Keep it local, put the author at the centre of the production, and avoid TV adaptations – these are The Killing broadcaster DR’s golden rules for producing ground-breaking drama, according to its content chief Morten Hesseldahl.
The executive director of cultural affairs revealed to delegates how a small Danish public broadcaster has managed to captivate viewers worldwide with gritty, groundbreaking dramas such as Borgen and The Bridge.
Hesseldahl said that his first rule was not to let audience research executives anywhere near the drama departments.
“Executives will only be able to discover successes from the past. Not the next new thing. If you told executives we were going to make a TV series about the state of Danish politics they would have left the room.”
He also argued that it was important to keep dramas author-centric and to give scriptwriters the freedom to explore complex characters, multiple story lines and pertinent issues, “…the types of freedoms that they are never given in film”, he added.
Another DR rule is no adaptations. “TV series is an art form in its own right,” he argued, adding that he had “lost count” of how many bad drama adaptations he had seen on TV.
This ‘no book’ rule has not stopped DR from being inspired by the international success of Nordic Noir’ novelists’ however. “Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo — all those authors have been successful partly because they have set their thrillers locally,” he said.
“Too many stories and settings look the same – you can really make something different and go global by staying local,” he added.
In Denmark, where most independent drama producers are focused on film, Hessendal said that it had been important for the broadcaster to invest in its own in-house production departments to build up “key competencies”.
“We are now engaging much more with external production companies but are careful about not losing control. We still insist of having final cut,” he added.
These partnerships are about to be put to the test as an outside company – Miso productions – is working with DR on Denmark’s most expensive TV drama – the €25m 1864.
According to Hesseldahl the 8x60minute mini series – about the war between Denmark and Bismarck’s newly unified Germany – will be one of a number of forthcoming dramas that will give men a turn in the spotlight.
“We’ve been particularly successful with strong female characters in our dramas like Birgitte Nyborg and Sarah Lund, but we’ve rather ignored what it means to be male in society,” he said.