to air Endemol’s Israel-produced comedy-drama The Baker and the Beauty – the first time C4 has ever aired an Israeli drama in its original form. The show, distributed by KI, was picked up earlier this year for use on the C4-backed foreign-language VOD service Walter Presents. But airing on C4’s main channel means it will get much greater exposure in the UK market.
The show, which has been adapted for Greece, The Netherlands and Russia, is a top performer in Israel and has been greenlit for a second season. It follows the love story between a female celebrity and a baker who still lives with his parents. A chance encounter results in their romance, but the big question is whether their relationship can survive her jet-setting lifestyle, her overbearing agent, his unworldly family, both their exes and media intrusion.
Elsewhere this week, there are reports that Sony PlayStation is cancelling superhero drama Powers after two seasons. The news was broken on Twitter by creator Brian Michael Bendis.
this is hard to tweet, but word is that @POWERStheSERIES is sadly, no more. season 2 was the last. at least for now. 1/2
The ‘at least for now’ may mean Bendis is planning to look for another network home for Powers. But the show has not been especially well received by critics, so a season three revival seems unlikely. At least Bendis can console himself with the fact that Powers will continue in comic book form with Marvel.
Powers was PlayStation’s first original drama commission, so the fact that it has been cancelled may signal that the Sony-owned gaming platform is pulling back from investment in television. That wouldn’t be too much of a surprise given that Sony is now ploughing money into scripted productions for Crackle.
Another show in trouble this week is Houdini & Doyle, which we have discussed before in this column. The show’s first season aired on ITV Encore in the UK and Fox in the US earlier this year, drawing modest ratings. Fox has now said it won’t recommission it, so it remains to be seen if ITV will go searching for other partners to keep the franchise alive.
This week also saw the conclusion of The Secret Agent on BBC1. The three-part miniseries was an adaptation of one of Joseph Conrad’s finest novels. As far as I can tell, it’s the first Conrad TV adaptation since Nostromo in 1997. The Secret Agent itself was previously adapted as a film in 1996, with Bob Hoskins.
I was very much looking forward to the production – because Conrad is one of my favourite authors and lead actor Toby Jones (Verloc) is one of my favourite actors. But it seems to have missed its mark with the audience. The first episode came in below the slot average, which doesn’t bode well for the next two episodes (the ratings aren’t in yet). It also scored just 5.8 on IMDb, which is low. And entertainment critics weren’t exactly enthusiastic.
There appear to be two key problems with the show. The first is that the story is so bleak, a point well articulated by Gerard O’Donovan in The Telegraph. The second is that Conrad novels are not structured in a way that lends themselves to adaptation. So often in his works, key pieces of action happen early and then become the basis for extended psychological studies. This is very different, for example, from a Thomas Hardy novel – where there is usually a powerful setup, some unexpected twists and turns and a dramatic conclusion.
The strength of the acting and writing certainly make The Secret Agent worth watching – it’s only three hours long, after all. But the show should be a warning to anyone thinking of adapting other Conrad novels. Those tempted should probably focus on his sea stories – and should perhaps look for a contemporary setting (echoing the way Francis Ford Coppola created Apocalypse Now from Heart of Darkness). Anyone interested in following up on this subject should see this Guardian article.
Finally this week, Starz Digital, the on-demand licensing arm of US cable network Starz, has licensed comedy-horror series Ash vs Evil Dead to Amazon in Germany. The first season of the show was a big hit for Starz in the US, reaching 8.7 on IMDb. Season two will hit US screens on October 2, while Amazon’s deal will see it air season one next month.
Walter Iuzzolino, chief creative officer at GSN and curator of Walter Presents, reveals the shows that inspired Channel 4’s new global drama platform.
German drama is undergoing a true renaissance. Once associated with gentle, mainstream cop shows and period pieces, Germany is suddenly bursting with edgy, powerful premium series, which have gained international acclaim and recognition in a very short time.
Generation War, a compelling miniseries offering a refreshingly different take on the narrative of the Second World War, was an early indicator of the quality of productions to come.
