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Int’l Broadcasters at Mip Agree: War Is Hell, But Good TV

Pubcasters BBC and DR plus production company Beta tubthump mini-series

CANNES – For some broadcasters, the war is not over — at least as a subject for TV drama.

At the MipTV mart here today, three companies tubthumped war-themed drama series, with each offering a story about how war destroys young lives.

The BBC’s head of drama, Ben Stephenson, revealed that he had just greenlit five-part skein “The Great War,” about two 18-year-olds, one German, one British, whose lives are shattered by WWI.

“Each episode will tell one year of the war from the point of view of these two soldiers, who never meet until the final episode, when they are in an ultimate confrontation,” Stephenson said.

“A piece like that shows how television is becoming so epic in its scale, but always coming back to what ultimately the audience is driven by, which is getting inside characters’ heads,” Stephenson said.

Producing the series will be Red Planet Pictures, whose topper Tony Jordan made his reputation with U.K. sudser “Eastenders.”

It will air throughout Armistice Week next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

During a MipTV panel discussion with Stephenson about the secrets of producing great drama, Piv Bernth, head of drama at Danish pubcaster DR, spoke about a series she is producing. Her project, “1864,” focuses on the war between Denmark and Germany in that year, resulting in Denmark’s loss of a chunk of its territory, Schleswig-Holstein. It centers on two teenage brothers going to war.

“It is a coming-of-age story and it is about how going to war affects your life,” said Bernth, who produced “The Killing” and “The Bridge,” both of which have been remade for the U.S. market. “It is a story of loss of innocence, and that is something that you can all relate to, and if it is told in a good way it travels, I’m sure.”

Elsewhere at the confab, Beta Film CEO Jan Mojto highlighted the success of the company’s WWII miniseries “Generation War,” which has been sold to U.S. distributor Music Box, as well as buyers in the U.K., Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The drama, about a group of young friends, scored record ratings on German pubcaster ZDF with 8.5 million viewers — a 24% market share — and triggered a debate in Germany about personal guilt for war crimes. German magazine Der Spiegel called the series a “turning point in German television,” and said it was “a new milestone of German remembrance culture beyond the generations.”

Earlier in the day, a case study was devoted to the BBC thriller “Spies of Warsaw,” which focuses on the activities of French and German spies in the years leading up to WWII. David Tennant stars in the skein, which writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais adapted from Alan Furst’s novel.

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