Norwegian TV series have allowed other voices to be heard

January 20 2024

“The huge success of Norwegian TV series has enabled them to address difficult issues and to unleash the voices of minorities and women more often in TV series than in films,” says media expert Gry Cecilie Rustad. She is planning to write a book about the history of Norwegian TV series. In Myanmar, the TV station the ‘Democratic Voice of Burma’ continues its fight against the propaganda of the military junta in the country. See the list of new grants awarded in December.

Media expert Gry Cecilie Rustad has been awarded NOK 100 000 to develop a book project on Norwegian TV history for Fagbokforlaget. The working title is “From Kanutten to Pørni”.

“I plan to write the first book about the history of Norwegian TV series from the 1960s to the present day,” comments Rustad. “While a great deal has been written about Norwegian film history, very little has been written about Norwegian TV series, and no book has ever been written about the history of TV series. The book starts with TV’s humble beginnings, e.g. ‘Kanutten’ (1962) and ‘Office Manager Tangen’ (1966-67), then traces its way to popular contemporary successes such as ‘Shame’ (2015-2017) and ‘Pørni’ (2020-). The book will address topics such as Norwegian series for young people, Norwegian soap operas, ‘Nordic noir’ in crime thrillers, and th particular brand of Norwegian ‘absurdism’ in comedy.”

“The book is being published at just the right time. A record number of Norwegian series are being produced these days, and TV series are really being taken seriously from the aesthetic perspective," says Rustad.

Rustad earned a PhD in Media Science from the University of Oslo, where she studied high-quality American TV series like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Wire’. She has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, where she did research on ‘Shame’, and as an associate professor in Bergen and at the Norwegian Film School. She has also written about TV programmes for Store Norske Leksikon and Rushprint magazine.

“In the cultural hierarchy, TV has always been less prestigious than film,” observes the media scholar. "TV is mass entertainment, more intimate (since people watch it at home), and cheaper to make than films. Now it may have become a platform for other types of voices.”

Precisely because Norwegian TV series have been mass entertainment, they have managed to appeal to a wide audience and ‘united’ Norway, providing common references around the water cooler at work and in conversations with grandma, as Rustad puts it. Several series have even set the agenda for social debates. ‘Shame’ (2015-2018) dealt with abuse and what it is like to be a young Muslim woman in Norway. ‘Rådebank’ (2020-2022), a series about rednecks, addressed suicide.

“The TV series has made it easier to elicit stories about minorities and women, making TV an important platform for two groups that are not otherwise always heard in the media,” Rustad points out.

Porni s3
The TV series Pørni is in its third season on ViaPlay. Photo: Monster

TV series have brought issues up for debate
She maintains that women have played a greater role both in front of and behind the camera in TV series than in films, observing that diversity has been well represented in series such as ‘Ante’ (1976), ‘The Father Land’ (1991), ‘Taxi’ (2011), ‘Oslo Zoo’ (2018), ‘The Farmers’ (2021), ‘16-19’ (2018-2021), ‘The King of Gulset’ (2019-2020) and ‘Norwegian-ish’ (2020-2023). The family saga ‘The Seven Sisters’ became the first series in which a gay character was played by a gay actor.

Why?

“I think it is partly due to the key role played by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), and the fact that NRK, as a public broadcaster, is mandated to represent a wide range of people. For example, series about diversity, like ‘Ante’ in 1976 and ‘The Father Land’ in 1990, were broadcast fairly early on.”

NRK has also been a pioneer in cultivating genres for children and young people, from ‘Kanutten’ via ‘Brødrene Dal’, ‘Pelle Parafins Bøljeband’ (1980-1986), ‘Frida’ (1989) and ‘Borgen School’ (1989-1990) to ‘Girls’ (2013-2018), ‘Like me’ (2018-), ‘Shame’ and ‘Rådebank’.

