Claudia Boderke, Lars Mering Talk SF Studios ‘The New Nurses’

“The New Nurses” competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding writing, announced at Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival on Jan. 30.

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Mike Kollöffel

The inevitable comparison for SF Studios’ “The New Nurses,” at least from a Danish broadcast perspective, is “Something’s Rockin,’” another 2018 TV 2 Charlie show which was retro but forward-looking. “Something’s Rockin’” described the birth of an independent radio with culture in Denmark.

Produced by SF Studios’ Senia Dremstrup (“Norskov”),  “The New Nurses” talks cleverly about gender equality by flipping the focus to men battling a conservative establishment to become Denmark’s first nurses. This will make the lack of equality seem even more arcane to even more people.

In another reset, reverting classic telenovela, you have a working class man in love with an upper-class girl. Erik (Morten Hee Andersen, “Ride Upon the Storm” ), a soldier who fought in WWII, attempts to sign up for Denmark’s first nursing school which accepts male nurses. A working class lad without even the money to pay for the basic text books, he faces a battle with nit only entrenched authorities at the hospital, who have ecumenic reasons to oppose male nurses, but upper-class snobbery when Anna (Molly Egelind), the daughter of a stinking rich local family, catches his eye.

Light its tone, despite its dashes of melodrama – Anna thinks Erik is two-timing her when a thankful patient wife’s with gives him a peck on the cheek – “New Nurses” is a social democracy origins story which deals in social ailments which Denmark has yet to cure: Class bigotry, gender bias. In this sense, 1952 is 2018…..

“The New Nurses” bowed on TV2 Charlie (Denmark) in October 2018 and simultaneously on their VOD platform TV2 Play, proving TV2 Charlie’s biggest audience hit to date.

“SF Studios aims to produce various TV-series for the TV-channels in Denmark, Scandinavia and the rest of the world,” said Dremstrup. “We do not limit ourselves to certain genres or budgets.  It is important to us, however, to produce TV-series of high quality for a broad audience.”

Variety talked to writers Claudia Boderke and Lars Mering in the run up to the Göteborg Festival, Scandinavia’s biggest film-TV event, where “The New Nurses” competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding writing.

”The New Nurses” talks about gender equality, but cleverly does so, by focusing partly on men: The reticence of Denmark’s arcane establishment, embodied in a senior doctor, to allow men to train as nurses.  This will makes the lack of equality seem even more arcane to even more people. Could you comment?

As we were researching, to find an interesting angle into a new historic drama taking place in the ‘50s, we read about an experiment, that took place at the main hospital, Rigshospitalet,  in Copenhagen in 1951. Here seven men got the chance to prove that they were suitable for the nurse-job, even though they of course could’t possess female qualities like empathy, motherliness and a strong caring gene. We felt that this kind of reverse gender discrimination was highly topical. There still is a nurse shortage in Danish hospitals today – especially regarding men. In Denmark only 3.5% of all nurses are male and those men who dare to chose this job often have to cope with prejudices and some kind of reverse discrimination. Gender bias in the other direction to what we’re used to.

In fact, men were especially skeptical about that experiment in the ‘50s. They felt it went “against nature” that men should be trained as nurses. Who is staying home with the kids? Of course the mother. Why suddenly change something that has worked for decades? On top of that the male doctors were afraid of losing their position as alpha males. They were used to be “admired” by the female staff and didn’t want to loose their status.

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Mike Kollöffel

Gender issues are deepened by the fact the same man who opposes male nurses also tries to get his wife to give up her career and just be a mother  so that he can carry on an affair with a  younger nurse. Anna’s wealthy ex can’t understand why she wants to spend her days emptying bedpans, when she doesn’t need to work at all. Again, could you comment? 

“The New Nurses” premise is [to explore] prejudices and obdurate points of view that prevents innovation and equality. According to that premise, we wanted all of our characters either have to face prejudices – or to be the one who has them. Our chief physician is – just like Anna’s ex-fiancé – a typically old-fashioned man that has some stubborn standpoints about where women belong. Especially women that have a social background that makes it possible for them, that they don’t need to earn money.

