Germany mulls quota for homegrown TV


COLOGNE, Germany -- Are "House," "CSI: Miami," "Monk" and "Desperate Housewives" a threat to the German TV industry? That seems to be the opinion of several local politicians who are calling for a quota for homemade series on German primetime.

"A quota for German series could preserve our TV production industry," Erwin Ruddel, a media spokesman for the conservative CDU told German tabloid Bild Zeitung in a story published Wednesday. "The Germany industry shouldn't get a raw deal."

A quota to keep U.S. series out might seem extreme, but things are starting to look dire for German TV producers. Five years ago, German series dominated primetime. The low-budget hospital drama "Nikola" on commercial channel RTL outperformed "ER" in the ratings by a factor of two or three.

Then came "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." Then came "CSI." Then came "House." The recent renaissance in U.S. series has driven German shows off the schedule. Across the main commercial networks, there is only one German-made series in primetime: RTL's long-running Autobahn cops show "Alarm for Cobra 11."

While German commercial broadcasters are still producing plenty of shows, they now tend to be low-budget reality or local-language knockoffs of international formats such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and "American Idol."

German parliamentarian and former TV journalist Reinhard Grindel of the CDU is pushing German channels to introduce a voluntary quota of homemade series. While national quotas do exist in other countries -- Canada has Canadian content rules, for example -- pleas for a similar system here have so far fallen on deaf ears.

RTL spokesman Christian Korner spoke for most German broadcasters when he told Bild a quota was absurd.

"We are supporters of the idea of letting our viewers decide what they want to see and what they don't," Korner said.

German politicians are also exaggerating a bit when they talk of U.S. shows dominating local TV. While commercial channels have switched to an American-rich diet, the majority of series on public broadcasters, which account for more than 30% of the German audience, are still made in Germany.

And while production of local drama series may have dipped, there has been a boom in big-budget miniseries in Germany. These shows, which cost the equivalent of a European feature film, are still immensely popular.

About 9.1 million Germans, or 28% of the total audience, watched the very German historic melodrama "The Woman From Checkpoint Charlie" when it aired on public broadcaster ARD this month.