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Small talk about TV- serials

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Jakob-I-NielsenThanks to Folkeuniversitetet English lectures I had a chance to attend an interesting class with the topic “A golden age of Danish cinema?”. Afterwards I asked the lecturer if it would be possible to meet with him for an interview. He kindly agreed and today I have the pleasure of introducing you an associate professor of Aarhus University, Jakob Isak Nielsen.

We met at his office and the first thing I noticed was infinite account of DVDs and even videotapes. Also on the walls were posters from Aarhus film clubs.

Jakob is a person who’s passion is cinema and about his passion he can talk for hours. Unfortunately, we didn’t have so much time, but even in half an hour I discovered a lot about Jakob’s work.

His passion for the film industry started when he was 11 years old. His parents had a grocery shop, where they had about 200 video tapes for renting. Every evening with his 9-year old brother and his mother he would choose the movie to watch. His first movie that had strong impression on him was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) (original movie made in 1956).

Jakob studied media studies and for ten years he has been teaching at the university.

For the moment the main area of Jakob’ s work is American and Danish TV- serials. And this was the main topic of our conversation.

As Jakob told me American TV has been governed by special legislative rules. From early on American TV was based on sponsorship and then commercial blocks but was also freely available to anyone who could receive a tv signal. Because of that there have been – and still are –restrictions as to what you can show. Today broadcast channels such as NBC and CBS can never show obscene content and can only socalled indecent and profane from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m.

This changed when HBO began betting on originally produced series. HBO was paid not by commercials, but by subscribers. So there were working under other legislative rules. People paid for specific channel to watch specific programs. HBO’s Sex and the City and The Sopranos  had huge popularity in the USA and all over the world.

HBO launched their series including plenty of nudity, violence and bad language. It doesn’t make a great TV, but it gives opportunity for new story lines.

In Denmark the situation is very different. In the 1980s, when the only national channel till 1988 was Danmarks Radio, drama serials were a national phenomena. This was also the case in the early 1990s but today, Danish serials are surprisingly successful abroad and are seen around Europe and in faraway countries such as New Zealand and Australia. DRs serials are still popular domestically also and are sometimes seen by more than 80% of the Danish audience. One of the reasons for the success of Danish tv shows at home and abroad is that the tv industry recruits both seasoned professionals and new talent from the Danish film industry – one of the peculiar advantages of having a relatively small film and tv industry.

Nowadays, there are more than 20 Danish language channels. The flagships are still Danish Radio, which is paid for by license fees, and rival TV2 which is also state-owned and which also has public service obligations but is funded by commercials and sponsorship,.

Due to their license fee funding DR has the benefit of knowing its budgets beforehand and can sometimes recruit talent in front of and behind the camera three or four years in advance. Still, DR due to its public service obligations cannot aim their series at a niche audience the way that HBO can – a niche audience in the US may be three million viewers whereas a similar niche in Denmark would be around 50.000 viewers. You can produce great quality serials for three million viewers but it is of course much harder to do so for 50.000 viewers.

In the end Jakob told me about his upcoming lectures at Folkeuniversitetet. Soon he will have more lectures on film topics. It will be lecture about Quentin Tarantino (as part of course about great directors) and two lectures about films and TV-serials in the USA (as part of course about American culture).

P.S. And here are some recommended films and TV- serials by Jakob

Annie Hall (1977)

Play Time (1967)

The Wire

Mad Men

Tell Me You Love Me

Breaking Bad

Masters Of Sex

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