BERLIN — The Germans have a word for must-see TV, Strassenfeger, meaning, literally, a show that’s so popular it sweeps the streets cleans.
And one of the chief creators of such content is 63-year-old helmer Dieter Wedel who has made 29 TV minis and films since 1970, most appearing in Januarys.
Wedel’s latest 180-minute, two-part divorce saga “Papa und Mama” was watched by more than 7 million (20% share) on pubcaster ZDF — that’s an audience only big soccer matches pull in and recalls aud numbers in the pre-cable and satellite era.
“Papa und Mama” is in the mold of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” which Wedel pays homage to by including a fictional moving company truck called “Kramer & Co.”
“Papa und Mama” had no big name actors yet cost e4.5 million ($5.5 million), a handsome sum in Germany.
His 2002 six-parter “Die Affaere Semmeling” (The Semmeling Affair) — about corruption in Hamburg politics that included a savage portrayal of German tax collectors — was his most expensive production at $18 million. “Der Koenig von St. Pauli” (The King of St. Pauli), 1998’s six-part mini, had the highest rating, pulling in 12 million viewers.
But what makes Wedel films so popular?
“I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for the zeitgeist,” says Wedel, who gives his heroes a dark side while his villains invariably have a redeeming quality or two. “In the real world, the good guys aren’t always right and the bad guys aren’t always wrong.
“I sense what bothers people and try to make films that look at the absurdities and serious issues but with a light touch and humor so that people can laugh at them,” he says. “It’s not just the heavy German stuff.”
Known for his wild hair and a straggly beard, Wedel leads his own life with a “light touch.”
His string of affairs has long made him a fixture in the tabloids and celebrity magazines. He never married and now has an open relationship with two women.
Wedel, who shared an office with Wolfgang Petersen early in their careers, stuck with TV despite cinema offers because TV projects reach larger auds in Germany, there’s more coin available, and the webs have given him all the freedom he wants.
“I love the cinema and had some offers, but the financing was always easier with TV, and the budgets just kept getting bigger,” says Wedel, who often writes the screenplays and gives himself a small cameo.
“Petersen wanted to go to Hollywood. I wanted to go into people’s living rooms. I’ve got total freedom on the material and on casting. I think filmmakers need total freedom.”