Germans want home-grown TV ... with US look
On Tuesday nights at 8:15, teenager Marianne Rietschel grabs a place on the sofa with her grandmother and watches "Medicopter 117," a series about a rescue helicopter.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's really exciting and fun to watch," she says.
Once filming is complete in December, the show's sister series, "Helicops," about a team of airborne crimefighters, will enter its second season next year.
Another example of American cultural imperialism?
Yes, and no.
While the "action, action. action" chopper duo is reminiscent of US shows like "Airwolf" and "Blue Thunder," they are exclusively German productions, epitomizing what some see as Europe's answer to America's cultural invasion: If you can't beat them, copy them.
And it's working.
After years of consuming American fare from "Baywatch" and "Melrose Place" to "Magnum, P.I." and "Quincy" Germans are increasingly clicking to homegrown shows produced, written, directed, and acted by Germans. These shows offer viewers familiar faces, settings, and, of course, language. But they are packaged in American formats and production values.
The demand for localized television has been spreading throughout Western Europe, whose countries are putting out more homegrown television films and series each year. But nowhere has the trend been stronger than in Germany, which dished out roughly 1,800 hours of local productions in 1997, up from 1,600 hours the year before.
And, of the top five shows on four of Germany's most popular networks, only two, "The X-Files" and "The Sentinel," were American imports. The changes on German television screens have been wrought by cultural and commercial shifts.
Producers and analysts alike point to the period of deregulation in German television in the mid-1980s as a milestone, when commercial broadcasters first emerged. Before that, Germany's broadcasters were all public. The number of stations practically doubled, opening doors for local production companies.
"It necessitated more German programming. There were basically more programming hours to fill," says Beatrice Kramm, producer of "Helicops." But there was little local talent at the time to meet the new demand, and private stations continued to import much of their programming from the US and Britain.
By the early 1990s, however, audiences were growing bored with oft-repeated American shows, says Udo Gttlich, a media analyst at Gerhard-Mercator University in Duisburg. "It got to the point when the public knew everything, and [broadcasters] had to pick up the audience with new things.... They needed to produce their own formats," he says.
And new meant near. "People want to see problems and everyday themes that come directly from their environment," says Evo Alexander Beck, producer of "Gasoline in the Blood," a show that has tried to capitalize on the popularity of German Formula 1 racing hero Michael Schumacher by spinning tales of a crime-solving race-car driver.
While people go to the movies for exotic stories, "television is a medium that tells stories from around the corner," says Mr. Beck.
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