Oliver Berben Sets Constantin Television Roadmap

John Hopewell
·7-min read

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This of course took place before COVID happened. But there is little reason to think that Constantin Television’s goals will have changed with coronavirus.

On Feb. 24, on the first day of the Berlinale Series Market, Oliver Berben, Constantin head of TV, entertainment and digital media, took to the stage to host a Constantin Television showcase.

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It packed a major new show announcement: “The Palace,” produced for ZDF, an identical twin period drama, set just before the fall of the wall, from Uli Edel, director of 1981 movie German classic “Christine F,” Constantin’s first big international breakout, and a string of more recent series hits for the company, such as “Adlon Hotel” and “The Master Butcher.”

Rodica Doehnert (“Adlon Hotel”) serves as lead writer. Kathrin Bullemer and Rüdiger Böss produce. Global Screen handles worldwide distribution.

A sizzle reel served to introduce a new TV adaptation, which wrapped its shoot in February, of the same novel tat inspired “Christine F., “We Children of Bahnhof Zoo,” about a young girl’s descent into heroine addiction. Produced by Berben and Sophie von Uslar (“NSU: German History X”), lead written by Annette Hess (“Weissensee”), “We Children” is produced with Amazon Prime.

This was Constantin Television’s first big international market showcase, and “We Children” its first show on which global distribution will be handled by Fremantle.

As it hit the international stage, Berben also talked briefly about Constantin Television’s hallmarks and ambitions, which include “Hagen von Tronje,” billed by Berben as the biggest ever feature film, with a TV version also in the works, ever to be made in Germany. Looking to the future, here’s are highlights of Berben’s onstage conversation with Variety:

To get a basic sense of Constantin Television, what would you say is its DNA?

The DNA of Constantin Film in general has always been creative, the creative potential of its producers, Also, we’ve often try to start with a strong IP. We’re in a very competitive market, you need to stand out. If you can, always put your hands on IP.

You work a lot with established broadcasters in Germany – its public broadcasters ARD Degeto and ZDF. I sense, especially over recent years, that you often try to push the envelope. bringing a darker edge to free-to-air series series such as the Canneseries competition entry “The Typist” and, slightly earlier, “Shades of Guilt,” both made with ZDF, or the harrowingly drawn-out death scene in “The Master Butcher” Ep. 2…..

We try to do that at both ends. One is the creative. You mentioned

“The Master Butcher.” I’d add shows like “Perfume” and “We Children from Bahnhof Zoo.” We try to always push the limit a little bit more. Other side’s the deal-making. Here, the key’s a good partnership. Getting back to ZDF, we started many years ago with a kind of production that hadn’t been done before. “Hotel Adlon” was one of our biggest-ever successes in TV, and a brand new way of storytelling, a brand new way of production, a huge budget. We’re always trying to find something unusual, in projects and at deal-making side. That’s not always easy. For example, a few years ago we started to make exclusive deals with writers and showrunners. Competitors called me to say I was crazy. “It’s going to cost you a lot of money. You’ll never get your money back.” But it was the best experience we had up until now.

Some innovation is both creative and deal-making, such as you double-perspective series…

Yes, “Der Feind” (The Enemy), which tells the same story from two different perspectives, one perspective will be aired on the premier public broadcast TV station ARD, the other on all the third channels in Germany, that gives you access to close on 20 million viewers in Germany, which is huge. It allows us to tell the story from different angles, to start a discussion. This project is from Ferdinand von Schirach, from whom we adapted “Shades of Guilt.” On “The Verdict,” we let the audience be part of the program and the decision at the end. This is also part of our DNA – that we’re always trying something new, hopefully.

Such as “Hagen von Tronje”….

Yes. Another title we’re now starting is a big project, “Hagen von Tronje,” which is basically the Nibelung saga, the biggest saga on earth – with a twist. We will produce the biggest feature film that has been made in Germany so far, and along with that feature film, a six-part series coming out. These kind of productions in the past were impossible, because of their huge budgets – now, not anymore. “Hagen” will compete with international movies and shows. We’ve just announced the directors, Cyrill Boss and Philipp Stennert, who did “Pagan Peak,” and will direct both the series and the feature. So again, we’re once more trying to push the envelope.

The scale will surely be one attraction….

The audience doesn’t know what a show or a movie cost, but what they do know is, if they compare it to other shows from abroad, from the States, from everywhere, that this is something that looks different, that has a different feeling. And that’s something we need to accomplish, we need to produce shows that not only survive worldwide, but stand out.

Looking at your line-up, there’s huge range, which you need, because your working with companies – established players but new platforms , such as with Netflix and Amazon, which all need to cover so many different demographics.

That’s the good thing of being independent. There are not so many companies left, but we work with everybody. We love to. We’ve just announced we’re going to produce two shows for RTL’s TVNow, which is a new streamer in the German market. We’re really trying to work with different players, and also pursue a a strategy on co-relationships with other partners. I really think this will be the future, of not working against each other in a country like Germany which has a limited-language reach – we’re about 100 million people – but rather finding strategic partners that can help us make bigger productions and bigger pictures that then can travel around the world.

You talked to me before the Berlin Series Market about moving into European shows, as you put it.

What we see as a strategy, one next step, is to find international European shows, such as “Smilla,” based on the novel “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” We are strong in the American market with shows like “Resident Evil” and “Shadowhunters”. We have a strong presence in the German market. What’s really missing .and where there’s a lot of potential, is he European international market. I’m not talking about the Europuddings of the ‘90s and early 2000s but rather about stories that take place in different countries inside Europe, showing different characters. Because of the streamers, audiences are much more open to different languages, nationalities. These kind of shows don’t necessarily have to be made with streamers. Quite the contrary: I think a co-relationship between big networks and broadcasters in Europe can lead to shows that can compete with U.S. and American streaming shows.

I think some big companies such as Studiocanal or Movistar Plus would agree with you.

It’s the next big thing. If you’d were to ask me what would be the next step that we want to take, it’s exactly that, and we will.

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