COLOGNE — Gloomy weather, gruesome crimes and sullen detectives haunted by private demons: Thrillers “made in Sweden” have become a powerful draw on German TV.
The popularity of Scandi film noir has grown steadily over seven years as Teutonic pubcasters ARD and ZDF slug it out for rights.
Author Henning Mankell’s books about melancholy, slightly overweight investigator Kurt Wallander have sold 15 million copies here.
On TV, actor Rolf Lassgard as Wallander has gained an iconic status similar to that of Peter Falk’s shambling Columbo.
Following two all-Swedish productions based on the Wallander books in the mid-1990s, ZDF stepped in as a partner and boosted budgets for production.
Around the same time, ARD picked up “Kommissar Beck,” a Swedish detective from the 1960s now successfully revived for TV.
“We broke new territory with Wallander, and ARD did so with Beck, but no one would have forecast the popularity this would achieve,” says Wolfgang Feindt, a programming exec at ZDF who also oversees the web’s high-profile imported fare like “The Sopranos.”
ZDF is still producing one Wallander event movie a year, some as two-parters, together with Sweden’s SVT. This year’s edition garnered 4.4 million viewers, a market share of 17%.
However, the current adaptation of Mankell’s “Firewall,” followed by “Wallander’s First Case,” will be the last turn for ZDF, which holds the rights only to the existing novels.
New cases penned by Mankell exclusively for TV have been picked up by ARD with northern partners TV4, Yellow Bird Films and Film i Skane.
The package of 13 90-minute episodes, two of them also shot for theatrical exploitation, at over $25 million is Sweden’s largest screen project ever.
The new Wallander will include a new face for the detective: Lassgard’s role has been taken by Krister Henriksson.
Will the reboot rankle loyal fans? “I wouldn’t say so, given that the change has Mankell’s blessing,” says Rainer Bunz of ARD.
Meanwhile, ZDF has snatched the latest “Kommissar Beck” season from ARD, a move that neither side is willing to comment on.
With reruns of both versions enjoying high ratings, the Swedish detectives undoubtedly will be switching back and forth between the two channels.
ARD, meanwhile, is developing a new series based on the works of another high-profile Swedish thriller author, Hakan Nesser.
While Nordic crime dramas have struck a chord among German viewers, they have been slow to gain ground elsewhere, Feindt says. “We are handling the international sales, and they are doing OK, but the real run hasn’t started yet.”