Too much love, American-style

German politicians seek quota for homemade series

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." And "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." And "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 still are producing plenty of shows, they now tend to be low-budget reality or local-language knockoffs of such international formats as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "American Idol."

The CDU's Reinhard Grindel, a German parliamentarian and former TV journalist, is pushing German channels to introduce a voluntary quota of homemade series. While national quotas do exist in other countries — Canada has local 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 also are 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 made in Germany.

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, remain 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 this month on public broadcaster ARD.