The restructures, layoffs, cancelations and a maybe-strike currently impacting the U.S. TV industry rippled through the halls of the Berlinale Series Market this week as senior execs forecasted an international future.
Mass redundancies at the likes of Disney, AMC, Paramount and Netflix in recent months and major strategic rethinks from the studios and streamers were the talk of the market. Among the chatter was a sense this may lead to a wave of non-U.S. activity.
Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak didn’t mince his words when he described U.S. TV as a “disaster zone” Monday. Hasak, who is currently making shows in Scandinavia and the Middle East, was heavily critical of Disney in particular for a strategy that he deemed akin to a “mental breakdown.”
And he wasn’t the only big name pointing to U.S. strife — albeit the others perhaps less forcefully.
Danna Stern, who used to run Fauda and Shtisel outfit Yes Studios and was on the first ever Berlinale Series Award jury, said the U.S. is “feeling a bit dead right now” as she flagged the multiple international funding opportunities that are cropping up all over the world for young writers, directors and producers. A wealth of show cancelations is making the U.S. industry “feel a bit like the accountants have taken over from the creatives,” Stern added.
Stern, Moonlight star André Holland and Danish screenwriter Mette Heeno ultimately selected Disney+’s Italian drama The Good Mothers as the winner of the jury award, as we reported last night. A European streaming series for a U.S.-based global streamer taking home the crown felt apt.
European sources we spoke to throughout the week said they are fielding more calls from U.S. creatives, agents and producers keen to work on this side of the pond. With many of the major TV studios and streamers’ strategies in flux, it is easy to understand why.
André Zoch, who runs Prime Video Germany’s big-budget Der Gryphon producer Dog Haus, told a Berlinale showrunning panel he has been contacted by U.S. agents just this past week to “propose ideas from some top-quality people.”
Universal International Studios (UIS) was out in force, outlining its approach to finding and working with European creatives in two separate sessions. UIS President Beatrice Springborn said on stage that investing in European creatives such as the UK’s Home Team, Spain’s Buendia Estudios and French-Vietnamese auteur Quoc Dang Tran was allowing it to land more international work – something that looks increasingly important for U.S. studios in 2023. We also revealed UIS’ latest international project: a TV version of Irish writer Adrian McGinty’s novel The Island.
Part of the rush may be driven by the looming writers’ strike, which could be a boon for the non-U.S. industry. Zoch and his fellow panelists suggested American writers will look for more work in Europe and Asia in the coming months and, while he said Dog Haus would welcome U.S. writers, he stressed “we do not need them.”
Speaking to a packed market audience yesterday, The White Lotus EP David Bernad predicted many more U.S. writers and producers could look to Europe for work if the writers’ strike materializes and said he separately knew of many Americans who were setting up international-facing businesses. “U.S audiences have been very closed off but hopefully the success of The White Lotus shooting in Italy and being half in Italian, and other shows like Money Heist that have worked around the world, will make them more outwards looking,” said Bernad.
Furthermore, were the strike to go ahead, non-U.S. writers may be required to step in and fill the breach. According to a senior source who works in Europe for a U.S. streamer, Hollywood execs are beginning to scout out writers in Britain and Europe to work on upcoming projects.
Public broadcasting positivity
Meanwhile, a palpable and refreshing sense of positivity around the state of European public broadcasting could be felt. “It feels like public broadcasting is back,” claimed one writer, who has penned shows for multiple pubcasters.
This was felt in discussions around the TV show that dominated conversation throughout the week, Frank Doelger’s big budget eco-thriller The Swarm — a show financed by multiple European public networks, with Hulu Japan the only SVoD on board.
During a Berlinale documentary panel, a quartet of documentarians praised the public broadcasters’ activity in the space and blamed the streamers’ rowing back from the genre for causing market contraction.
“Broadcasters have big ambitions to do the projects that garner big audiences along with quieter, observational pieces,” said Felicity Morris, director of Netflix smash doc The Tinder Swindler.
With the U.S. still seemingly mired in a bog of restructures, layoffs, cancelations and the potential for the first writers’ strike in a generation, it is easy to consider the situation a perfect storm.
Other execs sounded notes of caution, however, pointing first to the fact that the rest of the world is by no means immune from the effects of the global cost of living crisis, which has impacted budgets and costs everywhere.
One senior sales agent downplayed the U.S. pullback and warned the industry “not to get confused between U.S. shows that are filming in Europe and truly European shows.” He said the streamers are still happy to shell out big bucks for the right projects.
The White Lotus season two, for example, filmed in Europe with a mostly European cast but was funded by Warner Bros. Discovery. In essence, it is not a European show.
Stern also sought to downplay the knock-on effect of the writers’ strike and stress a nuanced situation. “You never want people to strike because that means they aren’t making enough money,” she said. “It’s not a good thing and [European creatives] don’t want to sound opportunistic.”
But she added, “TV screens cannot go black and networks will have to take action if there is nothing coming through on the American side.”
The stage is set for further shifts in the global TV landscape. If the Berlinale Series Market proved anything, it is that the non-U.S. players are ready and prepared.
Additional reporting by Jesse Whittock