Magazine article Variety

German TV Aims to Move Past War Tales

Magazine article Variety

German TV Aims to Move Past War Tales

Article excerpt

FOR YEARS, ONE of Sarah Doole's pet goals was to put a German-language show before English-speaking viewers. A veteran of European TV, Doole admired many of Germany's small-screen dramas. Unfortunately, it was mostly just Germans who saw them.

That changed radically two years ago when FremantleMedia, where Doole is head of global drama, picked up Cold War spy series "Deutschland 83." The show became a breakout hit, infiltrating more than 100 territories, including the U.S., and nabbing an International Emmy. "The world watched it even more than Germany watched it," says Nico Hofmann, CEO of UFA Group, which produced the series.

Now, Germany is surging into the highend international TV market, with its most ambitious project to date about to be unleashed. "Babylon Berlin," a 16-part, two-season drama set in the seamy, steamy, scheming underworld of 1920s and '30s Berlin, makes its highly anticipated debut on Sky Deutschland on Oct. 13. A special premiere of the show's first two episodes will be held Oct. 6 in Los Angeles.

With a reported budget of €40 million ($47 million), "Babylon Berlin" is the most expensive non-English-language drama in European history. It's directed by Tom Tykwer and produced by X Filme, Sky Deutschland, ARD Degeto and Beta Film.

The show is not just a gamble financially but also subject-wise. German films and TV shows that travel well mostly hew to what could be called the "Nazi or Stasi" formula: stories of the Holocaust or the East German surveillance state, which continue to fascinate audiences worldwide. "Babylon Berlin" deviates from that. Based on the novels by Volker Kutscher, the show follows police inspector Gereon Rath into a tangled web of crime and intrigue in the wild days of the Weimar Republic, when some people dance the Charleston, others have fetishistic sex, and fascism starts to rear its ugly head.

"I always thought it was a little too easy to locate a story in the Nazi era ... where everyone knows early on, oh, this is the evil guy," says Stefan Arndt, one of the show's producers. "Babylon Berlin" follows in the footsteps of "Cabaret." "Everyone knows this movie," he notes. "Why isn't there another story told out of this period of time?"

Despite the source material, the team was divided on whether the show should be in English or German. The idea of a German-language international TV hit still seemed almost a contradiction in terms, and partners needed to be convinced to bankroll the project. "As a producer, I was really scared," Arndt says. …

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