Katrine Vogelsang / PHOTO: TV2

”Our vision is to find what we have in common as human beings”

In this exclusive interview, TV 2 Denmark’s Head of Drama Katrine Vogelsang discusses her 10 years in the job and the media group’s new drama offensive.

The audience is gradually moving to the streamers, so we need to do what we’re good at and simply shift the programming to where the audience is.

KATRINE VOGELSANG

You’re celebrating your 10th anniversary at the helm of TV 2 Fiction. You have witnessed the rise and rise of Nordic drama, the shift from linear to digital and now TV 2 has just announced its plan to invest more heavily in drama until 2025. Is your job better than you ever would have imagined?
Katrine Vogelsang:
Yes! When I started at TV 2, I got the opportunity to do exactly what I felt was the right thing to do. My initial idea was to contribute to building a proper independent TV drama business in Denmark. A decade ago, DR was the dominating force and would produce mostly in-house; there were few externally commissioned TV shows. Now, the sector is booming and new commissioners keep entering the market. We have a proper industry and it’s gratifying that TV 2 is willing to invest even more into fiction.

Putting Covid-19 aside, was 2020 one of your best years ever, with Chemo Brain at Sundance, Sex in Berlin, Pulse at Series Mania, The Investigation was on top of the ratings and reviewers’ list - in Denmark and internationally, DNA was big on BBC and Arte, Grow won Best Nordic show at Aaarhus and Best drama at the annual TVprisen…?
KV:
I’m very pleased about these awards and international recognition. It means a lot especially for the cast and crew who have worked hard on the series. But to be honest, I pay more attention to the prizes given by the audience. This is my main focal point.

How important has the success of Seaside Hotel (Badehotellet) been for you? Quite many people were sceptical about it at the beginning, but you have proved everybody wrong…
KV:
It has been very important. With Seaside Hotel, TV 2 started to understand how fiction could be vital for them. It has been the driving force and the backbone of our TV drama commissioning strategy.

How would you define what TV 2 stands for? What is your formula, compared to DR’s one vision-double story formula?
KV
: We do have a formula. At the beginning it wasn’t easy to find our place next to DR. But we started to talk about values, instead of genres. Our vision is to find what we have in common as human beings, what we share, instead of what splits us apart. This resonates very well with the audience. At the heart of this strategy is what we call ‘folkelighed’…or ‘equal dignity in cottage and castle’. We want to treat everyone equally, with dignity. We focus on this all the time. How to unite and link the broader audience around stories that are relevant to everyone. It’s hard to do, but we embrace the challenge.

Then our shows are character-driven, told from someone’s point of view, with relevant stories about ourselves, for ourselves.

Tobias Lindholm’s The Investigation is another landmark series that set TV 2’s standard very high in terms of quality storytelling and boldness…
KV:
Our shows are always driven by the talents and their ambition. The Investigation and Seaside Hotel have one thing in common: I had to fight for them more than with any other shows, as many people around me disagreed with what we were doing. When this happens, I tend to focus even more on the talents’ unique vision. The lesson I’ve learnt is that when you go into a project, you should not let fear or uncertainty get in the way.

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”Our vision is to find what we have in common as human beings”

Tobias Lindholm / PHOTO: Miso Film

Could you detail the main lines of TV 2’s new drama strategy until 2025?
KV:
TV 2 will invest more heavily in drama, and the plan is to premiere one show every month. We’re not that far for the moment, but some shows were much smaller, for our streamer. Now, every show will be big prime-time content for a wider audience. By 2025, our volume of fiction content will reach 15 TV series and 8-10 Danish feature films a year.

Then we will change the formats for the TV shows to 6x40’, instead of 8 or 10 episodes. The six-part format is the right fit to maintain the quality at the highest level and viewers’ interest across the season. We want people to feel that the time they spend on TV 2 is of great value to them.

What is your annual budget for fiction this year?
KV:
It is 20% more than in 2020…but I can’t say more.

How much do you have in development?
KV: For each show, we have normally six in development and one out of three is usually greenlit. At the moment we have perhaps 40 shows in development.

How will your plan to deliver a new series a month, fit with your content strategy across your various brands TV 2, TV 2 Zulu for young adults, TV 2 Charlie and your TV 2 Play platform?
KV: We have changed our mindset by giving full priority to TV 2 Play. Then the shows will be earmarked towards our various TV channels. We also look at how to premiere the show. Normally it will premiere simultaneously on linear and streaming, however, for example with the upcoming Clown season 8, we will run it on TV 2 Play alone this summer and we’ll put it up on the main channel later on. The audience is gradually moving to the streamers, so we need to do what we’re good at and simply shift the programming to where the audience is.