Deutschland 83 (pictured) is one of the strongest and most powerful pieces of storytelling I have seen in years. Written and produced by husband-and-wife team Anna and Joerg Winger, this is an iconic and stylish thriller that stands in a league of its own, totally redefining standards for excellence in global scripted programming. The unforgettable, fast-paced coming-of-age story of a young spy forced to leave his past behind to start a new life in the West is an irresistible cocktail of pathos, drama and humour, delivered with the most exquisite cinematography, art direction and aesthetic framework since Mad Men.
Line of Separation is another compelling historical drama, this time set in the Second World War. Produced by the Oscar-winning team behind The Lives of Others, it also stars Jonas Nay, the lead actor of Deutschland 83. The story, inspired by true events spanning 1945 to 1961, focuses on a small town torn apart by clashing ideologies and split down the middle by a carelessly drawn border dividing it between east and west – a miniature version of the impending Cold War.
Another historical drama and family saga, this time set in Berlin, is Hotel Adlon. Directed by top movie director Uli Edel, the series is inspired by the events that marked the first 90 years of Germany’s most extraordinary hotel. Personal and political narratives of love, war and the destiny of a family through three generations are skilfully interwoven in a beautifully crafted script and brought to life by an exceptional cast.
German detective series also feature in our mix, including hit franchise Nick’s Law, Nick’s Revenge and Nick’s Pain; Inspector Borowski and crime thriller Cenk Batu. All three series revolve around charismatic maverick detectives, all of them loners but with very different policing styles.
The breadth and quality of German drama now on offer and currently in the production pipeline will surely shine a bright light on Germany as the next big creative hub for scripted content globally.
Right next door to Germany is another country that’s largely undiscovered by global audiences in terms of scripted output. Famous for its blockbuster gameshow formats and reality juggernauts, the Netherlands has never really acquired an international reputation for its drama series – but that is about to change. We have assembled a powerful slate of 61 hours we hope will prove a bit of a revelation for critics and viewers alike.
Among the key Dutch offerings is Penoza (pictured), produced by NL Films. This seminal Sopranos-style crime saga is built around the compelling central character of Carmen, a housewife who is reluctantly forced to take charge of the family’s criminal business following his assassination. The multi-award-winning series is now in its fourth season.
The Neighbours is a sassy gem of a series – a dark, sexy and voyeuristic Fatal Attraction between two couples living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Based on the bestselling novels by Saskia Noort, its transmission on RTL last year attracted millions of viewers on 10 consecutive nights. A second series is currently in production.
The Prey is an award-winning and Emmy-nominated drama based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Jeroen Smit. It depicts the true story of the rise and fall of Dutch banker Rijkman Groenink and the downfall of the entire ABN AMRO Bank, which was one of Europe’s financial powerhouses at the time.
Bellyacher Cel is another hit drama series from Holland, starring JanAd Adolfsen. The six-part series follows a man wrongfully accused of a fatal hit-and-run. Hunted by the police and criminals alike, he attempts to find out who has stolen his identity and why they are determined to frame him.
A country normally associated with telenovelas, Brazil is producing some really exciting and innovative dramas, with standout visceral and dramatic tones which is totally unique.
SOB (Son of a Bitch, pictured) is a comedy series about a football referee who dreams of one day officiating the World Cup final. On the pitch he’s a man of high morals and a stickler for the rules, but off it his life is in freefall. Starring Eucir De Souza and directed by Katia Lund, whose previous credits include the Oscar-nominated film City of God, the series has a wonderful supporting cast of lovable characters and also features guest appearances by Brazilian football stars and commentators.
Magnifica 70’s season premiere became the second highest-rating Brazilian original production in the last 10 years. Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of a married man bored with his job censoring films for the Sao Paulo government. Unexpectedly, he becomes obsessed with the beautiful Dora Dumar, an erotic actress whose films he is obliged to censor. To save her from ruin, he agrees to help write and direct her films to get them through the state censorship department. Stylish, evocative with a wonderful script and talented cast, Magnifica 70 stands out as a bold piece based on a truly unique and gutsy premise – the clash between personal freedom of expression and political repression, set against the unusual and captivating backdrop of Boca do Lixo, an iconic suburb of Sao Paulo, which was home to a flourishing erotic film industry in the early 1970s.
