“ALT ER SKAM” A Norwegian Hit Series That Made History

Skam, the Norwegian success TV-series phenomenon, has managed to get the attention not only of Norwegian teenagers that were the original target group of NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, but also that of young adults all over the Nordics.

The series created by Julie Andem follows a group of high school students at Hartvig Nissen School in West Oslo. Sure, anyone could argue that Skam is just another teenage TV series, but it’s different for many reasons. Apart from reflecting on romantic relationships and friendship, Skam gives teenagers a platform to raise their voice and explores their everyday life while bringing up important taboos, such as sex, feminism, homosexuality, cyber bullying, date rape, depression and under-age drinking. The series does this through creative dialogues and interesting characters.

The series has been a massive hit in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, but its rawness could be a reason why it’d be difficult to sell it abroad, outside the Nordic countries. However, despite all odds, Skam has been sold to the US, and, according to NRK, an American remake called Shame will be produced in 2017. Since Skam’s a culturally unique phenomenon to Norway, it would be interesting to see how well it will translate and what will change and what will remain the same in the American version. Especially if we think about the traditional Norwegian celebration of “Russ” short for “Russefeiring” that Skam uses as a starting point as the main characters Eva, Noora, Chris, Sana and Vilde get in the same group, and they plan their own Russ throughout the series. Russ is high school celebration that students in their final spring semester participate in by wearing red overalls and buying buses, and then party all night long for almost an entire month.

Image credit: NRK / Tom Overlie

One of the things that is fascinating about the series is the parallel online universe web producer Mari Magnus has created. Skam spreads on social media through authentic and real-time storytelling. All the characters have active Instagram accounts, and there’s always interesting content in connection to the episodes posted on the Skam website. Also, music seems to be very important to the show with some great playlists made available on Spotify. “The parallel online universe is a huge and important part of the narrative. And the real-time publishing gives the audience a real-life viewing experience that has been adding great value to the series. The music is carefully chosen to underline the narrative, so it is great that it’s received so well”, says Skam’s executive producer, Marianne Furevold, who has been working for NRK for many years.

Now that the series is over, she will be working on new and exciting projects, and she continues to strive to open up hearts and minds through good storytelling. But for now, read our interview with her!

Let’s start right away with the success of the show. Did you and your team expect that Skam would be so massive both locally and internationally?

– It’s overwhelming how everyone has embraced Skam. We hoped that the target audience, the Norwegian 16-year-olds, would like it, but we never expected anything like what we’re experiencing now.

Do you think that part of the success is that people can relate to the characters?

– Being a teenager or a human being is not always easy. We’ve tried to show some of the aspects of being human, and also to portray a real-world familiarity in the characters and the storylines.

I’m wondering how it all started with Skam. Was it difficult to find funding for it? How did you get the other crew members?

Skam’s success is no accident; we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We were lucky to be funded by the company; this was an all-NRK production and the project resonated well with NRK’s strategy. That doesn’t mean that NRK productions always have a lot of money, but it does give us a fortunate base. Skam is the result of many years of exploring and developing the web drama format. Our channel has been producing similar series for quite a long time.

It all started back in 2009 with shows such as SARA, M.I.A, and then Jenter (Girls). Jenter is one of NRK’s biggest successes, and it’s now in its 10th season. Many people have developed this kind of storytelling throughout the years, and they’re also a part of Skam. The creator, Julie Andem, and almost all of us who’ve worked on Skam have worked with the genre before. So, when NRK wanted to make something that’d bring back the teenagers to NRK, a web drama felt like the right kind of concept. Then we started our research by approaching the audience we were trying to reach out to, especially young people.

What were some of the challenges of trying to create a TV series for a particular target group such as teenagers?

– All the decisions we made are based on the research we had done, and we based some of the characters on interviews we conducted with individuals from our target audience. We were very fortunate to be allowed enough time for research (roughly four months). I believe this is one of the main reasons for our success. In a tight market and with a target audience with high expectations for quality and authenticity, it’s essential to give them something they recognise as true. After finishing with our research, we processed the interviews and data we had found, and then created a project description containing our mission statement, ambitions for viewing figures, topics for the series and our strategy. This document was precious to our production, and I think it’s one of the factors that have led to Skam’s success. The document told us why, what, and how to make Skam, and it navigated us through all of our decisions and story lines. By sticking to our project description, we ensured that we always remained faithful to our target audience.

In the course of four seasons, we’ve seen many young talented actors and actresses on screen. Was it hard to find them? 

– There was a long casting process during which more than 1,200 young people were called in for auditions. We visited schools, youth clubs and drama groups. After many callbacks, the best actors were selected for the job.

Are there any memorable moments that somehow stick with you and make this whole experience even more unbelievable?

With all the attention and media hype, what affected me the most is the feedback received from the teenagers themselves. For example, there was an article in a newspaper written by a 16-year-old girl who said the characters and stories in Skam had given her valuable tools she desperately needed to confront her fears. She felt we gave her voice. That kind of feedback is important to me.

How was working with the cast?

– I am so impressed by our cast. They have put their hearts into this. They were hard-working professionals even though not many of them had done anything like this before. They were focused throughout the process without losing themselves. I’m also really touched by the fans. It is moving to see how they’re giving us so much love! We would be nothing without them, thank you all Skam fans out there!

What is your favourite episode or scene?

– It’s like you’re asking me to choose one of my children…

Do you think TV needs more shows like Skam?

– I believe we need to continue making TV that gives us stories that feel authentic to us as human beings. And that is something we all should strive towards. We were allowed the creative freedom we needed to create something that was perceived as authentic to the target audience. So I want to thank NRK for that.