What will differentiate each monthly series?
KV:
We’re working on this at the moment. Half the slate will be profiled projects, co-productions, TV movies, Christmas calendars, then half will be series that we can fund by ourselves or in Scandinavia, like The New Nurses or Rita. We will try to remain as eclectic as possible to create unique content. We want to have the best shows possible, whatever the genre.

At the last TV Drama Vision, guest speakers insisted on the need to avoid complacency and to be bold and innovative…
KV:
Yes I agree. When we commissioned The Investigation or Seaside Hotel, we didn’t really have references to base them on. We took risks and they turned out as our biggest successes in recent years. So my goal is definitely to be brave.

With The New Nurses, we’ve twisted the gender issue, by making male nurses at the core of the show. We will do the same with Thomas Vinterberg’s upcoming event series Families like Ours. The show will change the focus on climate change and create a reverse refugee story.

Another main focal point discussed at the last TV Drama Vision, was how to capture younger viewers. You used to commission many short formats for young adults, such as the 2020 Berlinale Series selected Sex, or Series Mania competition entry Pulse. Will you continue with these?
KV:
This is part of the big change in our new commissioning policy. We will include young audiences in our bigger prime-time shows, not set them apart. We’ve done this successfully with TV 2 Charlie’s The New Nurses which was targeting older viewers, but also resonated with younger audiences who could identify with some particular themes, such as succeeding in life, breaking prejudice.

We have therefore stopped completely commissioning shorter formats. Fiction is the most expensive to produce. Going forward, TV 2’s other departments - such as the news department will deliver programmes for the younger target group.

With 12 series a year, you will need strong financial partners. How will this impact your co-productions?
KV:
To secure our pipeline, we’re going to finance more shows ourselves, and will then open up to co-production or international financing. We will continue to collaborate with our regular partners, such as Arte who co-produced DNA or ZDF who co-produced The Sommerdahl Murders, as long as it makes sense story-wise.

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”Our vision is to find what we have in common as human beings”

The Sommerdahl Murders / PHOTO: Henrik Petit TV 2

What’s the plan on a Nordic level?
KV:
We will be looking at different models to finance higher budget shows. But as we need to keep exclusive rights for Denmark as much as we can, it’s a bit harder to collaborate for instance with C More and Viaplay who are operating across the Nordics. We’re trying to work closely with TV2 Norway. We have a lot of common in the Nordics. It makes sense to work very closely and offer alternatives to the global streamers.

Would you say that Zentropa, Nimbus Film, Nordisk Film Production, SF Studios Production, Miso Films are your most truthful providers of high-end drama?
KV:
All these companies have created great shows for us, but also Cosmo Film with our last Christmas Calendar series. To be able to commission 12 series a year, we will work with as many producers as possible who are serious about creating high quality TV drama. There are no easy ways.

How do you make sure the best creators come to you and stay with you?
KV:
It’s a priority for us and we’re working on this all the time internally. I believe talents don’t necessarily go to the places where people are nicest, or where they can make the most money. I think talents are drawn to companies where they can develop to their very best, which is what we are offering. Secondly, talents need to work in a safe and trustful environment. I try to avoid the feeling for creators to pass an exam every time they speak to us. The fact that we have seasoned writer Maya Ilsøe [The Legacy, The Pact] as creative producer is very important.

What about on-screen diversity. Is this issue high on your agenda?
KV:
We have this in mind, but aren’t creating specific niches or looking at it on a statistical angle. If you want a curated slate, with different shows, then you naturally look at diversity and representation.

Today what are your biggest challenges?
KV:
As public broadcaster, the challenge is to constantly deliver content for the largest possible audience, with public service relevance. Fiction drives viewers to our streamer, so we have to keep the quality at the highest level to remain on top. On an industry level, as we are the most stable buyer, the backbone of the local industry, I hope people will recognise this and help us succeed in our mission.

How has Covid-19 impacted your TV and film commissioning and acquisition activities?
KV:
We have been able to stay in production with most of our shows. We’ve moved some productions by a month or two but haven’t had scheduling issues. On the positive side, people have had more time to be creative and develop new ideas.

What’s lined up for 2021-2022?
KV: We have The Sommerdahl Murders season 2 slated for February 28, then the comedy Mink Breeders season 2 for April. It’s very much in the Anders Thomas Jensen vein. White Sands is our next event drama scheduled for May. The mix of romance and crime works really well and the chemistry between the two main actors Marie Bach Hansen and Carsten Bjørlund is brilliant. I’m very happy about it. Then Clown season 8 is for the summer, The New Nurses season 4 for the fall and the Christmas Calendar Kometernes jul for December. Other series are yet to be scheduled.

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”Our vision is to find what we have in common as human beings”

White Sands, Carsten Bjørnlund, Marie Bach Hansen / PHOTO: Deluca Film
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