Germany is experiencing a golden era of television, with an increasing number of internationally acclaimed shows ranging from historical dramas and crime skeins to supernatural thrillers. And there’s plenty more on the horizon.
The arrival of Amazon and Netflix, both eager for original content, and the recent embrace by Sky Deutschland of similarly ambitious scripted fare, has provided a major boost to the local industry, mobilized top cinematic talent and recast television as a vehicle for a new kind of serialized storytelling that has captured the imaginations of local viewers and international audiences alike.
Producer Quirin Berg of Munich-based Wiedemann & Berg Television, producer of Sky Deutschland’s upcoming crime drama “Der Pass” (Pagan’s Peak), attributes Germany’s TV renaissance in large part to the proliferation of streaming outlets and changing viewing habits.
“We are living in a really wonderful era. Digitization, the streaming possibilities and their accessibility have generated a lot of energy over the past few years and made great new dimensions in programming possible,” he says.
That energy is driving serialized storytelling as never before, Berg adds. “There is a lot of power behind this kind of storytelling and also great hunger for it.”
“Pagan’s Peak,” Sky Deutschland’s fifth original German-language series, was inspired by the hit Scandinavian crime series “The Bridge.” Set along the German and Austrian Alps, the story follows a killer whose ritualistic murders appear to be inspired by the Alpine region’s dark and ancient folklore, including the winter demon known as Krampus.
Among Sky’s other German TV productions are the historical crime drama “Babylon Berlin,” which premiered last year; the forthcoming “Das Boot,” a sequel to the 1981 World War II classic; apocalyptic drama “Acht Tage” (Eight Days) and the recently announced haunted building thriller “Hausen.”
“We understand that series are really creating a momentum,” says Sky Deutschland CEO Carsten Schmidt. “With our first investment in ‘Babylon Berlin’ we took a bet on our capability to be seen as a creative part of the German production industry.”
The gamble proved a winner. The award-winning €40 million ($49.3 million) production overseen by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Tykwer has become the most-watched German series on Sky Deutschland. “This was the best outcome we could have imagined,” Schmidt says.
Sky is continuing its commitment to new series. “We will not stop. We really want to be number one in Germany. This is a sustainable investment in the future of our company,” Schmidt says.
Germany’s crop of premium series also include ZDF and Arte’s “Bad Banks,” from director Christian Schwochow; Marvin Kren’s TNT crime drama “4 Blocks”; Baran bo Odar’s Netflix hit “Dark”; and Amazon’s cyber thriller “You Are Wanted,” from multi-hyphenate Matthias Schweighoefer.
“The selection of these projects is based on the concrete ideas that are on the table,” says “Dark” producer Berg.
The genres illustrate the fact “that both creators and viewers share an excitement for crime dramas and thrillers.”
“With ‘Dark’ we really developed it further and did something with time-travel that had never been done before in Germany. I don’t think ‘Dark’ would have been successful five years ago,” Berg continues.
Berg says today’s viewers are clamoring for such series as “Dark” because “they’ve become accustomed to other standards, developed different viewing habits and a desire for something new.”
The shows are not only attracting local viewers, but also global audiences.
“We are seeing that it’s possible to do it in Germany, that it’s not something that only works in America or just locally,” Berg says. “This is a global phenomenon. We are in a position now in Germany to do anything. We proved it with ‘Dark,’ which has been incredibly successful internationally — 90% of its viewers are not in Germany.”
While current shows may reflect the zeitgeist and widespread fascination with darker genres, greater variety is coming, according to Berg, whose credits also include “4 Blocks.”
“I absolutely believe we’ll see series that are much more light-hearted, less complex and somber, and that’s just as much fun for me — that diversity,” says Berg.
Schmidt echoes the sentiment, adding that Sky would not rule out original sitcoms if they offered a real potential for commercial success.