Iceland joins Nordic Noir wave
When I read, in December, how RVK Studios’ Trapped had become the top-rating drama in Icelandic TV history, I must admit I didn’t bat an eyelid. While a 90% share sounded high, the fact that this only converts into 130,000 to 140,000 viewers made me question the scale of the show’s achievement.
Perhaps I should have been more attentive, because the show has now proved to be a big hit for BBC4 in the UK. Launched on February 14 with the first two episodes aired back to back, it came in around the 1.2 to 1.3 million mark. This compares to shows like The Bridge and Deutschland 83, which both rated strongly in the UK.
The critics also like Trapped, with The Guardian calling it “seriously, toe-tinglingly good.” The Telegraph added that Trapped is “so absorbing that within five minutes I’d forgotten it was subtitled, and tried turning the volume up.” The Daily Mail also approved, saying: “If you like crime stories set in tight-knit communities, from Broadchurch to Fargo, you won’t want to miss this.”
The reason why ratings on BBC4 matter is that international buyers pay close attention to what happens on the channel. Interviewed at the C21 Drama Summit last December, Danmarks Radio (DR) head of drama Piv Bernth was asked what the turning point was in terms of her own company’s rise to international prominence. Her response was that it was BBC4’s decision to air The Killing – “From then on, it did amazingly well.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that in the case of Trapped, a strong BBC4 performance is more of a validation of the show’s quality than a call to action for the international community.
This is because the series is based on an idea by Hollywood director Baltasar Kormakur, who is also one of the principals at RVK Studios. The involvement of Kormakur, who directed a couple of episodes of Trapped and serves as a producer, encouraged a number of leading broadcasters to jump on board at an early stage.
Aside from the BBC, for example, Trapped has been acquired by France Télévisions, ZDF in Germany, SVT Sweden, YLE Finland, NRK Norway and DR1 Denmark.
Like BBC4, France TV has already started airing the show and, if anything, is achieving even better ratings. The first episode on its France 2 channel drew more than five million viewers (18.5% share), making it the second most popular programme of the evening after the new drama Le Secret d’Elise on TF1.
Interestingly, Trapped has also been picked up by The Weinstein Company (TWC) in the US, in a deal brokered by Dynamic Television. There’s no word yet about where TWC will place the show in the US but, thanks to the initial buzz, it stands a good chance of following Deutschland 83 into the US cable market or being picked up by one of the big SVoD platforms.
So my somewhat belated New Year’s resolution is to watch more Icelandic TV, starting with Global Screen-distributed series Prisoners and Red Arrow International-distributed Case. Also keep an eye out for RVK’s next projects, which include a film called Oath, a psychological thriller about a father who plans to commit the perfect crime to save his drug-addicted daughter.
Elsewhere in the world of TV, Fox’s six-part reboot of The X-Files finished with a respectable average of 9.5 million viewers (same-day ratings, which means you can expect an uplift once time-shifted viewing is factored in). The show did drop quite considerably from its opening episode, ending with 7.6 million, but this was still strong enough for everyone to start speculating about whether there will be a follow-up.
Given that the show ended with a huge cliffhanger, there is clearly an intention on the part of show creator Chris Carter to make another season. And Fox would certainly like another instalment, given that the new X-Files is also rating well internationally.
In the UK, the show seems to be settling down at around the 2.5 million mark on Channel 5, which is a strong showing.
As discussed before, the big challenge with making another batch of The X-Files is co-ordinating the diaries of lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. So while everyone waits to see if that can be sorted out, there is also a debate around whether a spin-off might be the best approach.
This possibility has been fuelled by the fact that the last two episodes of the reboot introduced a new pair of agents that were very similar to Mulder and Scully at the start of the Fox series.
The question of a possible spin-off series was put to Carter by The Hollywood Reporter, but he played a straight bat, saying: “I really love those guys [the new characters]. They’re terrific actors, and excellent to work with. It would be nice to include them. But, at the same time, we didn’t make series deals with them. I can’t imagine they’re not going to be scooped up and be somewhat unavailable to us. It will just be practical about how we’re able to work with them in the future.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a no, however. More important than the actors’ intentions (who would say no to starring in an X-Files spin-off?) is whether Fox gets positive feedback on the Mulder and Scully mini-me’s.
Meanwhile, there’s no particular evidence that the audience is finding its way to Martin Scorsese’s new series Vinyl, which is set in the 1970s music business. The show, rumoured to have cost $100m to produce, has already been gifted a second season by HBO in the US – despite the fact that the first two episodes of its first series have come in at just 764,000 followed by 667,000. This is some way short of other HBO shows like True Detective, Silicon Valley, Ballers, The Brink and Veep.
The series hasn’t started especially well in the UK either, with 178,000 (seven-day rating) tuning into Sky Atlantic for the first episodes. HBO can console itself with the fact that Game of Thrones is poised to return – and that Vinyl may eventually find its fanbase.
Still, this hasn’t prevented observers from asking whether Vinyl’s under-performance is symptomatic of a bigger creative challenge for HBO.