Denmark actually holds a global 78th place in the world judged according to the number of women in leading positions – behind Ghana and Guatemala. Officially the main reason for that is that women choose family instead of career. Nevertheless, the new focus on gender issues is a good start to discuss what we all could do better in the future. But in the end we didn’t focus too much on writing a series about gender, but a series about human beings instead.

”The New Nurses” also talks about class. Anna’s fathers calls over three young male nurses to help Anna up to her room with her things, including a designer cabinet, rather like a lord of a manner ruffling up a posse of serfs. That could be seen asa historical comment but you’re also talking about contemporary Denmark, and indeed Western Europe.

The series takes place in a time before the welfare society in Denmark was established for real. At that time the gap between rich and poor was even more visible. “Feminism” still was a word, not really many women even knew about. But the fact that life in the 50s was even more rigid, narrow-minded and bigoted doesn’t mean that these issues are not relevant anymore nowadays. We still do not treat men and women equally. Still the wealthy part of the society has a tendency to feel superior and act condescending toward those who are disadvantaged. By choosing the ‘50s we had the opportunity to illustrate this kind of “gender and class disharmony” in a slightly caricatured way.

Reflecting as a producer about “Something’s Rockin,” also backed by TV2 Charlie, Adam Price commented that SAM wanted “to show that we could produce drama for a specific audience and on a budget in another price range.” We’re you conscious at all of targeting a more senior generation of viewers in “The New Nurses”? If so, how did that work? 

Writing “The New Nurses” we actually had in mind, that our main target group would probably be “a little more mature” because the series was screened on a TV channel, whose audience is usually above 50. This is why we spent some time on illustrating details of the life in the ‘50s, that some viewers might recognize from their own past and to use iconic music from that time. However, it has always been important to us not to feel limited while writing. Our aim is to create a series we would love to see ourselves, and even better – that our kids would be happy to watch together with us. And luckily that worked out. After the series premiered on  TV and VOD we found out that we actually have reached a much broader audience – people of all ages and with different backgrounds – than we had dreamed about.

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Mike Kollöffel

”The New Nurses” is just six episodes long, Did that create challenges for you when Scandinavian series have traditionally been twice the length? 

In the first season we wanted to talk about the new nursing-trainees’ probationary period stretching over four months – from their very first day to the day where they become “real students”. Because we only had six episodes to do so, we were forced to tell the story in a bit more episodic fashion. That means that in between the episodes life went on at the nursing school, even though “we weren’t there”. We jump-cut to a new experience with new patients. This was a little challenging but a gift as well, because we had the opportunity to talk about one specific topic – for example the polio-epidemic – in only one episode and did not have to follow the same patients with the same illnesses in every episode.  Writing the first six episodes, we developed the project as limited series. Luckily, we very quickly got picked up for a second season and shortly will have 12 episodes in total for people to watch.

As writers whose careers stretch back one or two decades, how has Danish TV evolved in that time?

In the ‘90s Lars was quite successful with a cartoon-like comedy-series where a real macho-guy tried to help his shy and clumsy friend to score a girl. Nobody was offended at that time but we would be afraid that these days where feminism and discrimination of women are constant topics, people could find that bizarre, that women are (of course in an ironical way but nevertheless) degraded to be objects, that want to be “scored”.

For some time, while writing on various projects together, we didn’t even think about, which gender our main-character should have. We just chose them with gut feeling. But now we actually think about our choices twice in order not to unconsciously privilege men. In a way it is good to be aware of not falling back into old habit patterns, but sometimes it can feel a little restrictive and too conscious as well.

What are you working on now?

We just finished writing the Season 2 of “The New Nurses” and are right now writing a shooting draft of a comedy movie. When we have finished that, we have planned to write a modern black comedy about impatience.

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