BERLIN — If there’s one thing Germans love, it’s big-event TV. In recent years, all of Germany’s major TV broadcasters have splurged on epic, multimillion-dollar productions.
Showcasing momentous historical events, epic adventures and literary adaptations, upcoming productions include “Mogadishu Welcome,” about the real-life hijacking of a Lufthansa flight in 1977 by Palestinian terrorists, and “Die Bruecke” (The Bridge), a remake of the 1959 classic German film about a group of boys ordered to defend a small bridge from American troops in the final days of World War II.
Pubcasters ARD and ZDF have led the way with a number of high-profile titles, regularly attracting millions.
In March, ARD scored a ratings bonanza with “Die Flucht” (March of Millions), about the forced migration of millions of Germans from lost eastern provinces in the final months of World War II. Some 13.5 million viewers tuned in, making it ARD’s most successful TV movie in a decade.
Last year, ZDF enjoyed a similar hit with the World War II drama “Dresden,” which drew 12.7 million viewers, capturing a 32.6% market share.
Both “March of Millions” and “Dresden” were produced by Berlin-based TeamWorx, Germany’s leading TV production company. Headed by Nico Hofmann, the shingle has specialized in big-event TV like no other company and made Hofmann’s name synonymous with smallscreen epics.
While WWII and its legacy have served as a rich source of stories for recent productions, Hofmann says newer projects are examining plenty of untold drama about Germany’s Cold War division as well as timelier subject matter such as the country’s struggle with leftist terrorism.
TeamWorx and “Dresden” helmer Roland Suso Richter are finishing up the first major movie to focus on the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, “Das wunder von Berlin” (The Wonder of Berlin), for ZDF. Pic looks at the impact the opening of the border between East and West Germany had on an East Berlin family.
Commercial web Sat1 is prepping its own take on the subject with Thomas Berger’s “Der Untergang der DDR” (The Downfall of the GDR), which examines the final months of East Germany through the eyes of a young woman who ends up in police custody after trying to escape to the West via Hungary; Olga Film and Constantin Film are co-producing.
TeamWorx and Suso Richter will next shoot “Mogadishu Welcome” for ARD. For Suso Richter, TV has allowed greater freedom than German cinema ever could.
“The historical two-parter has given me the possibility to make films with a magnitude that I would never have had in a theatrical movie,” he says. “I never had $14 million to $15 million for a feature film.”
ARD partnered with TeamWorx parent company UFA on “Die Frau von Checkpoint Charlie” (The Woman From Checkpoint Charlie), a true story about an East German woman who loses custody of her two children after attempting to escape East Germany. Moving to West Germany, she begins a media campaign in an effort to get the East German government to release her children. Pic aired Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
Commercial broadcasters RTL and ProSieben are hoping their projects excite teens and young adults. In 2004 Sat1 enjoyed a huge hit with Uli Edel’s fantasy two-parter “Die Nibelungen,” and now rival RTL is putting a modern twist on the Teutonic legend that inspired Richard Wagner with “Die Jagd nach dem Schatz der Nibelungen” (The Hunt for the Nibelung Treasure) from Munich-based shingle Dreamtool Entertainment.
Currently shooting, Ralf Huettner’s $6.9 million pic follows a young treasure hunter who sets out on a perilous quest to find the legendary treasure of Siegfried the Dragon Slayer.
Meanwhile, ProSieben is remaking “The Bridge,” Bernhard Wicki’s 1959 classic antiwar movie about the dangers of blind patriotic fervor during wartime. In the context of current events, pic is likely to offer younger viewers a modern perspective on the futility of war.
With a seemingly endless selection of hot topics and dramatic historical tales to choose from, local producers and broadcasters look set to continue their love affair with lavish big-event TV productions.