If the people of Long Island started making locally resonant TV dramas -- maybe with a little help from Queens -- do you think our tiny slice of population could change the face of global viewing?
Because that's what Denmark is doing. The Scandinavian nation of less than 6 million people has started crafting riveting shows, imbued with its culture and values, to plumb fresh facets of murder mystery, political wrangling and family dynamics. These sagas scripted in the little-spoken Danish language (with liberal lapses into common-tongue English) have become subtitled sensations in dozens of countries. They're now shaping TV drama worldwide -- even in Hollywood.
AMC's crime drama "The Killing," FX's border tale "The Bridge," A&E's new psychological thriller "Those Who Kill" (premieres Monday at 10 p.m.) -- all were adapted from Danish shows to American locution/locations.
The flood began with "Forbrydelsen," a far-reaching murder chronicle that debuted in 2007 on Denmark's DR network (its national BBC equivalent). The instant hit soon sold to more than 130 countries, rising to subtitled smash status on Britain's BBC Four, and taking 2011's BAFTA TV award for best international series over "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire."
That same year, AMC turned "Forbrydelsen" into "The Killing," as Hollywood tackled the Danes' signature style of moody "nordic noir" -- dark tones both visual and thematic, twisted deep-seated motivations, multiple perspectives that Denmark's industry calls "double storytelling." Parallel threads in "The Killing" tracked a police investigation and the victim's loved ones, plus a local political campaign. Denmark's original of "The Bridge" ("Broen") discovered its precipitating corpse at the exact center of the Oresund Bridge atop the country's border with Sweden, leading to the FX version's culture clash seen through a Texas detective and her Mexican counterpart.
Now comes A&E's "Those Who Kill" (adapting "Den Som Dræber"). Powerhouse indie star Chloë Sevigny (HBO's "Big Love") stars as a serial-killer-hunting police detective in a dank postindustrial Pittsburgh who's fueled by deeper obsessions. "Kill" showrunner Glen Morgan ("Millennium") emphasized at the TV critics' January press tour that his show is "about the victims," among whom Sevigny's cop seems to count. "We're trying to talk about the ramifications of violence, what the victims have to suffer. It's not done when you lock the guy away."
Such reverberations are key to the new dramas of Denmark, long a busy import-export nation. For the past two decades, the country's TV industry has studied the American method, even sending Danes to observe production of shows like "NYPD Blue." They wanted to meld pensive Nordic human study (think Sweden's Ingmar Bergman movies) with the mainstream series genres dominating global sales. The result? Embracing American TV's continuous writing process where impact from initial episodes informs later scripts. Blending it with Europe's tradition of a single creative vision. And observing multiple layers of a tale.
Beyond the crime genre, Denmark has found its greatest success with the social portrait "Borgen," about a female prime minister contending with political backbiting and personal dilemmas. Winner of BAFTA's 2012 international award, the three-season hit has gradually infiltrated America through online streaming and DVD release (the season 3 set is newly out from MHz Networks). That unorthodox path landed "Borgen" on TV 10-best lists from the Los Angeles Times, Slate, The Huffington Post and Entertainment Weekly's Stephen King. (The novelist's 2004 CBS series "Kingdom Hospital" was based on Lars Von Trier's 1994 Danish miniseries "Riget.") Once considered for U.S. remake by NBC, a "Borgen" adaptation is now in the mix at HBO.
There's more. "Breaking Bad's" Anna Gunn recently broke Danish in Bravo's pilot adaptation of "Rita," an iconoclast teacher/mom in Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" mold. (Bravo has not ordered it to series.) The mob-related black comedy "Lærkevej" became "Park Road" in the pipeline at NBC from "Sopranos" scribes Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green. The taboo-busting prank comedy "Klovn" has been bought by Warner Bros. for "Eastbound & Down" wild man Danny McBride.
Now, the Danes are more directly invading our shores -- and our American genres. Ole Christian Madsen and Anders Thomas Jensen have sold Cinemax their original series concept "Blood & Ice," set in the rugged chill of Greenland. Are you ready for a "nordic western"?
Great Dane remakes
Denmark TV hits turned into U.S. series:
THOSE WHO KILL (A&E, premieres tomorrow night at 10) -- Chlöe Sevigny stars as a Pittsburgh police detective turned serial killer specialist who gets emotionally charged help from James D'Arcy's independent profiler. The two share (and clash over) deep psychological obsessions with the mythos and methods of multiple murder.
DEN SOM DRÆBER (2011; watch on YouTube) -- Headlining Denmark's original: Lars Mikkelsen, just seen on PBS' "Sherlock" as baddie Charles Magnussen. (He was also in Denmark's "The Killing" and "Borgen," season 3.)
THE BRIDGE (FX, 2013; season 2 this summer) -- Brought together by a corpse found on the Texas-Mexico border: Diane Kruger's El Paso cop and Demian Bichir's Chihuahua detective, soon embroiled in official corruption, drug violence and cross-border culture clash.
BROEN/BRON (2011-2013; watch on Hulu) -- Denmark/ Sweden coproduction found its corpse dead-center of the 12-mile Oresund Bridge linking Copenhagen-Malmo. (Co-stars Kim Bodnia and Lars Simonsen were earlier in "Førbrydelsen.")
THE KILLING (AMC, 2011-2013; Netflix to debut 6 final episodes TBA) -- The murder of a Seattle teenager sets off aftershocks in the police case, the victim's family and local politics. Later crimes for sleuths Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman involve a runaway girl and (coming up) a military academy murder.
FØRBRYDELSEN (2007-2012; watch on YouTube) -- Denmark's first genre-changing smash, sold to 130 countries, tracked Copenhagen investigations. Series star Sofie Gråbøl appeared in AMC's "The Killing" as DA Christina Niilsen. (Co-star Søren Malling went on to "Borgen.")
MORE DANISH TV TO SEE
* Borgen -- LinkTV.org/Borgen
* Rita -- Netflix
* The Protectors (Livvagterne) -- Hulu
* Klown (Klovn) -- Hulu
* Park Road (Lærkevej) -- YouTube clips