Character counts on German TV
Joha's 'car crash company' shifting focus to U.S.-style drama fareVeteran German producer-director Hermann Joha began his career as a stuntman and built up his company ? Action Concept ? with high-octane action series that were long on car crashes and short on plot.
But now Joha is trying to pull off a stunt that is the corporate equivalent of a 180-degree turn at top speed on the Autobahn.
With such U.S. series as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "House" and "Monk" outracing local productions in primetime, Joha has sent his company back to the shop for retuning. He has brought in Los Angeles-based media consulting group MediaXchange to conduct its famed Writers' Room workshops to teach German scribes how to deliver U.S.-style character depth and complexity on a deadline.
"When we started, it was enough to just have great stunts; that pulled in an audience," Joha said in an interview. "But that's not the case anymore. Now you can have the most amazing special effects, and the viewers don't care. What they want is a great story and great characters."
MediaXchange has hosted two Writers' Room sessions for Action Concept this year, and four more are planned for 2007.
The investment already is paying off. Joha is in advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television International to produce a new action series developed during the first German Writers' Room session. The concept ? a Dirty Harry-style U.S. cop heads to Berlin and raises hell ? came from Writers' Room coach Lee Goldberg, a regular scribe for such shows as "Monk" and "Missing." The series has been given the working title of "Hurricane in Berlin."
"Hurricane" will be Action Concept's first English-language series, the first produced using a U.S.-style writers' room and the first specifically designed for international audiences.
Goldberg, who has signed a one-year, first-look development deal with Action Concept, will serve as executive producer and showrunner on the series.
"This is really a radical move for Action Concept," Goldberg said in an interview. "You have to realize, this used to be the 'car crash company.' What Hermann is doing is trying to position them as the 'writers' company,' producing series of a quality that can compete with U.S. shows in Germany and internationally."
Joha is even applying the company's new approach to his most prized possession: the long-running Autobahn cop series "Alarm for Cobra 11." The show, which kick-started Action Concept in 1996, will stage a major relaunch in March; Joha is retooling the series to give the cop-and-cars show more depth and backstory.
The new "Cobra 11" also will feature a fresh face: German star Gedeon Burkhard, known to international audiences from the cop-and-dog series "Kommissar Rex," one of Germany's most successful TV exports.
"The new show will have more multiepisode story arcs, something we never used to do. All our shows were self-contained, one-episode stories," Joha said. "The main character is much more complex.
"We knew we had to revive the show if we wanted to keep it fresh after 10 years on the air," he said. "We were planning a relaunch anyway, but we sent our regular 'Cobra 11' writers to the Writers' Room to teach them a few new things. And it's worked. We've just finished the pilot, and I have to say, it is the best thing we've ever done."