From Bergman movies to Strindberg plays, Sweden has always been the land of filmmaking, theatrical and literary excellence – and its TV drama output is just as exceptional. Having taken somewhat of a back seat to Denmark in the explosion of Nordic drama, Sweden now seems to be producing a much more diverse range of top-drawer series.
Thicker than Water is a 10-part drama set on an island in the enchanting Swedish Alandic archipelago. It tells the story of three siblings suddenly reunited and thrown together when their mother commits suicide. In order to inherit her money, the siblings are forced to live and work together in the family hotel for one summer. Dark secrets begin to emerge, compelling them to confront long-buried emotions from their past. Featuring an exceptional cast in a beautiful setting, this seductive family thriller has been a ratings smash hit and a second season is currently in production.
Blue Eyes (pictured) is another eye-catching Swedish series but for totally different reasons. A bold, edgy, contemporary political thriller, it focuses on the rise of political extremism in Northern Europe. There are only a few, crucial weeks left to the national election when a spate of brutal murders from a fringe group of young, dangerous Neo Nazis throws the country – and the corrupt political elite – into a state of shock.
This is as incisive and arresting as Scandi drama gets: a bold and daring approach to issues of racism, immigration and xenophobia in which the definition of good and evil is not always so black and white. It’s edge-of-your-seat television.
Finally, we’ve uncovered an unexpected treasure in the Czech Republic’s output. The Lens is a stylish and beautifully shot story about an aspiring young filmmaker who is devastated when his father dies following a hit-and-run. Determined to find his father’s killer, he joins the police force as a crime photographer.
Burning Bush (pictured), meanwhile, is a stunning three-part drama created by world-renowned Polish director Agnieszka Holland. Based on real characters and events, this haunting drama focuses on the personal sacrifice of a Prague history student, Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in
1969 – and his family’s fight against the Communist regime following his death. It’s a deeply moving story focusing on big themes of personal and political freedom, the fight against corruption and ideological repression – and the personal family tragedy that shook a country and changed its history.
This is the drama piece that inspired us to launch the service and start Walter Presents more than a year ago. When you come across something so exceptional and powerful, you can’t help wanting to share it.
A devastating flood at the start of this year’s Mipcom didn’t seem to affect the amount of business being done throughout the week, with the trade in scripted shows especially brisk.
One title that managed to rack up a number of sales was FremantleMedia International’s German-language spy thriller Deutschland 83, which was sold to Channel One (Russia), Sky Italia, Hulu (US), SundanceTV (English-speaking Canada) and Stan (Australia and New Zealand), among others. This follows on from previous deals with broadcasters including SundanceTV in the US, Canal+ (France) and Channel 4/Walter Presents (UK).
A coming-of-age story set in Germany during the Cold War, Deutschland 83 follows Martin Rauch, a 24-year-old East German native who is sent to West Germany as an undercover spy for the Stasi foreign service. The show is part of a broad trend in the TV business towards espionage-based thrillers – the trigger for which was probably the Israeli scripted format Hatufim (Prisoners of War), which was reinvented as Homeland in the US.
Other espionage-based shows selling well this week included Zodiak Rights’ Occupied, a Nordic series that imagines a situation in which Russia invades Norway to take control of the country’s oil industry. The show, which has debuted strongly in Norway, was picked up for broadcast in Poland (a country that also has an acute interest in Russian foreign policy).
Similarly, there was a lot of interest in Keshet International’s False Flag, which was featured in The Wit’s popular conference session Fresh TV Fiction. This Israeli series centres on five seemingly ordinary Israeli citizens who are accused of kidnapping a senior Iranian politician. It has been picked up by Fox International Channels – which is planning an English-language version via Fox International Studios and has also acquired the rights to the Hebrew version. The latter, which will air in 127 territories via FIC’s channels, is the broadcaster’s first non-English-language series acquired on a global basis.
