Television Business International

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Show of the week: Below the Surface

The Nordics are firmly established as international drama-producing territories, and buyers will soon have a new crime thriller from the region to screen.

Below the Surface is exec-produced by Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) and Adam Price (Borgen), giving it genuine ‘Nordic noir’ kudos.

The series was commissioned by Discovery Networks Denmark’s Kanal 5. Sweden’s Kanal 5, TV Norge in Norway and Iceland’s RUV all then prebought the series and distributor StudioCanal is about to bring in a major European free TV broadcaster as a coproducer.

The serialised, close-ended story is set in the Danish capital Copenhagen. The drama begins when 15 innocent subway passengers are taken hostage by three armed men.

Running to eight parts, each episode covers a day in the subsequent hostage drama, taking in events on the train and the efforts of a terror taskforce, led by Philip Nørgaard (Johannes Lassen) and Louise Falck (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen). A local reporter Naja Toft (Paprika Steen) acts as  a go-between with the police.

France-based StudioCanal has the sales rights, and Katrina Neylon, executive VP of sales and marketing, says the series will land on different platforms internationally.

“It can and will go free-to-air, as well as on cable and SVOD,” she says. “With Below the Surface, we want to create a fundamentally exciting crime story, but through human portraits, relations and dilemmas. We would also like to provide food for thought and encourage reflection over some of life’s greater questions.”

Visually, the dark and cramped drama in the subway plays against the beauty of Copenhagen on the surface.

The action is viewed from various perspectives, showing the situation on the train, the work of the police and the Danish Secret Service, the negotiations between police and hostage takers, and the reactions of the families of hostages arriving on the scene.

“It centres around one of the most dramatic of all criminal acts, which we in this day and age almost inevitably link with terror: a hostage taking,” Neylon says.

“There are many elements of hostage taking that are exciting on a fundamental level, but that also present us with the opportunity for taking a look at our society and institutions in a situation that has everyone facing extraordinary pressure.

“How should we react? How will we actually react? Does a hostage taking bring out the best in us, or the worst? The challenges and choices triggered by such a situation will speak to one of the most complex dilemmas the Western world faces: the need of the individual versus the need of society.”

The StudioCanal exec says the show has the drive and pacing of a regular linear thriller, but also a layer of characterisation that is more engaging than is typical with shows in the genre. For European viewers at least, some of that engagement comes from the close-to-home setting.

“What is both terrifying and compelling in the concept for this series comes from how close to our own reality it all unfolds,” Neylon says. “It’s not an American bank, it’s not an oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, and it’s not a remote and intangible future. It’s in the middle of a European country, and it’s right now. It could just as well be happening to us. It’s the world we know.”

The show: Below the Surface
The producer: SAM Productions
The distributor: StudioCanal
The broadcasters: Kanal 5 (Sweden), Kanal 5 (Denmark), TVNorge (Norway), RUV (Iceland)
The concept: Nordic thriller following events in the aftermath of a group of hostages being taken on a Copenhagen subway train