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What makes Danish TV so cool?

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What makes Danish TV so cool?
When Sarah Lund is in trouble in Forbrydelsen, it's far from just Danes rooting for her to pull through. Photo: Tine Harden, DR
08:01 CEST+02:00
Danish television has taken the world by storm, making characters like Sarah Lund and Birgitte Nyborg popular well beyond our small borders. Now a team of researchers will try to get to the bottom of the success.
The Killing, Broen and Borgen can arguably claim a great deal of credit for Denmark's popularity on the world stage. 
 
The shows have amassed huge interest abroad, racked up international awards and spawned numerous remakes. But why? What has led to this golden age of Danish TV dramas?
 
Nine researchers will spend the next four years and some 6.5 million kroner ($1.2 million) trying to figure out just that. 
 
“Danish television series have had significant success internationally. What we will do is study both their production and their reception,” the project’s leader, Anne Marit Waade from Aarhus University, told The Local. 
 
Waade said her team would work with focus groups in the US, Germany, Australia, Turkey and Brazil to see just who Denmark’s dark, smartly-made dramas appeal to, and why. 
 
Waade’s group will also talk to writers and producers behind Danmark Radio’s (DR) programmes as well as study the network’s output over the past 20 years in order to determine why so many series have made it abroad in recent years.  
 
Although their research doesn’t begin until September 1st, Waade already has some theories. 
 
“Hype is very difficult to explain, but of course there are some marketing processes behind it,” she said. “People from Denmark have been very good at taking part in international TV festivals and so on in order to actively present the series and push them in to the international market.” 
 
“So its a marketing issue but it’s also due to the quality of the series. They’ve got good aesthetics, good people working on them and they’ve spent a lot of money on them,” she added. 
 
A scene from Borgen
Fictional PM Birgitte Nyborg gets some advice from spin doctor Kasper Juul in Borgen. Photo: Mike Kollöffel/DR
 
Waade said there has also been a shift in the attitudes of global audiences. 
 
“The international market has an increased appetite for non-English content, so there is also a curiosity factor at play. I think there is a change we are seeing right now. Up until five to ten years ago, a Danish series wouldn’t work abroad so they would make a remake. But now, a lot of countries prefer the original,” Waade said.
 
While that’s the case in the UK, Australia and parts of Europe, Waade said American audiences are still hesitant to embrace foreign language entertainment. 
 
The rights to the DR drama Arvingerne (The Legacy) were recently picked up by an American broadcaster who plans a remake. Likewise, both The Killing and Broen have been remade into American versions. The political drama Borgen found limited success in the US in its original Danish but is also set to remade for an American audience. 
 
But even though Waade says “we’ve never seen success like this before,” the reach of Danish shows is still fairly limited. 
 
“Of course the Danish TV series are very popular abroad, but it is still a niche market. It’s a very well-educated segment,” she said. “It’s not like everybody in the US is watching these series.”
 
Given that Waade’s research will last four years, The Local couldn’t resist asking if Danish popularity will have waned by then. 
 
“Things can change, but I’ve been working with Scandinavian crime fiction, which has been popular for a long time,” Waade said. “Danish TV is hooked up with the Nordic Noir brand, so there is some staying power. The boom hasn’t reached the top yet.” 
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