Morrissey’s influence on today’s musicians is undeniable. SVT’s Viva Hate shows he’s also influencing the modern drama television producer, too.
Unsurprisingly, the forces behind the drama-comedy have dabbled in music. Writer Peter Birro, a popular Swedish television and film writer and punk poet, was part of the Gothenburg indie rock scene in the 1980s, while producer Martin Persson from Anagram Film & TV directed music videos early in his career.
SVT executive producer Marcos Hellberg, meanwhile, was a school peer of Birro’s and was in a band. “We are all failed musicians of some sort,” says Hellberg. “TV is full of people who failed as rock stars.”
SVT had first read Viva Hate’s script when the project was known as Love is Stronger Than Death and the department was under the control of Gunnar Carlsson. “You could say music has been the soundtrack to my life, so I felt a personal engagement with the project,” says Hellberg, who picked up the project after Carlsson left, later to join Anagram.
After asking Birro to retool the script, SVT contacted Persson, Anagram’s managing director, to become involved. Film i Väst was also drafted in as a coproducer and production began.
The resulting 3x60mins series follows an avid Morrissey fan, Daniel, in 1991 Gothenburg, who creates a punk band in a bid to win the appreciation of the world (and his mother), while falling madly in love with a young girl and getting into trouble along with his brother, a petty thief. The title is a tribute to Morrissey’s debut album.
“The script is well-written, dramatic in both a comic and serious sense about young men growing up,” says Persson. “Though the music is 20-years-old, the energy comes from that script.”
Persson cast the young Tom Ljungman as the lead. Along with appearing Swedish series such as De Halvt Dolda and Livet Enligt Rosa, Ljungman has his own band, which Persson says gave him the life experience needed for the role. The rest of the main cast was made up of relative unknowns.
The showed debuted on Christmas Day 2014 to poor ratings. Hellberg says the scheduling was a “mistake; we didn’t have a strategy as we were all blinded by the story”, buts adds: “It is the kind of story that grows an audience over time because has great storylines and acting.”
Indeed, Viva Hate built strong viewing numbers on SVT Play, the popular on-demand service of the Swedish pubcaster, throughout 2015.
As viewers found the show, so did critics. The series was nominated for a number of international awards, and in October last year Viva Hate won the coveted Prix Europa award for ‘Best European TV Fiction Serial or Mini-Series’.
“At some point that kind of story reaches out,” says Hellberg. “We were lucky that it grew by itself and people found it. Some of them came to know about it because of the music. A good story survives, and I had faith in this story.”
The show now looks set to reach out even further, after Germany-based distributor ZDF Enterprises acquired international sales rights outside of Scandinavia, where Anagram holds them.
“Viva Hate is a very unique take on pop culture in 1980s,” says ZDFE’s VP, drama, Robert Franke. “It’s unique in that it is not your typical Scandinavian crime drama, but is about culture and coming-of-age.”
He notes that people “spend almost 30% of our lives exposed to music in some form or the other”, and that Viva Hate includes “a compelling story, and great music, which is a very important piece of the puzzle”.
Franke expects the show to continue building. “It caters for a young demographic, and also lives in the digital space very well,” says Franke. “It really does have the potential to be aired on a major TV channel and on digital platforms. It will build momentum, and we can probably sell this for a long time: it is artistic, visual and works multiplatform.”