Making the Killing: a Development Strategy that Worked
Yesterday morning I watched the last four episodes of the Danish series, The Killing. As so often, I was late on this one. If you work in the entertainment industry, you invariably miss the exceptional because you are busy monitoring the ordinary.
But discriminating viewers found it — and in Britain its BBC4 audience rose steadily throughout its run, from about 350,000 to 500,000 for the first run of each episode.
It takes a lot to penetrate the language filter that prevails in Anglo countries. That alone suggest The Killing was something special – and it was.
So I have spent some time thinking about how it might have happened. Or to put it another way, thinking about the development strategy.
First this team must have taken the best, new things in their field and learned from them. From 24 they got the time compression. Making each episode one day in the investigation gave it urgency and pace.
From The Wire they got the social frame, a wide, very urban frame that included the rich, the poor and those in the middle. But what specially came from The Wire, I would guess, is the multi-layered bureaucracies of local government and police administration, full of complicated regulations, departmental rivalry, position-seeking and, from local politicians a constant preoccupation with public image.
Meanwhile there is a killer on the loose…and everyone on the case is getting very, very tired.
What else? Well, yes, it’s dark. But this “dark” radiated a special kind of anxiety – people are hard to read, blind self-interest occludes clarity and cooperation, ordinary people are beset by the worries of small businesses and unpredictable bosses — and all this in a deep Scandinavian winter. (Compared with that The Wire is dark in a jaunty-but-lethal, devil-may-care sort of way).
So I had to wonder what persuaded a group of (mainly) public broadcasters in three Scandinavian countries to get together and commit to an ambitious 20-part series. That takes confidence. (I do not know the details: I would like to know more).
But that too is explicable. Denmark knows that a small country can build a reputation for innovation — the Dogme film movement showed that.
Then there is the huge success of the detective stories of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.
The Scandinavian countries feel very modern, with well-educated people, successful companies, stable government, and, as every survey shows, very hooked up to the internet.
In truth, the murder-mystery is a kind of modern ritual. Like all rituals it needs to be refreshed from time to time.
Well done DR.
Another thing: I reviewed my Linked-In groups this week. Was the time I spend justified?
I concluded that a good group keeps you in touch with the best people blogging within the group topic, a good way to pick up anything relevant that is out there in your area of interest. But you need to check in every day, so I have dropped one of them.
I never found a group that talks about why some entertainment works and some does not and how you build successes like The Killing.