"The Empress": Five years of German series miracle

Binge-watching of German TV stuff all over the world: Series from Germany cause an international sensation and are watched for hours.

"The Empress": Five years of German series miracle

Binge-watching of German TV stuff all over the world: Series from Germany cause an international sensation and are watched for hours.

Katharina Eyssen's Sisi production "The Empress" is currently number one worldwide among all non-English-speaking Netflix series.

Devrim Lingnau and Philip Froissant play the leading roles in it and, according to Netflix, it was streamed 59.4 million hours in the past week alone (October 3rd to 9th). In the days before it was published (September 29th to October 2nd), it had already been viewed 47.2 million hours. In total, this is 106.6 million hours.

"Babylon Berlin" was the initial spark

The perception of German television material has obviously changed worldwide. If Stephen King, one of the most widely read and most successful authors in the world, praises a German series, as he did recently with the Netflix production "Kleo", then something must indeed have happened in the Federal Republic. Because Germany was supposedly always the land of boring, boring series. However, the time of honesty seems to be over.

This has to do with a development that picked up speed five years ago. In autumn 2017, "Babylon Berlin" (10/13/17) and also "Dark" (12/1/17) started as the first Netflix series to be developed and produced in Germany. She became a global pop culture phenomenon.

Stephen King recently tweeted about "Kleo": "What a breath of fresh air! Exciting and also very funny." In the Quentin Tarantino-style Netflix series, Jella Haase embarks on a revenge campaign as a Stasi contract killer after the end of the GDR.

The creative minds behind the series are the trio of authors Hanno Hackfort, Richard Kropf and Bob Konrad, who are sometimes also called "HaRiBo" after their first names in the industry and who are already behind series such as "4 Blocks" and "Para - Wir are King" stuck.

The mystery series "1899" is coming soon

And very soon there will probably be global enthusiasm for a Netflix production from Germany again: for "1899", the new mystery series by "Dark" makers Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar. It starts on November 17th. It was shot using the latest special effects technology. After a premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, there was already a lot of praise.

But how was this new German series era - some would probably say "series miracle" - unleashed?

It's been 25 years since Netflix was founded in the US as a DVD rental company. Eleven years ago, Netflix announced that it would produce its own content. Almost ten years ago (02/01/2013, in Germany 02/04 on Sky Atlantic HD), the first season of "House of Cards" went online - and all the episodes, which made it clear that streaming gives consumers more freedom than classic television wanted to offer. In July 2013, "Orange Is The New Black" followed as the second so-called Netflix Original. Both series became world hits and radically changed the entertainment industry.

So-called noble or high-end series, which are characterized by complexity, unpredictable characters, episodic, horizontal narrative style, have now become the ultimate for all video makers, even if there were pioneers like "Breaking Bad" on US cable television would have.

Netflix, as a worldwide, subscription-financed video-on-demand service, also entered the German-speaking market in 2014. In Germany, too, the pressure to rely on quality series was increasing.

Not least because of the expectation that there would soon be competition from German Netflix series, the public broadcaster ARD teamed up with Sky and launched the major project "Babylon Berlin", an elaborate crime series set during the Weimar Republic . The fourth season has just started on Sky (October 8th), which will also be on the first of ARD in 2023.

Seven years before the start of "Babylon", ARD had had an almost traumatic experience with Dominik Graf's complex ten-part series "In the Face of Crime". The crime series in the mafia milieu ran at the Berlinale, then at Arte and in autumn 2010 fell far short of the ratings expectations when it was broadcast in the first. Feuilletons then asked whether such series would ever arrive in Germany or whether they would still be produced at all and could then become an export hit.

The serial revolution is underway

In the meantime, the search for sensational series material, increased co-production between TV providers, and the expansion of online platforms so as not to lose young viewers completely are important tasks for the broadcasters.

Because: Self-produced series are considered important for TV brands. As a unique selling point, they improve the image and set you apart from the competition.

For a long time, screenwriters were only considered assistants in parts of the German television landscape because the actual creative work was supposedly the responsibility of the director, but this has changed considerably.

Terms such as showrunner (creative and commercial director of television series) or writers' room (screenwriter team that exchanges creative ideas) are no longer uncommon in Germany. One thing is certain: For producers, broadcasters, reporting media and last but not least the viewers, consuming series and talking about series has changed significantly in the last five years. The revolution is on.

And seven decades after the "Sissi" films with Romy Schneider and Karlheinz Böhm, Empress Elisabeth seems to be welcome again as film material from Central Europe all over the world. According to Netflix, "The Empress" was in the top ten in its first week in 79 countries, and in its second week even in 88 countries.