Last night the Swedish crime thriller Gåsmamman - described as Breaking Bad Meets Erin Brockovich) aired on Discovery Networks Sweden’s Kanal 5. Ahead of the premiere, we spoke to Jon Petersson (pictured - Head of Programme Controlling and Drama Commissioning) about his drama strategy as part of our interviews with Nordic broadcasters’ Heads of Drama.

How is your department structured and what is your budget for TV drama?
Jon Petersson: We have a programme department, not a formal drama department and there is no specific budget set aside for drama. We work as a team and the production companies pitch their projects to a group of exec producers and decision makers. We listen to everyone’s opinion. 

Who is part of that commissioning/decision making group?
JP: To name a few, there is Programme Director Axel Eriksson, the Head of Development Lena Strandner, the Channel Director Calle Jansson and myself. I’m the only one specialised in drama. 

How does Discovery Network Sweden function within Discovery Communications and how autonomous are you?
JP: Discovery is one of the World’s leading content creators, in a wide variety of genres, including scripted. That said, the old SBS channels in Sweden, Norway Denmark and to a lesser extend Finland are rather different from what Discovery is doing successfully in the rest of the world. They have a different business model and don’t intervene in our editorial strategy. 

Are your sister companies involved in your projects?
JP: Discovery Network Norway was involved in our previous show 100 Code and I’m sure that in the future we will increase our collaboration with our sister companies in Norway and Denmark. 

Was the Swedish/US crime show 100 Code your first bet on original material and part of your new strategy to invest in Swedish drama?
JP: Yes it was the first investment in original scripted content in years and our second major bet on Swedish drama after the crime book to film series Irene Huss, created to compete with the likes of Wallander and Beck.

We were early in wanting to exploit the one hour 21.00 weekday drama slot. Kanal 5 has already a strong branding thanks to acquired premium US shows such as Criminal Minds, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI that fill our weekday evening slot. We wanted to expand with local drama and now I can see that the interest for that prime time slot has grown everywhere.

We showed 100 Code on our Thursday 21.00 slot last September and now we are airing the drama thriller Gåsmamman (‘Mother goose’).

So is your overall plan to feed that slot with two local long running series a year for your fall and spring line up?
Yes, that’s definitely our plan. We would love to have 10-12 episodes in the spring and the same in the fall.

Is crime at the heart of your drama strategy?
I wouldn’t say that this is our outspoken strategy. We are looking for character-driven strong drama for everyone. We are the youngest broadcasters in Sweden in terms of demo. With drama, we have to play to our younger audience but can’t exclude other age groups. So we are looking for entertaining thrilling drama. I would love to get pitches for other genres than crime. 

Typically what share of a budget can you put on the table and who are your partners?
JP: As a rule of thumb we are rather pragmatic about our investment. We usually take a lower share of the risks and therefore need partners for pay TV, SVOD. With a high budget project such as 100 Code we came in with around a 20% share. On lower budgets, we can invest at a higher level, but usually no more than 50%.

Irene Huss premiered first on C More, HBO Nordic first showed 100 Code and C More world premiered Gåsmamman on November 26. They came in when the first episode was finished.
Then other countries can come on board, such as Sky Deutschland that co-produced 100 Code. We try not to give producers a hard time by asking all the rights. 

How did 100 Code come your way?
Henrik Bastin from Fabrik Entertainment is someone we have a long history with. He was the entry point for 100 Code, with Red Arrow International. We have a strong history with US drama so it was exciting to mix US and Swedish talents. We got to try the showrunner model in Hollywood. It was a great experience.

What about the eight-part series Gåsmamman. How and why did you invest in it? What was the overall budget?
We can’t tell the full budget. Endemol Shine Sweden pitched it to us. Alexandra Rapaport, actress and co-producer was already attached and has been essential in developing the format. What convinced me is the fact that it is more than a Nordic noir. It’s the story of a mother of three who is dragged into the underworld and illegal drug dealing when her husband is shot. The writers are Camilla Ahlgren who worked on The Bridge, and Martin Asphaug [director of Irene Huss, Livet i Fagervik] some of the best in Scandinavia.

Richard Holm [Johan Falk] directed all episodes in one block. I’m not so convinced by the usual model consisting of different directors attached to different episodes. I think it’s a luxury to be able to have one director behind the same show, especially a brilliant director like Richard Holm.

What other TV dramas do you have in development?
JP: We are so pleased with Gåsmamman that we already have a second season in development. This is a bold decision and very unusual, but we are totally confident. We are looking at 10 more episodes. We have a few other things in development that we will announce later. We are still looking for good ideas for the fall 2017. 

How do you feel about the competitive TV drama market and need for broadcasters to invest at an earlier stage on premium local drama?
It can only be good for the industry and the audience that we are entering the local TV drama business, just like TV3, and that SVT and TV4 are commissioning more. There are more good projects than slots available, so competition doesn’t intimidate us.

Other changes are more worrying, such as rapid declining TV viewership, especially from younger audiences. They simply aren’t there anymore. So we have to be on digital platforms and ready for the shift. I think we are.