There has always been a strong trade in non-English-language drama between countries where English is not the first language. But a big change in the business over the past few years has been the willingness of English-language broadcasters and platforms to air such shows. Netflix, Hulu and BBC4 in the UK can take a lot of credit for kickstarting this trend, but it has become a lot more widespread in the past six to 12 months.
One interesting development in this regard is Walter Presents, a foreign-language drama on-demand platform that is being launched in January by Channel 4 in the UK and its strategic partner GSN. Walter Presents was busy at Mipcom snapping up the rights to a wide range of non-English dramas. It struck a deal with German distributor ZDF Enterprises for a number of series, including 10-part Belgian black comedy drama Clan, which follows the exploits of four frustrated sisters as they plot to kill their obnoxious brother-in-law, and 10-part Swedish political thriller Blue Eyes. Also acquired from ZDF were eight-part crime drama The Team, six-part Polish crime thriller The Pack and Swedish family saga Thicker than Water.
The platform’s buying spree also encompassed deals with French content providers such as TF1 International and Film & Picture TV Distribution, plus 20 hours of Dutch-language shows from Netherlands-based Dutch Features Global Entertainment.
Rai Com, the commercial arm of Italian public broadcaster Rai, has been another beneficiary of this interest in non-English drama. At Mipcom it secured deals for the new season of its detective series The Young Montalbano, licensing it to the BBC, RLJ (UK video rights) and Hi Gloss (Australia and New Zealand video).
There have been numerous examples of US cable channels commissioning new scripted content recently. But making drama is expensive, so some channels have sensibly decided to explore the international acquisitions route as well. An example we cited a couple of columns ago is Esquire Network, which has picked up Spotless and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. A&E Network did something similar at Mipcom, picking up The Frankenstein Chronicles, produced by Rainmark Films, distributed by Endemol Shine International and starring Sean Bean (Game of Thrones).
SundanceTV is following a similar trajectory, though it prefers to get involved as a coproduction partner, giving it a little more oversight and input into the end product. Having previously partnered up on The Honourable Woman and D83, for example, it was busy at Mipcom picking up a new portfolio of non-US dramas.
One interesting title that it has jumped on board is RTÉ’s historical drama Rebellion, which tells the story of the birth of modern Ireland. It has also linked up with Sky Atlantic and Canal+ on The Last Panthers. Produced by France’s Haut et Court and the UK’s Warp Films, the series centres on the evolution of criminality in Europe, taking place in locations across the continent, from Serbia to Marseilles in France.
More evidence of the vibrancy of the European drama scene right now is the news that Zodiak Rights-supported Versailles has been given a second season, while TF1 in France and RTL in Germany are backing the new UFA Fiction/Beta Film drama series Hitler (working title). Meanwhile, The Copenhagen Film Fund has confirmed it is in talks about financing a fourth season of SVT and DR’s hit crime drama The Bridge.
Out of the UK, notable deals included the sale of All3Media International’s The Missing to German public broadcaster ZDF and FremantleMedia International’s No Offence to France TV.
The Brits are also beneficiaries of the growing demand for drama content from subscription VoD platforms. This week, for example, South African service ShowMax bought 125 hours of content from ITV Studios Global Entertainment, including Jekyll & Hyde, Rectify, Mr Selfridge, Good Witch and Texas Rising.
In terms of US series, the major TV studios were quick to seal deals. Disney Media Distribution licensed ABC Studios’ The Muppets to 122 territories, while the latest Shondaland drama series, The Catch, has been licensed to 186 territories. Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, The Catch is a thriller about a successful fraud investigator who becomes the victim of fraud by her fiancé.
Sony Pictures Television also announced international deals for its shows. Wesley Snipes drama The Player hasn’t started very strongly in the US, but SPT has still managed to sell it into 105 territories, with high-profile deals in France (TF1), Germany (RTL), Spain (AXN) and Australia (Seven). SPT has also had a good start with The Art of More, a Dennis Quaid drama that was created for on-demand service Crackle. To date, the show has been sold into 25 territories via broadcasters such as Viacom’s Colors Infinity channel in India, OSN across the Middle East and D-Smart in Turkey. Of the two dramas, The Art of More feels more like a show that may run for a few seasons.
