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Die Stadt und die Macht: A Production Study of a German mini-series

In the run up to the European Screens conference, MeCETES has invited speakers to write a blog on their conference paper. First up is Florian Krauß (University Siegen) on the complex production history of German miniseries Die Stadt und die Macht.

Susanne Krömer fights her way through Berlin policy. Surprisingly, the idealistic lawyer becomes the city’s mayoral candidate. But she is confronted by a corrupt male network that is closely linked to her own father Karl-Heinz, patriarch in the Berlin’s conservative party.

Politician Susanne Kröhmer (played by Anna Loos) in Die Stadt und die Macht

Politician Susanne Kröhmer (played by Anna Loos) in Die Stadt und die Macht

Die Stadt und die Macht (The city and the power), first broadcast in 2016, exemplifies German attempts to establish “quality” or “high-end television series”. It appropriates genres which are rather rare in contemporary German series – political and family drama. Most of its plot-lines run across all six episodes, in contrast to the crime procedurals or single TV films which still rule the fictional prime time in Germany. The show therefore hints at the emergence of new approaches in German TV series productions.

At the same time, Die Stadt und die Macht points to some of the current challenges within the German television production sector. For a miniseries dealing with local politics, it is somewhat ironic that the series came into being when the federal structures of broadcaster ARD was facing its own political entanglements.

How federalism shapes content

“To understand the history and development of [TV] series in Germany, one has to understand the structures of its broadcasting organisations”, one of the commissioning editors of Die Stadt und die Macht explained in an interview. The commissioning editor himself works in the series department of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), one of nine local broadcasting organisations that form the federal broadcaster ARD. Each of has its own local TV channel and also contributes to national ARD programmes, such as the long-running police procedural series Tatort. Featuring police inspectors in different regions and federal states, Tatort is a key example of how Germany’s federalism shapes its TV content.

The long-running German detective series Tatort is a key example of how German federalism shapes TV production.

The long-running German detective series Tatort is a key example of how Germany’s federalism shapes TV content.

Yet there are ARD series made by several local broadcasters working together. In the early 1990s, the “Gemeinschaftsredaktion”, an alliance department for prime time series, was established (next to another one for ARD’s access prime time). Die Stadt und die Macht is one of its Gemeinschaft productions.

For the producers, the involvement of this central committee turned out to be complicated. Production company REAL Film, which is responsible for the show, is in itself kind of a federal institution by belonging to Studio Hamburg, a hundred per cent subsidiary of NDR. So naturally it presented the series concept to that broadcaster. But at this time NDR was no longer a member of the Gemeinschaftsredaktion.

“We needed a mentor within the Gemeinschaftsredaktion after we had won NDR for our project”, says the dramatic adviser and development producer of this project. Therefore, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), based in Cologne, came on board. The Gemeinschaftsredaktion only approved of a second version of the pitch paper. The producers received their notes second or third hand, through the responsible commissioning editors from WDR and NDR. The notes by all these different sources were quite “heterogeneous”, as the development producer by REAL Film puts it.

Questions of authorship

Some commissioning editors wanted Die Stadt und die Macht to be similar to House of Cards or Borgen, two political dramas with very different protagonists and points of departures. The producers’ task frequently was to moderate this debate, to catch up with the time schedule and get the series into production.

Authorship turns out to be a very complex issue under such circumstances. Original author Martin Rauhaus left the project, while other writers came on board. Briefly a rudimentary writers’ room was installed. Interestingly, the ‘making of’ video and interviews on the official ARD website on Die Stadt und die Macht do not name any writer, but the director Friedemann Fromm (Weissensee), the main actors and, briefly, the producers by REAL film and the NDR commissioning editor do appear.

Dinah Marte Golch, herself screenwriter for German TV fiction, vehemently criticized this in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The writers’ invisibility may hint at their weakness within German series production and public-service structures – an issue other producers and writers frequently bring up when they debate about current series in Germany.

Arguably, the absence of a single head writer and the various voices are reflected in the narration of Die Stadt und die Macht. The commissioning editor by NDR problematizes that the three important plot lines would not sufficiently work together. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to connect the several stories: Protagonist Susanne Krömer struggles with her difficult family and its confused past. Her teenage sweetheart jumps from a roof-deck – in which their common friend Alex sees a murder. Thus, Susanne Krömer does more than fight her way through Berlin policy. According to the show’s producers, the production of this German mini-series was sometimes a fight through complex structures, too.

Dr Florian Krauß is lecturer in media studies at University Siegen, Germany. He teaches in media education, film and series dramaturgy and media history. He is currently researching discussions about “quality series” within Germany’s TV and film industry.

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