Drama Productions for Screen and Cinema in Norway:
The Development from Traditional Television Theatre Produced by the State Channel Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (Norsk rikskringkasting, NRK) to Modern Drama Series and Feature Film Production, 1960–2020
Jan Erik Holst
The development in the television department of Norway’s state media house NRK, from running a traditional television theatre to becoming a modern film and series producer, is characterised by artistic, social and economic factors. The release of new radio and TV channels following the transition to a conservative government in 1982, played a decisive role.
Shortly after NRK began its television broadcasts and established its television theatre in 1960, the institution was criticised for producing a too experimental repertoire, without meeting the traditional requirements of popularity and audience-oriented operations in order to earn its own revenues. Various artistic directors have had an impact on the repertoire in different ways from the start. The transition from studio-based multi-camera productions to location and exterior-based productions using 16mm film, changed much of the repertoire in the second half of the 1980s. Subsequently, traditional and classic writers gradually had to give way to new modern drama.
At the same time, a new trend emerged, comprised of combined cinema films and television productions, due to a new form of government funding providing for and requiring presentations in both media. Governmental bodies aspired to secure a professional, artistic and content-wise cooperation between film and television. This was in accordance with the development in the Nordic countries as well as in Europe, which both had their separate multilateral funding agencies set up – Nordisk Film & TV Fond, and Eurimages. Whether this was a result of the influence of new, more collaboration and media-conscious politicians, or the film industry’s constant search for new sources of funding, is an open question.
By and by, NRK produced television films as well. The aesthetic and narrative differences between the media have been discussed for years in various professional forums. They also have many common features, causing the Amanda Award for Norwegian Film and Television institution to introduce a separate category for television productions as early as the establishment of this award in 1985. After a few years, an award solely for various television programmes was established, the Gullruten (The Golden Screen), and today the media are divided between these two national prizes.
NRK’s series production as we see it today, was launched in the early 1990s, and has constituted an increasingly large share of the operations. Over the past year, both Norway and other comparable countries have seen a surge in this genre, as a result of a significant increase in time spent at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The viewers’ experiences are mainly linked to streaming services via the internet; in NRK the service is called NRK-TV. Modern media research should definitely focus on this new area, and look into its development in relation to the current situation and future position of the cinema.
Today NRK collaborates closely with its Nordic sister organisations, in competition both with the established and the new streaming giants. The paper presents the latest news in this field, both in terms of the content factors and in terms of the distribution factors.
Jan Erik Holst is a freelance film critic, curator end editor, working for foreign and domestic festivals and cinematheques, presenting Norwegian and European films. He has been manager for municipal cinemas and lecturer in film history at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, the Telemark University College and the University in Oslo. He was director at the Norwegian Film Institute (1988–2014) where he managed film archive, film history, cultural activities, support for film production and international relations and took the initiative to establish the Norwegian Cinematheque. Holst has edited, written and published several articles and books on Norwegian films, film policy and history, and edited and published DVD film collections on Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsun, Arne Skouen, Anja Breien and Liv Ullmann. He was instrumental in founding the Black Night Film Festival in Tallinn and Scanorama Film Festival in Vilnius. From 1990 up to this year he has been managing Baltic Film Days in Oslo. He was chairman of the jury of the Norwegian film Award Amanda in 1985–2004; president of Scandinavian films, the umbrella organisation for the Nordic Film Institutes, in 1992–2001; board member of Eurimages in 1989–1991 and of Nordic Film and TV Fund in 1991–1998. He has also been chairman of the board of the Norwegian Film Workers’ Association and the Norwegian Film Societies’ Ass. He is a member of the European Film Academy and the Baltic Audiovisual Archives Council.