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'Germany can't produce a Breaking Bad'
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'Germany can't produce a Breaking Bad'

Published: 15 Oct 2013 16:18 GMT+02:00
Updated: 15 Oct 2013 16:18 GMT+02:00

American TV series Breaking Bad has been smashing viewing records while scooping awards. Meanwhile, Germany, unlike its European neighbours, has not produced a globally successful show for 25 years. Alex Evans finds out why.

In a roundup of 12 of the world's best TV series, Germany's top-selling daily newspaper the Bild did not place a single home-grown series in its list.

All but one spot went to American and British shows such as Homeland, Downton Abbey and, of course, Breaking Bad.

Critics and viewers have enjoyed a glut of high quality programmes in recent years, not just from the US and UK but from around Europe, among them gritty crime dramas Spiral from France, Sweden's Wallander, and The Killing from Denmark.

So how is it that Germany, Europe's most powerful economy and a country renowned for its cultural prowess, has not exported a successful TV series for a quarter of a century?

Their last truly internationally successful programme could shed some light on the answer.

The last taste of global success German TV had was the cop drama Derrick, which ran 281 episodes from 1973 to 1998 and was exported to over 100 countries.

But despite its success, Derrick was hardly renowned for its outstanding dramatic quality. Thinker and critic Umberto Eco used the series for a book called Derrick or a Passion for Mediocrity in 2000.

And the series which do well in the country now are not breaking any new ground in terms of dramatic merit, with the ratings dominated by Germany's perennial cheap soap operas and police action shows.

The "mediocrity" that Eco saw in Derrick is still plaguing the industry, it seems.

Uwe Mantel, from the media magazine DWDL, told The Local that the dominance of the two state-financed TV networks contributed to the dearth of high-quality programming in Germany.

"When you look at the German market, it's basically just ARD and ZDF that make the programmes," he said, "ZDF mostly just make crime shows, and the ARD have a lot of low budget programmes."

"RTL and Sat1 make a few," Mantel added, mentioning the popular RTL action series "Alarm for Cobra 11: The Motorway Police", whose own web page summarizes it as "full of action and fast cars."

But the most popular German shows are all made by the "big two" networks.

According to DWDL's ratings report for 2012, the top ten most-watched series were all produced by either ARD or ZDF. The list was topped by ARD's For Heaven's Sake, a series about Bavarian nuns trying to stop their monastery being demolished.

And soap operas, such as the infamous Good Times, Bad Times, consistently score highly in the ratings. "They have a big audience, but mostly it's a very old audience," said Mantel.

But Germany has a big problem with selling its shows abroad. "The TV series culture here is not working. There's not much that's exportable, because there isn't much that can even stand on its own two feet here in Germany,” Mantel said.

There are exceptions to the low-quality norm, however. ARD's Weissensee, a family drama set in communist East Berlin in the 1980s, has straddled the border between critical success and viewing figures better than most.

The first episode of the second series was watched by 5.24 million viewers, a result that would make Weissensee a competitor with the top ten series, if the high-budget, high-quality drama can keep up its ratings.

Despite a long absence from screens and the confusing release of the second series on DVD before it was even broadcast, the series' "superb cast and fresh dramatic style" does it credit, according to TV critic website Serienjunkies.de.

The website hailed the first series as "evidence that it pays to invest in the quality of German series."

But watching one episode of Good Times, Bad Times should rid anyone of the belief in the website's 2010 claim that Weissensee heralded a "minor renaissance" in German television.

READ MORE: British family goes native in Germany for TV show

Alex Evans

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