Known for pushing the envelope, Danish public broadcaster DR has ruffled feathers with its latest children show “John Dillermand,” a comedy about a man whose giant penis gets him in and out of all sorts of trouble.
The show, aimed at children aged 4 to 8, launched earlier this week to controversy among some journalists and academics who find the series inappropriate for young children. Some argue that the program, whose protagonist’s surname is actually a Danish slang word for penis, sends the wrong message to kids as it follows a man who has no control over his genitals.
Further complicating matters is that the show’s launch coincides with Denmark’s first #MeToo movement, which has followed TV journalist Sofie Linde’s revelations during an awards show in late August that she had been a victim of sexual harassment.
Defending the show, however, is Morten Skov Hansen, head of DR’s children’s department, who insists the series isn’t about genitals but “about being true to one’s self — including your flaws.” He says the show also “acknowledges children’s growing curiosity about the body: both the things that are embarrassing, and the things that are fun.”
“John Dillermand” was developed in collaboration with several professionals, including the child psychologist Margrethe Brun Hansen “who read each script to ensure children interpret everything in the series as intended,” as well as the Danish organization Sex and Society who were consultants on the show.
“We always welcome debate about our content. But it’s important to try and not view the program from an adult’s perspective,” says Skov Hansen.
“The show is created for children and is preoccupied with the same things they are. I don’t agree with the few critics who consider John Dillermand to be sexualized (…) It’s as desexualized as it can possibly get,” notes the exec.
The first episode, which sees John Dillermand tending to a barbecue from afar, was watched by more than 250,000 children in five days, according to a DR spokesperson — numbers that count as a “huge success” for the public broadcaster, which airs the show on its linear channel and streaming service.
“John Dillermand” has also garnered fans including a range of Danish TV personalities like Sofie Østergaard, Mads Brügger and Anders Breinholt, as well as influencer Anders Hemmingsen. Skov Hansen says the series has clicked with Danish children who are “already making John Dillermand snowmen, drawings and dolls, and singing songs about him.”
The executive also points out that DR “has a proud history of making children’s content that dares to tackle embarrassing, difficult, quirky and funny topics, and ‘John Dillermand’ falls squarely into that tradition.”
While it would be interesting to see if “John Dillermand”‘s Danish brand of humor translates well overseas, the show’s international appeal has yet to be tested. DR’s commercial arm, DR Sales, which would sell both finished tape as well as format rights to the program, isn’t currently repping the show.