Other US shows to do business this week include NBC’s strong starter Blindspot, which was licensed to Sky Living (alongside Limitless and The Catch). Meanwhile, NBCUniversal thriller Mr Robot was picked up by Finland’s public broadcaster YLE.
While the majority of news from Mipcom 2015 concerned the sale of completed shows, there was also a smattering of commissioning and format announcements at the market. Viacom-owned BET, for example, is reported to be planning a six-part drama miniseries called Madiba, focusing on the life of Nelson Mandela and starring Laurence Fishburne; while StudioCanal-owned Tandem Productions is to adapt Code to Zero, the international bestselling novel by Ken Follett (Tandem previously adapted Follett’s Pillars of the Earth epic). Note also the above references to Versailles, Hitler and The Bridge.
On the format front, German network Vox is remaking Spanish drama The Red Band, TF1 in France is to produce a local adaptation of BBC drama The Escape Artist and CTC in Russia is adapting Keshet International’s romantic comedy The Baker and the Beauty.
Perhaps the most exciting format news of the week, however, is that US broadcast network ABC is adapting Janus, a drama from Austrian pubcaster ORF. This deal demonstrates that the powerful US networks are continuing to cast their net far and wide in search of great scripted ideas.
Mexican media giant Televisa is the largest producer and distributor of Spanish-language content in the world. But now it wants to play in the English-language market.
Having recently announced plans for an English-language version of Spanish drama Gran Hotel (to be produced by its US-based Televisa USA division), it has now revealed plans to “greenlight production of multiple English-language series to fuel its own demands as well as those from the global on-demand and TV markets.”
The first title to be announced is Duality, starring Dougray Scott (Taken 3). Working with Vancouver-based Odyssey Media, Televisa says the show will be one of the first to utilise the 1991 Mexican-Canadian tax treaty for scripted series. Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA; Jorge Aragon; Eduardo Clemesha, Televisa´s general director of new content and formats; Odyssey film and television producer Kirk Shaw (The Hurt Locker); and Scott will executive produce.
According to Televisa, Duality will centre on an elite, top-secret team of State Department, CIA and Mexican intelligence agents within Mexico who wage war against the most dangerous villains operating in Latin America. The series, based on an original story from writer-producer Barry Schkolnick (The Good Wife, Law & Order), “depicts characters on dangerous missions while battling their own personal demons.”
Clemesha added: “Televisa brings to this venture access to award-winning producers and directors; the economies of scale of shooting in Mexico with Televisa’s facilities and crew; as well as the latitude to adapt formats from both Televisa’s massive library and third-party rights holders.”
Elsewhere, UK pay TV channel Sky1 has ordered an Indiana Jones-style drama from Red Planet Pictures. Titled Hooten & The Lady, the 8×60’ series follows an adventurer called Hooten who teams up with the British Museum’s Lady Alexandra to track down lost treasures, including an Amazonian city, the Buddha’s missing scroll and the tomb of Alexander the Great. Filming will take place in Rome and Cape Town. Writers include Red Planet founder Tony Jordan, James Payne, Sarah Phelps, Jeff Povey and Richard Zajdlic. The show will be distributed internationally by Sky Vision.
This week has also seen the emergence of another movie-to-TV project, with Fox ordering a pilot from Warner Brothers based on the 1980s/90s hit movie franchise Lethal Weapon. If Warner Bros decides to stick close to the movie storylines then it will have a lot of content to work with. Aside from the original film, there were three sequels – and a fifth that never got out of development.
In other reboot news this week, reports suggest US network CBS is planning to revive 1980s TV series MacGyver.
In addition to new projects, there have been a couple of interesting drama renewals this week. In Denmark, crime series Dicte is about to go into production on a third season. Produced by Miso Films for TV2 Denmark and written by Dorte W Høgh and Ida Maria Rydén, Dicte is a crime series that centres on journalist Dicte Svendsen, plus her family, friends, colleagues and sources within the police.
