German movies of mass distrib'n

Once-proud telefilm genre finds new life in Deutschland

Glossy U.S.-made series from "Prison Break" to "Grey's Anatomy," from "Heroes" and "House" to the "CSI" franchise continue to dominate primetime schedules across the world. International producers and distributors have little chance of competing directly with these serial juggernauts and their mega-budgets. But in their rush to reinvent the series, U.S. producers have neglected a once all-American genre: the made-for-TV movie.

The 90-minute movie of the week is still a hot seller internationally but increasingly it is being produced in Berlin instead of Burbank. German producers have ceded to U.S. series imports in their home market. In the international telefilm business, however, it's the Germans that are gaining market share.

"With the U.S. betting on the very lucrative series business, an opportunity has been created for German producers in the TV movie genre," said Nico Hofmann, head of Berlin-based Teamworx, a TV movie specialist. "The key is production value. The CGI, the directing style. These movies have to look as good, or better, than Hollywood productions."

German-made MOWs run the range from disaster pics like the Teamworx-produced "Tornado" and terrorist thriller "Mogadishu Welcome," both of which are sold worldwide by SevenOne International; to adventure yarn "The Treasure of the Niebelungs" and Pope assassination drama "Final Proclamation," sold by Telepool; to the collection of Nora Roberts romance movies produced and sold international by Munich-based Tandem Communications.

These aren't bottom-of-the-barrel alternatives to U.S. product. With the budgets and look of European feature film productions, made-in-Germany TV movies command primetime slots around the world.

Tandem's series of four telefilms based on Roberts' novels marked up double-digit ratings across Europe — grabbing up to 19% market share in Germany on ARD, 26% on TVP Poland and 24% on ProTV Romania and TV2 Hungary. In their U.S. debut on the Lifetime Network, the films tripled the nets average Monday primetime viewing numbers.

Teamworx's "Tornado," about a twister totaling the German capital, has sold to 100 territories worldwide. SevenOne's "Raging Inferno," produced by Munich's Wiedemann & Berg, the team behind Oscar-winner "The Lives of Others" has gone to more than 30 countries.

"TV movies are the locomotive driving our international business," said Irina Ignatiew, vp international sales at Telepool. "They are very, very successful, particularly in continental Europe. Not only do these event movies bring in revenue on their own, they serve as flagships for whole packages of programming from our catalog."

According to SevenOne head Jens Richter, the German language is the only thing holding back homemade telefilms in territories — like the U.S. and U.K. — that subtitle imported fare.

Which is why German producers are following Tandem's lead in producing or distributing English-language MOWs. Teamworx is setting up the WWII epic "Laconia" with Britain's Fremantle and Talkback Thames; Jan Mojto's EOS picked up Canadian conspiracy movie "The Trojan Horse" for worldwide distribution; and SevenOne has boarded real science disaster movie "Futureshock: Comet Impact," produced by Channel 5 and Discovery Channel.