Location-based TV dramas have become a powerful marketing tool and dream export for many cities. Whether it’s East Baltimore’s underworld in The Wire, or knitwear-obsessed Lund chasing killers in the backstreets of Copenhagen (in The Killing), crime shows go beyond their sleep-deprived protagonists’ dramas to become a peculiarly alluring guide to the edgier side of the city where they’re shot. “Most cities can only dare to dream about a series like The Killing for the way it put Copenhagen on the map. The series has done more for the city than any multimillion-pound marketing campaign could have achieved,” says Broadcast’s editor Lisa Campbell.
But what’s the formula? Is it illogical to sell a city with murder and grime? “I think people are mystified by Copenhagen on tv – they want to come here and do some investigation for themselves,” ponders Div Bernth, producer of The Killing. This existential gloom has turned into small screen gold with Borgen, The Bridge and Wallander all initiating the current tv “Scandimania”.
To add to the genre mix there are other tv soft powered success stories. In Istanbul, producers have crafted their own tv magic where in 2010 the record-breaking soap Gümüs sparked a huge tourism boom, with a 33 per cent increase of visitors from the Middle East eager to check out the Bosphorus locations (they aren’t sets) and spot their favourite stars.
From bleak Nordic realities to sexy Turkish delights, cities should treat their tv film crews well. This might not be every mayor’s standard marketing strategy but what better way to promote your city than with a prime-time hit series boasting proven international appeal? Next on the list as a must-visit destination could be Norway’s snowy Lillehammer thanks to a new series of the appropriately named Lilyhammer from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation: pristine mountain landscapes serve as backdrop to a tale of a witness protection programme gone wrong. The opportunities are endless – all you need is a story and viewers to stay tuned.
The Killing (aka ‘Forbrydelsen’)
‘The Killing’ is to be blamed for all global fascination with Nordic crime series and bleak surroundings. The original is set in Copenhagen and has been broadcast in Russia, Brazil, Australia, Japan and virtually everywhere in Europe. The US version is set in Seattle.
A hit comedy show set in Portand and named after one of the city’s landmarks. Sam Adams should’ve felt like the luckiest US mayor in January last year when the show first aired.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Following the fate of the nouveaux riches of Rio’s Barra neighbourhood, this telenovela is creating new tourist buzz in the metropolis. It’s also shown in the US via Telemundo, Mexico, Portugal and Angola.
Sold to the UK, Australia, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and many more, ‘The Wire’ has put Baltimore and its grim backstreets on the TV map. Maryland’s tourism office had better say thank you!
Set in Norway’s Lillehammer: American ex-mobster Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano is trying to start over in the wintery town. The reason? His happy memories watching the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It’s also shown in the US and was recently picked up by Israel.
Game of Thrones
HBO’s medieval fantasy series is set in the mythical Westeros, but it’s mostly shot in and around Belfast. The first season received £1.6m funding from Northern Ireland Screen and, according to government estimates, generated a return of £17m and 800 jobs for the regional economy.
Commissario Salvo Montalbano is the epitome of the Sicilian detective character. Created by writer Andrea Camilleri, Montalbano’s adventures are set in the imaginary town of Vigata but all shot in Sicily, attracting visitors from the UK, Australia and the US.
Hugely successful in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, this Turkish historical drama about Suleyman the Magnificent has put Istanbul’s Hurrem Sultan hamam on the map. Built in 1556, the hamam now attracts visitors from around the world.
The Bridge (aka ‘bron’)
The body of a female Swedish politician is found on the Øresund bridge connecting Malmö and Copenhagen. Co-produced by Danmarks Radio and Sveriges Television, ‘The Bridge’ first aired in 2011 and has been pulling in audiences home and abroad ever since. The second season is out next year. We can hardly wait.
Swedish crime TV series, set in the small town of Ystad. Following the cases of detective Kurt Wallander, the show has turned the town into a tourist draw. Also broadcast in the UK.
Putting their cities on the map:
Three production powerhouses
Rio de Janeiro
TV giant Rede Globo has recently announced a collaboration with TAM airlines offering holiday packages exclusively designed for Brazilian telenovela fans – a clever move given that each year Brazilian soaps attract an average of 60 million viewers worldwide. The new routes include a tour to the cities of the southern Rio Grande do Sul state where A Casa das Sete Mulheres was shot.
It’s always reassuring for taxpayers to know that their publicly funded TV makes commercially successful shows that are being picked up by international broadcasters. What’s really invigorating, however, is to see that these series contribute to your city’s cool appeal. Guilty for bringing pallid complexion and heavy knits back, Denmark’s public service broadcaster, DR, is the mastermind behind The Bridge (in collaboration with Sweden’s Sveriges Television) and Forbrydelsen, widely known as The Killing.
Media conglomerate Calinos handles about 80 per cent of the international distribution of Turkish soaps. With estimated TV export revenue of $60m in 2011, that’s a lot. Turkish soaps are watched in over 40 countries, with a growing interest from Eastern Europeans and Arabs. According to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, there has been a 12 per cent increase in Arab tourists over the past few years due to the popularity of Turkish soaps.
Anne H. Steffensen
Danish ambassador to the UK
How has Copenhagen benefitted from the success of The Bridge and The Killing?
It has definitely raised the profile of Copenhagen and Denmark in the UK. It has generated a huge interest in everything Danish – food, fashion, architecture and design. Even in the language.
Has the interest in these shows directly influenced the number of tourists?
In 2011 the number of nights spent in Copenhagen by British tourists rose by 50,000 compared to the previous year. This increase is believed to be hugely due to the success of The Killing. The show has boosted the PR value of Copenhagen as a travel destination with media coverage of the actors’ recommendations of cafés and restaurants, and the launch of the ‘Killing Tours’ – guided walking tours to locations made famous by the TV series.
What is your take on cities using TV series to promote themselves? Should more urban strategists learn from Copenhagen?
I’ll look at it from a different angle. I don’t believe that governments can plan a TV series as a marketing tool. However, what they can do is invest into an environment where creative industries are encouraged to develop engaging content using different media platforms. The reason for the success of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge is that they have strong storylines. They captured the ‘zeitgeist’ of the city.
The Killing III – coming out in September. “I’m not done with Copenhagen,” says producer Piv Bernth.
The Bridge UK – Sky Atlantic is to remake The Bridge, transposing the crime scene to the Channel Tunnel.
Unwanted – Kristina Ohlsson’s crime trilogy set between Gothenburg and Stockholm on the small screen; filming begins in 2013.