This season will have an international dimension, with part of the series taking place in Lebanon and Syria. “We are so happy to be able to present a new season of Dicte,” said Katrine Vogelsang, head of fiction for TV2. “Danish viewers love the character of Dicte and the series has performed fantastically in TV2’s primetime slot on Monday nights. In Denmark, we measure viewers’ evaluations of episodes and Dicte is at the top of all Danish TV series.”
Meanwhile, CBS has greenlit a second season of Zoo for summer 2016. Based on the bestseller by James Patterson, Zoo is a thriller about a wave of violent animal attacks against humans across the planet. “Zoo’s thrilling stories clicked with audiences each week during a very competitive summer,” said CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller. “We’re excited for viewers to see where our writers and cast take them as the adventure continues to unfold during season two in the fight of man versus beast.”
Zoo is an interesting show, because it is part of a deal involving CBS and SVoD service Amazon Prime Instant Video. In a nutshell, Amazon helps fund the series and gets the right to stream the show in the US just a few days after it airs on CBS. The deal works for CBS because audiences are lower in the summer, so it is able to get a decent-quality drama at a relatively low price.
CBS and Amazon first created this model for Under the Dome, which has just ended after three seasons, and also used it for Extant. Now, the two parties have extended the arrangement to cover the next three summer periods. This will give Amazon access to new seasons of Zoo and a new series called BrainDead. “Prime members have loved having access to series like Under the Dome and Extant just four days after broadcast, and we’re excited to continue to offer in-season availability of more great CBS summer series over the next three years,” said Brad Beale, Amazon’s VP of digital video content acquisition.
Another interesting commissioning story this week came from the UK, with the BBC announcing that it has ordered another spin-off from sci-fi drama Doctor Who. Written by Patrick Ness and destined for BBC3, Class (8×45’) will be aimed at young adults and centres on a London school where sinister enemies are “breaking through the walls of time and space.”
It is exec produced by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffatt, Ness and Brian Minchin. Moffat said: “No one has documented the dark, exhilarating world of the teenager like Patrick Ness, and now we’re bringing his brilliant storytelling to Doctor Who.”
With autumn programme market Micom starting today, there has also been a lot of activity in terms of drama acquisition deals. The biggest story of the last week is that US cable channel Esquire has acquired the rights to ITV Studio’s new epic drama Beowulf. This follows a previously announced deal that saw Esquire acquire the Tandem production Spotless.
Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is a 13×60’ series that is being distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. It is set in the mythical Shieldlands, a dangerous place populated by humans and fantasy creatures. The first episode sees Beowulf return to Herot after many years as a mercenary warrior to pay his respects to the recently deceased Thane Hrothgar. But when Herot is attacked by the monster Grendl, Beowulf has no choice but to hunt the beast down.
Matt Hanna, EVP of development and production for Esquire, said: “Beowulf exemplifies our commitment to delivering well-produced, vivid and engaging programming. We’re thrilled to bring an impressive assembly of artists and visionaries to our line-up when the series unveils next year.”
Other acquisition deals this week include a raft of sales for German drama Naked Among Wolves, which has sold to Mediaset in Italy and KBS in South Korea others. There’s also been activity around Dori Media’s Ciega a Cita, a romantic comedy format that has been sold to AB Groupe in France.
On the service front, Channel 4’s new foreign drama on-demand service Walter Presents (launching in partnership with GSN) has acquired a number of Nordic dramas from Fremantle Media International, including Dicte and Acquitted. More deals are on the cards from Walter Presents at Mipcom this week. Meanwhile, Netflix has announced that it will launch in Spain on October 20, Portugal on October 21 and Italy on October 22.
Finally, there was news of a cancellation this week, with USA Network calling a halt to Graceland after three seasons. The Fox Television Studios-produced series told the story of a rookie agent who had to investigate his mentor. Reports suggest the show was iced because of low ratings.