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Series Mania: Viaplay-Backed Cold War Thriller ‘M.A.D.’ Unveiled at European Co-Production Forum

Michael Soussan and Ulrik Bolt Jørgensen talk up their political thriller, made out of Denmark

PARIS  — Denmark’s contribution to the European Co-production Forum at 2017’s Series Mania came in the form of the Cold War era political thriller M.A.D, short for Mutually Assured Destruction. The show is being produced by Arena Films with backing from Viaplay, the Modern Times Group’s SVOD service available in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Baltic countries. Viaplay offers unlimited rental streaming packages with access to high-end TV, film and sports.

Representing the project in Paris were producer and co-creator Ulrik Bolt Jørgensen and lead-writer and co-creator Michael Soussan. Soussan, having worked at the United Nations, CNN, and contributed to many major news publications in the U.S., recently had his 2008 book “Backstabbing for Beginners” adapted into a feature film starring Ben Kingsley and Theo James. It is due out this fall.

Throughout the Cold War the phrase “Mutually Assured Destruction” referred to the idea that any conflict between nuclear powers would not lead to war, but rather devastation for both, along with most of the rest of the world. This series will focus less on what could be seen on TV or in the offices of the U.N. during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but rather on what was happening in stairwells, ball rooms, and hotel rooms behind the scenes. The series will address true stories and events, some of which remain unexplained half a century later.

Each season, the series will focus on normal people who were forced to become extraordinary spies through the eyes of Jason and Natalia, two new recruits to the U.N. who, unbeknownst to each other, end up being forced to spy on one another. Season 1 will focus on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the real-life assassination of Danish whistle blower Paul (Povl) Bang-Jensen who revealed that the U.N- had covered up a series of Soviet atrocities in Hungary. Bang-Jensen lost his job, was publically persecuted and eventually found dead of an apparent “suicide.”

Each season of the series will focus on similar events in the U.N.’s history and look to uncover or put forward possible answers for questions that have long stood unanswered. The series, being based at the U.N., has the opportunity to feature any number of languages but will primarily be in English. The first three episodes of the series are already written with seven more to come filling out its 10-hour format. Shooting is planned to start in 2018.

During your pitch you said you will cover a lot of true life, unsolved mysteries from the period. Do you plan on “solving” any of them in the series or will they remain unsolved as in real life?

Soussan: Yes, we will uncover facts that have laid buried for years. Our characters are grappling with competing theories of the truth. They will disagree with each other. Ultimately. it is up to the audience to decide which theory they believe in.

Jørgensen: We’ve seen in recent years great audience appetite for cold-cases, unsolved murder mysteries, including in documentaries and podcast-like serials. Audiences love to pick sides. We’re going play on this, while offering a character-driven drama.

The series is said to be a stylistic mix of “Mad Men” and “House of Cards.” While the costumes and sets will clearly be dictated by the time period, what stylistic choices do you hope to implement in the shooting of the series to set it apart?

Jørgensen: We’ve begun working with Peter de Neergard (a production designer on “The Bridge”) on a look that capitalizes on the inherently Scandinavian design that dominates the real life “home set” at the United Nations. We bring elements of the Scandi Noir genre that has trended well lately and marry it to a period piece that lives organically the same space as “Mad Men.”

This is a big-budget, English-language drama with nearly limitless shooting location potential. Will local success be enough for you, or must the series have a broad international reach?

Jørgensen: It is aimed at international distribution for a global audience.

You have Viaplay on board as a broadcasting partner. How important is it to have a network locked down already and what are they bringing to the production?

Jørgensen: Viaplay is an exceptional partner to kick off a new project. Their early commitment has gotten us on the map. It’s a good start and offers us a lot of options in terms of locking down financing,

Have you had contact with any international platforms or networks yet?

Jørgensen: Yes, 50-plus meetings came out of Series Mania, along then with some for the major platform/network. We are grateful for the attention and will figure out which mix of energies makes most sense.

What role do you think the current international climate might play in the success of this series? Do you think there are parallels which can be drawn to events of today?

Soussan: Certainly the present is haunting enough that we may one day look back on it as a cataclysmic time. Perhaps this show can help us prepare for dark times ahead. Remember how we survived the last period of stark global instability….

Do you plan to use historical footage for parts of the show, and will you be featuring any famous historical figures as part of the cast?

Jørgensen: Yes, historical footage will be featured on screen, and with special effects we may also find our characters appearing in grainy TV broadcasts of the times. We want to create a feeling of complete immersion in the era. There are also great opportunities for guest roles for historical figures.

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