Apple Tree is a symbol for knowledge, temptation. Is this why you chose this name for your company?
Piv Bernth: This spring my family bought some land close to our summer house and we planted apple trees and made an orchard! So with my partners we thought why not go for Apple Tree!

Can you announce who is the major foreign partner in Apple Tree?
PB:
Not before December 1st as we are all working at DR until that date.

You’ve been at DR for over 30 years. How do you feel about leaving what has been your home for such a long part of your life and at a time when DR Drama has one of the highest statures worldwide?
PB: I started working there in 1986, first as freelance director, doing TV movies, series, weekly satire etc.  In 1998 I became producer and in 2002, I did Nikolaj & Julie, The Killing of course, and just before finishing The Killing season 3, I was named Head of Drama. It’s the right time to leave now precisely because things are going so well, and before I start being part of the furniture. DR doesn’t treat me like that but I do feel it’s time to try something new. I had this offer and started thinking…it sounds interesting.

So you were approached by your – still unnamed-foreign partner – but weren’t particularly looking for a change…
PB: Well I was ready in a sense. I felt it was time for DR to have fresh blood. Twenty years ago, we reinvented Danish drama. I feel someone new should come in and do the same-reinvent DR Drama.

You seem to embrace challenges in your life, the way you did with DR dramas; As soon as you had a success, like with The Killing or Borgen, you turned to something different…
PB:
Yes I need challenges all the time and sometimes you have to jump into the deep water to get or feel what you want. DR has allowed me to take those risks. But after so many years, there can occur a feeling of tiredness from both sides. Therefore it’s great for everyone to try something different.

But you will continue to work with DR on a set number of hours as exec producer until September 2018…
PB:
Yes. The team working on our new drama series Liberty came back this week from South Africa. The two first episodes are in post-production and sound but we have to edit the last three episodes and I promised to help them finish it. It’s the same with Ride Upon the Storm. Camilla [Hammerich], Adam [Price] and I have been working on this for so many years. It would be too complicated to get a new person on board now, as we are finishing the scripts for the second season within the next 6-8 months. The new Head of Drama will be able to look at future projects instead of dealing with projects that I was involved with.

What have been the defining moments for you at DR? The fact that DR Drama has been at the forefront of the Nordic noir wave and has opened the international market to foreign language drama?
PB:
I think that a defining moment for me was when I met Søren Sveistrup [headwriter of Nikolaj & Julie and creator of The Killing] and a defining moment for TV drama as a whole was the making of The Killing. Then of course, opening up the UK, Europe and even America to Danish language drama was amazing.

You also introduced serialized drama and now it’s one of the hottest formats worldwide…   
PB: The idea came from Søren but we had discussed being bored when watching crime procedurals. We could see the patterns and knew 20 minutes in the episode how the plot worked. We spoke to a crime inspector in Denmark and he said the first three weeks of a murder case are the most important. If you can’t find any important clue within this time frame, then you won’t solve the case. We thought 20 episodes is almost three weeks, and why not follow the case day by day. Another interesting aspect in The Killing was the way Sarah Lund goes into the darker side of the perpetrator, his behaviour became contagious to her own mind. Although she solved the case, she lost herself and that was quite sad in a way.

Will you develop similar character-driven shows at Apple Tree?
PB: Absolutely. We will be looking at projects with an edge. In today’s ocean of drama series, it’s essential to stand out and to pick unique stories. We will continue to make dramas that mean something, with different layers. I’d like also to make people laugh and have the laughs sort of …fade out.

You are building the company with DR Deputy Lars Hermann and a strong team of producers – Anders Toft Andersen (Follow the Money) Karoline Leth (The Legacy) and Dorthe Riis Lauridsen (Freja). What are their strengths?
PB:
 They are all strong in development. They team up with the writers and place them in the centre of the process. But the way they approach their work is different: Anders is very visual, Karoline goes into the script and every detail of the production, while Dorthe is a relative newcomer in TV drama but she is experienced in developing stories as former producer of DR radio drama. Working with newcomers and developing talent has always been important to me.

…which is what you’ve done at DR Drama, developing new writing voices and acting talents…
PB: We often bring episode writers on TV shows that have potential such as Follow the Money’s Jeppe Gjervig Gram who was episode writer on Borgen, and Anders August, episode writer on Follow the Money who is now doing Embassy Down for Nordisk Film. I hope that at Apple Tree we will be able to attract experienced and new writers on an interesting slate.

With an international partner on board, will the global market be your focal point?
PB: Our core business will be Danish drama, then Nordic drama and international co-productions.

…whatever the genre?
PB:
We are totally open to any genre and with our strong developing team, I feel confident we will attract the best projects. The story is the most important, then the genre. 

Do you have projects in development?

PB: Again, we cannot announce anything yet, but we do have great ideas. 

What do you think of today’s holy alliances between public and private broadcasters?
PB:
In Scandinavia, there has been lots of discussions about public money going into private companies. But the market has changed so fast, we have to adapt. Ten years ago, DVD was so important, and nowadays you can’t find one! It’s a challenge people have to find new business models.

What do you think public broadcasters should focus on?
PB:
Public service broadcasters are more important than ever. Drama departments should use their platform to tell stories that make people reflect on the world, their lives. You have a responsibility as public broadcaster, with 800,000- 1 million people sitting at the same time to watch a programme. Every time an episode of Ride Upon the Storm ends, people start discussing the issues raised in the show.

Are you disappointed about the ratings as even episode 1 didn’t reach one million viewers?
PB:
Not at all. The themes are challenging and when you see Lars Mikkelsen dressed as a priest, of course this can put people off! But it is one of the best written shows we’ve had and all reviews are extremely good. Every day, someone refers to it in the media. That’s what public service is about.

What is the focus of Ride Upon the Storm season 2 and how much time has elapsed since season 1 finale?
PB:
It starts one year after the end of season 1. The same family is in the focus, how they cope with doubt, and all the big issues in life they are confronted with in the first season, will have consequences in season 2.

What convinced you to commission multiple seasons of Ride Upon the Storm?
PB: Adam first pitched the idea to me in the fall 2012 when he had finished Borgen. I loved it and said go ahead. Then in the spring 2013, we pitched it to DR and they liked it. Adam and I agreed that he would have two years off to do other things and he would come back in the spring 2015 to start a writers’ room on Ride Upon the Storm…and he did!

When you have a good story and a project that is strong enough, why not continue and order multiple seasons. It’s cheaper as well to film. You simply have to trust the writers.

Liberty is DR Drama’s flagship series for 2018, the first show filmed in an exotic location - South Africa. What are the main themes?
PB: It’s really about people who dream about saving the world and who are suddenly confronted with themselves.

When is Liberty scheduled to air on DR1?
PB: On February 2018, right after The Bridge season 4.

How do you see Nordic drama evolve in the future?
PB:
What makes Nordic drama stand out is the complex characters. This is the most important thing to keep, together with the local angle. You have to write about what you know. You can’t write about what you think is right or you risk being superficial. Therefore, writing about what’s in your own cultural backyard and turning around until you find a good story is the recipe. There is no point trying to copy the Americans. Original stuff is the best.

Do you watch shows from the rest of the Nordics?
PB: It’s great to look at Norway. They have lifted TV Drama to another level under Ivar Køhn’s leadership, and I look forward to Anna Croneman's vision for SVT rolled out. Iceland has taken big leaps over the last couple of years and Finland is going international now. The Nordics are still here, more than ever.