ON THE BLOG: "viewers are hungrier than ever for the outside experience” | A panel on European TV drama today

Last night the Creative Europe Desk UK team attended a panel at BFI Southbank on the current taste for European drama and where this might lead in the future. 

Speakers included All4’s Walter Presents supremo Walter Iuzzolino, writer/producer Stewart Harcourt, actor Cherie Lunghi and Head of International Sales at Studiocanal TV Beatriz Campos. John Wyver, a media producer and Professor of the Arts on Screen, chaired the panel and invited speakers to comment on questions such as what does the representation of Europe on our TV screens today tell us about how we view Europe, and will this change with Brexit? 

The panel was organised by the BFI Southbank’s TV programmer Marcus Prince who introduced the line-up of guests by noting that “our exposure to European drama and high production value has never been greater.”

In 2018, Creative Europe co-financed the production of 41 TV programmes with grants totalling €12.5 million. This included four high-end, co-produced TV dramas that each received a grant of €1 million, three Scandinavian series – Atlantic Crossing, Sanctuary and Wisting, as well as the hit adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel My Brilliant Friend, which TV writer Stewart Harcourt attested was “one of the best shows of last year.” 

The shift towards UK audiences embracing stories from other European countries was deemed by the entire panel as a good thing, with Cherie Lunghi (star of Letters to an Unknown Lover and The Misanthrope) commenting that actors and audiences alike are interested in good storytelling, regardless of its origins. 

Beatriz Campos recognised that there is now “an appetite for stories that travel and that cater to both a local audience and the international landscape.” Campos attributes this growing appetite to having “more platforms and greater access to stories, as well as the means and resources to distribute these dramas to wider territories.”

Walter Iuzzolini spoke about the origins of his curated streaming platform ‘Walter Presents’, which has received funding support from Creative Europe through the Promotion of Audiovisual Works Online scheme.

When Iuzzolino was growing up in Italy, most of the television he watched was dubbed. Although this was frustrating in its lack of authenticity, it almost removed the ‘foreignness of the content’ and thus Iuzzolini was introduced to a diverse range of international drama. “On Monday, there’d be an Italian mafia show; on Tuesday, a German cop show; on Wednesday, something a Spanish melodrama…”

Upon moving to the UK in his 20s, Iuzzolino was struck by the “absence of texture” on our TV screens. The offering was heavily conservative and Anglo-American and he wondered where all the French comedies and crisp German thrillers were. “Every country makes something outstanding, Iuzzolino noted, "they produce excellent writers, commissioners and channels.”

In a bid to bring this excellence to the UK and minimise the idea that subtitles are elitist and indicative of boring, slow-moving, yawn-inducing drama,  Walter Presents was born. The platform launched with Deutschland 83, a compulsive coming-of-ager, framed within a suspenseful Cold War thriller and set in 1980s Germany and described by Walter in his curatorial precursor to the show as “the best international drama I’ve seen in the last 10 years”. It subsequently went on to become “the highest-rated foreign-language drama in UK TV history.”

The follow-up series Deutschland 86 is due to be released on All4 this Friday. German production company UFA Fiction was supported through Creative Europe’s TV Programming scheme with a grant of €500,000. 

Walter Presents also boasts a strong collection of Scandi noir, with shows like The River and Ride Upon the Storm. Harcourt argued that the “one of the great appeals of Scandi noir” which took off in 2011 with the airing of The Killing, “is that it took leads from British crime procedurals, so there was familiarity.”

However Campos suggested that influences were more reciprocal, with countries “feeding into each other”, for instance shows like Luther and Doctor Foster took their cues from grittier European drama. Ultimately “language is no longer a barrier. More than anything audiences want authenticity” remarked Campos. She added that “the co-production model was [fast becoming] the only way for European production companies and broadcasters to compete with US streaming giants.”

Iuzzolini concluded the evening by noting that despite “all the [current] political barriers, viewer are hungrier than ever for the outside experience.”

Attendees on their favourite European TV dramas:

Deutschland '83

  • "I visited Berlin a lot during the late seventies and early eighties and adored the authenticity of Deutschland '83, especially the soundtrack and political references."

Gomorrah

  • "To me, Gomorrah, certainly series 1-2, is the bravest and most profound take on modern crime in recent TV history, intensely rooted in its Neapolitan locale and culture yet universal in its themes."

Babylon Berlin

  • "Aside from featuring one of my favourite TV title sequences ever and the amazing music throughout, it's just a joy to be immersed in a period world that's constantly surprising and ready to go all out with some wild stylistic flourishes."

The next deadline for applications to Creative Europe's TV programming scheme is 28 May 2019. For an overview of some of the projects supported through the scheme, take a look at our support for TV drama production brochure. 

Image: The first episode of Deutschland 86 will air on More4 on Friday 8 March at 9pm. The boxset will be available on Walter Presents via All4 immediately after. Image credit: Walter Presents.