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Berlin: The Rules for International TV Drama May Be Changing

While there’s arguably never been a better time for international TV series, a panel of key European players gathering in Berlin on Monday addressed the challenges of developing internationally co-produced dramas for the global market, with a sense that the old rules don’t apply anymore.

Look to Norway for proof of that. After years of making dark and brooding crime thrillers that helped put his country on the map, Norwegian pubcaster NRK’s Ivar Kohn noted that producers are shaking up that proven formula with shows he described as “Nordic light.”

“We’re a little bit tired of ourselves,” he said during a panel discussion at Drama Series Days, the TV-oriented market event that runs alongside the Berlin Film Festival. The panel was moderated by Variety’sStewart Clarke.

The changing television landscape is still taking shape. A-list talent can help drive that change and makes sense “if there’s a certain level of budget where you have to find a big name to bring on board,” said Beta Film’s Moritz von Kruedener. But compelling storytelling that takes “viewers into a unique, special world” is still the key to wider distribution, according to Studiocanal TV’s Rola Bauer.

The profusion of polyglot TV series in Berlin this year suggests a growing belief that not only English-language content travels. “Mainstream American networks are still very xenophobic,” but that matters less in an era of Netflix and Amazon, Bauer said. “The fact that we have all these new platforms coming out is indicative of the fact that we have lots more time slots to fill,” she added.

That gives producers an incentive to roll the dice, especially as they try to reach coveted but elusive millennial viewers. Case in point: NRK’s cult-hit web series “Skam” (“Shame”), which got the backing of both European pubcasters and telecoms for its Italian and French remakes. A German version is also on the way, and an English-language version for the U.S. and Canadian markets is being developed by Simon Fuller.

The innovative, vlog-style format no doubt helped capture millennial hearts and eyeballs, but the bigger takeaway might be that global audiences are moving on from what Sarah Doole described as a decades-long tradition of series centered on “middle-aged blokes.”

“I think we’re in a new era, and it’s coming from a commercial imperative…about viewers’ needs and wants,” said Doole, who is head of drama at FremantleMedia Intl., which premiered female-centric series “Picnic at Hanging Rock” in Berlin on Monday. “Viewers want women in there, driving the narrative forward.”

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