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Teutons twitchy about ‘Sons of Anarchy’

Webs treat tough biker gang series with caution

FX’s hard-riding outlaw biker skein “Sons of Anarchy” has barreled into nearly all major territories in Europe, achieving major success on M6 in France and Bravo in the U.K., but it remains conspicuously absent from German screens.

Kurt Sutter’s hit show about a biker club whose members murder with impunity while gunrunning and racketeering in the fictional town of Charming, Calif., is a tough sell in a country where violence is largely frowned upon and TV cops rarely draw their guns.

German broadcasters have had difficulties with other morally ambiguous shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Shield.”

Ironically, “Sons of Anarchy” is already well-known here even though it’s never aired in the country.

Currently the most popular show on FX Stateside, where it’s in the middle of its third season, “Sons of Anarchy” already boasts fan websites and forum boards in Germany with detailed episode summaries following club VP Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), his biker mom Gemma (Katey Sagal) and stepdad and club president Clay (Ron Perlman).

Sagal and Perlman are name players in Germany, and Hunnam has won broad recognition with such European productions as “Hooligans,” “Nicholas Nickleby” and the original “Queer as Folk.”

Yet the series about the Harley-Davidson-riding biker gang remains too risky for most German channels.

Commercial channels RTL Television and affiliate RTL II say the target audience is too narrow for their lineups.

RTL prefers more clean-cut and law-abiding shows like “Bones,” “House,” “CSI: Miami” and “Monk,” while RTL II services a younger male demo with “Heroes,” “Flashpoint” and “Stargate Atlantis.”

RTL II spokesman Hannes Graebner says a likely 18-plus rating would relegate it to latenight, making the show uneconomical. “Too few viewers would watch it at a very late hour; it wouldn’t be profitable.”

However, Ruediger Boess, senior VP of group programming acquisitions at pan-European broadcasting conglom ProSiebenSat.1 Media, thinks a latenight audience is just what the series needs.

The ideal slot for the show, he says, would be after 10 p.m. on the group’s ProSieben or Kabel Eins channels, both of which showcase mainly U.S. series like “Supernatural,” “24,” “The Pacific” and “Vampire Diaries.”

“Naturally, ad revenue tends to be lower outside primetime, so we have to make sure that programs we buy for these slots make economic sense,” Boess adds.

He may be willing to take a risk on the bikers, but isn’t ready to commit yet.

“?’Sons of Anarchy’ is certainly on my list. It’s definitely not appropriate for daytime or primetime — the target audience is too specialized for that. Nevertheless, we really like the series and it could have a chance in Germany.”

Notorious motorcycle clubs haven’t had it easy here.

This year, lawmakers threatened to outlaw the Hells Angels and Bandidos outright after escalating violence drew the national spotlight on the rival gangs, sworn enemies that had been at war over territory, prostitution, gunrunning and illegal drug operations.

In May, however, the two clubs agreed to a cease-fire, sealing it with a handshake and saving themselves from a nationwide ban.

It couldn’t have gone down better in Charming.

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