Moving local Nordic dramas to the global stage: The shooting of the mini series Liberty as Danish public service drama in Africa

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review

Former head of drama at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation Piv Bernth has repeatedly stated that the best way to make national television drama with international appeal is to focus on stories from the Danish ‘cultural backyard’ about ‘being Danish in Denmark’, based on an understanding that the best strategy for attracting foreign audiences is to think ‘the more local, the more global’ (e.g. in Nielsen 2016). This strategy worked very well for DR in the late 2000s and early 2010s where series set in Denmark and shot in Danish targeted at the mainstream national audiences such as Forbrydelsen/The Killing (2007–2012) and Borgen (2010–2013) also managed to find widespread international acclaim and interest among niche audiences.
The production framework of DR was widely recognized as a source of inspiration for other small nation production cultures while elements such as DR’s focus on original stories written for the screen (rather than adaptations), a successful use of writers’ rooms with a ‘one vision’ author in creative control and ideas of particular kinds of public service ‘double storytelling’ were discussed in scholarly literature as well as industry events around Europe (e.g. Redvall 2013).
However, in the late 2010s the established DR production framework is being challenged in numerous ways. The success of Danish series has led to much more competition from other broadcasters and private production companies. SVOD services such as Netflix and HBO Nordic have changed the nature of the
national production and distribution landscape, and the large audiences for television drama on Sunday nights at 8pm are shrinking. In 2017, DR moved into the broadcaster’s first official international co-production with Herrens veje/Ride Upon the Storm, but this financial set-up behind the scenes was not visible to Danish audiences on screen. However, shortly after, the mini series Liberty (2018) based on a Danish novel by Jakob Ejersbo set among Danish expatriates in Tanzania explicitly brought new exotic locations and stories to Danish screens.
Based on a production study of the making of Liberty, this paper draws on recent research on the importance of location in Danish television drama (e.g. Waade and Hansen 2017; Philipsen and Hochscherf 2017) and of different kinds of cultural encounters in European television drama (e.g. Bondebjerg et al. 2017) while investigating the thoughts about how to shoot national Danish television drama on the international stage that went into the writing and production of
Liberty. To conclude, the paper mirrors these 443 Media Industries and
Cultural Production thoughts in the reception of the series among Danish television critics and politicians, since the series became part of the on-going media agreement discussions about issues of the local and the global in
license-fee financed Danish television drama, linked to debates about whether shooting outside of Denmark adds production value or hinders the opportunity for a sense of cultural proximity and identification for national audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date3 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2018
EventECREA 2018: 7th European Communication Conference: Centres and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation - Lugano, Switzerland
Duration: 31 Oct 20183 Nov 2018


ConferenceECREA 2018: 7th European Communication Conference
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ID: 208783273