Ivar Køhn, NRK: ‘To be broad, you need to be brilliant’


NRK’s Drama department has had a rocketing start of the year with the success of the conspiracy thriller Mammon, watched by more than a quarter of the Norwegian population and currently airing in the UK on More4. During the last MIP TV in Cannes, Ivar Køhn (pictured) who took over the position of Head of Drama six months ago, outlined to us his division’s new editorial strategy and upcoming productions.

It’s been six months since you took over as NRK Head of TV Drama- How does your department look like today?
Ivar Køhn: Actually when I joined NRK in the autumn, major changes within the Drama department had just been implemented. We had had a third of job cuts and Radio Drama had been separated from TV Drama. It was important for our TV department to regain trust and confidence from talents and creators and to clearly define in-house producers’ responsibilities. Today, we have three main in-house producers -Vegard Stenberg Eriksen, Elisabeth Tangen and Lasse Greve Alsos- who supervise on-going productions. We’ve also decided to have only one major production going at a time.

What productions have you greenlit so far?
: My drama decisions will be taken before the summer. When I came in, a couple of great shows had already been greenlit, such as Mammon which has had a total of 1.3 million viewers (including pick up TV), representing more than 25% of the Norwegian population! The series has also done extremely well internationally. We have committed to Season Two that will start production in January 2015.

Another series that was in the pipeline when I arrived is the six part crime dramaEyewitness (Øyenvitne). The director Jarl Emsell Larsen was the first one I worked with at NRK back in 1987 when I started there making coffee! So it’s great to meet him again. He has written/created the show. It’s very different from Mammon and an excellent drama produced in-house with our Nordic partners, SVT, DR and YLE. It will premiere on NRK in the autumn.

A third exciting drama series that I have ‘inherited’ is Struggle for life (Kampen for tilværelsen) co-written by Erlend Loe, Per Schreiner and Bjørn Olaf Johannessen. They have had a huge influence on the production and followed every detail until final delivery.

What’s the story?
 It’s a dramedy about Norwegian middle class people, the types that change kitchen every year, move their bushes 60cm to get a better view, or try to get slim. They have no other problems other than those they create for themselves. There is also a Polish linguist working as a carpenter.
It’s absurd, unpredictable and truly serious. We have greenlit two seasons of 8 episodes.

What’s the share of in-house dramas and independently produced dramas (commissioned by Tone Rønning for NRK) and what’s your editorial strategy?
 Our in-house and commissioning departments are separate entities but we work very closely together and complement each other. The most important is that the shows are recognizable and branded as NRK shows. In terms of volume, our goal is to produce one or two shows a year from each department, with 6-10 episodes.
We will wait to see how each show is doing and if it’s successful, we’ll consider doing returning seasons every year or every one and a half year. As for the genres, we will aim for at least one family drama, maybe one crime series, then another crime, family or historical show. It will depend of course on what comes up.
Among the shows commissioned to independent producers, we have great expectations for instance for the WW2 resistance drama The Heavy Water War (from Filmkameratene) set to air next winter, and Lilyhammer Season 3 (from Rubicon).

We also want to develop genre drama for a young audience, and look more into drama targeting web-platforms. These are really exciting times for drama with great possibilities.

You mentioned that NRK’s in-house and independently commissioned dramas should complement each other. Could you be more specific?
 I think that NRK’s in-house dramas should find a niche and take more risks, for instance by working with original drama, not adaptations from books.

In Gothenburg last January, during the TV Drama seminar, you spoke of developing ‘broad and brilliant’ shows for NRK. Could you detail your vision?
: Since we produce so few titles each year, we need to create TV dramas that engage a wide audience. But in order to be broad you need to be brilliant. We have to find the highest common level which I guess is identification with characters and one way to do this is to let writers/creators steer the show from beginning to end. There is a real need from Norwegian and foreign audiences for high end character-driven dramas.

….but competition is tougher on a national, regional and international level. What’s your strategy to maintain the same quality and continue to challenge audiences?
 We need to increase our budgets and co-productions with Scandinavian and even foreign partners. We also have to be more aggressive and commit at an earlier stage, otherwise others such as TV2 Norway, Netflix or HBO will do it. This means that the border between acquisition, production, co-production, co-financing etc is floating a bit. We should therefore keep an open mind when committing to a show at an early stage.


via the Nordisk Film and TV Fond

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.