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BBC Buys ‘54 Hours,’ Hit German Hostage Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

The BBC has landed one of the buzziest German dramas of recent times, “54 Hours.” The limited series is based on a 1988 hostage crisis that turned into a human tragedy and a police and media fiasco. The show won German pubcaster ARD big ratings and received widespread critical acclaim, but also stoked controversy.

The Gladbeck crisis was one of the biggest crime cases in postwar German history. The series dramatizes the events following a bank raid gone wrong. The robbers took several hostages and, while being pursued by police and tracked by the media over several days, traveled across several West German state lines. The ensuing murder and carnage unfolded in a media circus that saw reporters interview hostages while they were still being held at gunpoint. The debacle ultimately led to new rules governing media coverage, and the police were accused of bungling their handling of the case.

The ARD broadcast earlier this year was considered controversial because of its timing, which coincided with the release of one of the hostage takers. The four-hour limited series was made by Ziegler Film (“Weissensee”) and went out on ARD earlier this year in two installments.

Germany has recently become a drama hot spot. Local reviews of “54 Hours” were strong, with Der Spiegel calling it one of the TV highlights of the year and Bild hailing it as a “masterpiece.”

The BBC will run the series on its BBC Four channel, which has been an active buyer of foreign-language series, picking up shows such as French mystery-drama “Witness: A Frozen Death,” “Trapped” from Iceland, “I Know Who You Are” from Spain, and “Reformation” from Germany. Its current schedule includes French sci-fi drama “Missions.”

“’54 Hours’ is a finely crafted, enthralling drama based on one of the most notorious real-life incidents in recent German history,” Sue Deeks, BBC head of program acquisition, told Variety. “We’re incredibly pleased to bring it to BBC Four later this year.”

The series is sold by Beta Film, which has become a key distributor of non-English-language drama, sealing deals for series, including “Babylon Berlin” with Netflix in the U.S. “We are thrilled to introduce ‘54 Hours’ to the British audience and have no doubt that this suspenseful and remarkable drama will find its followers in the U.K.,” said Oliver Bachert, Beta’s EVP of international sales.

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