ARD staffer was secretly paying husband for scripts

In what sounds like the convoluted plot to one of its own TV crime dramas, German pubcaster ARD has suspended leading producer Doris Heinze after a newspaper disclosed that she had secretly commissioned her own husband to write at least four screenplays for the network over the past eight years.

Heinze served as head of film production at ARD affiliate NDR, one of the biggest regional pubcasters in the country. Overseeing both NDR’s TV production and theatrical co-productions, Heinze greenlit, commissioned and paid for projects at the pubcaster, including four screenplays from Niklas Becker, a screenwriter supposedly based in Montreal and whom no one had apparently ever met.

NDR even had a fake resume on file for the scribe. It turns out Becker was just a pseudonym for Heinze’s husband, Claus Strobel.

In researching the story, which broke Friday, Munich broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung alerted NDR officials to the masquerade, resulting in Heinze’s immediate suspension Thursday .

The scandal also hit Munich production company AllMedia, which produced the TV movies in question. AllMedia suspended inhouse producer and former topper Heike Richter-Karst, who had overseen all the Becker/Strobel pics commissioned by NDR.

Developments in the case indicate a growing screenplay conspiracy that may have involved more players. NDR is also looking into a fifth film, which aired on Arte in May, that was commissioned by Heinze and produced by Munich shingle Oberon Media Service from a screenplay by a writer named “Marie Funder,” a name also suspected of being a pseudonym.

For NDR and parent ARD, it’s a public relations fiasco reminiscent of a product placement scandal that engulfed the pubcaster group in 2005 and led to loud calls for greater transparency — a call now certain to be renewed.

One of the country’s most important producers, Heinze oversaw high-profile NDR theatrical co-productions such as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” Soenke Wortmann’s upcoming medieval drama “Pope Joan,” Jo Baier’s historical epic “Henry of Navarre,” Kaspar Heidelbach’s recently released Nazi-era drama “Berlin ‘36” and Christian Goerlitz’s upcoming TV movie “Ein Job,” starring Vanessa Redgrave.

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