New seasons of Deadwind, Paradise, original dramas Transport, Helsinki Syndrome, My Husband’s Wife are some of the Finnish shows coming up.
Yle Head of Drama Jarmo Lampela and executive producer Suvi Mansnerus who is leading the development of drama series and sourcing dramas with international partners, tell us about the Finnish pubcaster’s flexible and creative commissioning approach and upcoming TV series.
How do you commission TV drama today?
Jarmo Lampela: We are more precise than ever, and have adapted to the viewers’ shift to streaming. We’re not slot-driven anymore, and our own streamer Yle Areena [Finland’s most popular free SVOD service] is driving our output. In the scale of two-three years, our palette of programming has changed dramatically. We simply need a wide variety of content. We still have four flagship dramas a year - mostly international co-productions - then domestic dramas, smaller co-productions and increasingly internet driven-drama for younger viewers. The difference [with our earlier commissioning strategy] is that we don’t think in terms of our slate across one-year period, we need to think how our drama catalogue works, and can appeal to all Finns as we secure rights for five to seven years.
How far ahead do you start brainstorming ideas?
JL: Three-four years ago, we would develop content quite far ahead, then discuss with Yle’ publishing department when to launch on the market. Now together with other departments such as entertainment, youth & feature films, we look at our overall slate, what’s missing, and then order content for the two-three years to come.
Suvi Mansnerus: We look at content from an audience’s perspective, what people are streaming and what we believe would similarly catch their attention. We ask ourselves: do we have too much, not enough, nothing at all in certain genres or for certain demographics. We’re not trying to find what would be the next potential global hit, but to understand primarily what would serve our audiences’ needs.
How flexible are you on licensing terms?
JL: Yle’s licensing term is typically seven years and the length of the exclusive rights depends of Yle's share of funding - ie the lower contribution, the shorter the exclusivity. If the producer or global distributor gets an appealing deal, we are open to shortening the exclusive window to support the producers and rights holders.
SM: We do co-commissioning with other streamers. For instance with Arctic Circle, we had the second window after Elisa Viihde, while with Downshifters, we had the first window in the first season.
JL: There are more buyers and more platforms than ever, and also new models for being minority partners. For producers, this can be more appealing than a pre-sale, and it helps them get financiers on board.
Has your drama budget remained stable?
JL: Yes we haven’t gone down since 2015. In 2016, a Parliament committee said that Yle should commission more external TV drama. Our board therefore agreed to raise the financing for drama and we got an extra €15 million for three years. Today, we have around €20 million a year for drama across TV series, audio, online and film content. Yle’s overall content budget - including documentaries, entertainment-is approximately €34 million a year.
Are you committed to diversity and having a better representation on screen?
JL: We want to remain the most engaging provider of Finnish content and bring more diversity to our slate. Our goal is to bring in new voices from different social, ethnic and gender backgrounds. For instance, we have the fantastic new project Zone B produced by Aamu Film Company, about being a teenager in the multicultural Eastern Helsinki. It was shot in June and we’ve received great feedback on Instagram. It will air early 2022.
Then we’ve commissioned together with NRK the pilot show Story Hunters, set in the Sámi community in the Northern part of Norway. We came up with the characters and the story, created with a Finnish theatre company.
SM: We also have in development a project about gay cruising in the parks of Helsinki that takes place in the summer 1966, around the time when the first actions for de-criminalising homosexuality were taken.
What do you think of the EBU initiative to pool European pubcasters’ resources to create a handful of major TV dramas a year?
JL: This is a very interesting initiative. We decided to submit to the EBU committee our series Helsinki Syndrome produced by Fisher King. The pitching in February went smoothly and the first week after our pitching, we got feedback from Arte, then RÚV and NDR in Germany came on board.
Do you have new collaborations with your Nordic counterparts, besides the Nordic 12 alliance?
JL: We have a 50/50 partnership from development stage with NRK on an upcoming eight-part series called Emergency Unit, produced by ITV Studios Finland and ITV Studios Norway. ITV approached us as they wanted to produce something for us and NRK. We said let’s work the other way around and look at what we’re missing in our slate. We were interested in people working in a conflict zone, and at the same time, facing difficult issues at home. After our simple feed to ITV, they then came up with the idea of a Nordic medical emergency response unit, made up of volunteers, and sent to a conflict zone to build a field hospital. The team is sent to Pakistan, Western Himalayas, after an earthquake. Production is due to start in August 2022. It will be a higher-than average production, involving as well SVT, DR and RÚV, as part of Nordic 12.
What new TV series do you have lined up?
JL: In terms of returning seasons, we have Dionysos’ Deadwind S3 which has already launched, then Wingman S3 produced internally, These Brats S2 from Jarowskij, Adults S3 from Yellow Film & TV and Moominvalley S3 from Gutsy Animations.
Paradise co-produced with Mediapro in Spain will be back for a second season with writer Matti Laine and director Marja Pyykkö attached again. Season 1 was followed by around 700,000 combined viewers which was good, so we’re expecting season 2 to be big as well.
Among new original shows, we have My Husband’s Wife written by Juuli Niemi and directed by her sister Inari Niemi. It’s a fantastic drama series produced by Lucy Loves Drama. One year ago, we played the Swedish comedy drama Love Me, which was a big success for us. We thought: we absolutely need a clever romantic drama and here we are! It’s about a man who ends up at the hospital after suffering a massive stroke. His wife and son arrive at the hospital to find out that a younger Estonian woman with a child are also by the man’s bedside. The series is coproduced with Estonia and sold by Studio Hamburg.