Gry cecilie rustad
Gry Cecilie Rustad is writing a book about Norwegian TV series. Here she poses on a selfie with the sweater from "Skam". Photo: Gry Cecilie Rustad

Nordic noir and Norwegian absurdism

Other important chapters in Norwegian TV history that Rustad plans to write about are the programmes that struck a chord with most people, such as ‘Fleksnes’ fatalities’ (1972-2002), ‘Westerly Winds’ (1994-1995) and ‘Braveheart’ (1993-1997), and the development of a ‘Norwegian noir’ based on the forerunners ‘Red Snow’ (1985) and ‘Fox Greenland’ (2001-2003) to the ‘golden age of series’ in the mid-2010s, featuring series such as ‘Eye Witness’ (2014), ‘The Third Eye’ (2013-2016), ‘Acquitted’ (2015-2016) and ‘Mammon’ (2014-2016). The comedies experienced a boom after 2000, with series like ‘The Elves in the Barn’ (2001), ‘mockumentaries’ and parodies, where the humour is exceedingly embarrassing and/or absurd.
“The distinctive Norwegian ‘absurdism’ in humour can clearly be seen in series such as Heart to Heart’ (2007), ‘Absolutely Perfect’ (2011-2022), ‘The King of Gulset’, ‘Oslo Zoo’ (2018) and ‘Magnus’ (2019)”, Rustad explains.

Kampen for til
Scene from the series "Kampen for Tilværelsen", written by Erlend Loe, Per Schreiner and Bjørn Olaf Johannessen. Photo: NRK Archives

Rustad will also examine examples of high-quality Norwegian TV series, such as ‘In front of the fireplace’ (2011) on TV2 and ‘Struggle for Life’ (2014-2015) on NRK. “These two may be seen as niche products, but with ‘Power’, which is currently showing on NRK, quality TV may finally have reached the masses”, according to Rustad:
“‘Power’ is an intriguing example. There is a lot of play with aesthetics and format, and many formal manoeuvres that break with the realism of the storytelling. At the same time, it mixes satire and drama brilliantly”, says the author-to-be.

She is looking forward to immersing herself in the material and watching a lot of television. She hopes the book will make the history of Norwegian TV series readily accessible to most people (including many students), and contribute to the series gaining a well-deserved place in the social debate as well as in the visual arts.

TV and podcasts counter the military junta’s propaganda machine in Myanmar

The support granted in December included NOK 300 000 to the TV station Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) in 2024 and NOK 30 000 for an event in Oslo and Stockholm in 2024 featuring filmmakers from Myanmar who make short films about the conflict in the country. The first screening of short movies will take place on January 15, 2024 at Vega in Oslo.

The independent media channel the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has evolved from a radio station into a TV channel. It currently has more than 22 million viewers in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the rest of the world. Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, censorship has made reporting and journalism difficult both to produce and to share. The violence has grown worse and spread since the military coup almost three years ago. Seven DVB journalists were imprisoned by the junta after the coup. Two of them are still in prison.

The Democratic Voice of Burma runs an underground network of journalists and others who report on the state of the country. The network is based in Myanmar itself, Thailand, Australia, the USA, Canada and Norway. In 2024, the network will be unified under a single general headquarters in Thailand. The station will also produce more in-house content, not least live broadcasts of debates, and it will focus on documentaries and podcasts.

“We are doing everything we can to inform the people of Myanmar, who are routinely exposed to military propaganda”, remarks Aye Chan Naing, head of DVB.

The support in 2024 will be spent on new technical innovations to circumvent censorship and the use of artificial intelligence to verify news reports, photos and videos. Contributors to the network will also receive safety and security training.

“Since journalists are being hunted by the junta, DVB needs to be at the forefront of technology, deploying smart tools to minimise risk for journalists,” adds Aye Chan Naing.

Fritt Ord was the first to help support DVB’s test broadcasts via satellite TV. Heavier hitters have subsequently followed suit by providing support.

Arakan refugees
Refugees from Myanmar after recent fighting broke out between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar junta on November 14, 2023. Photo: Democratic Voice of Burma network.
Tnla
Ta'ang National Liberation Army troops show off artillery guns captured from Myanmar's military in Namhsan, Myanmar December 16, Photo: Ta'ang National Liberation Army via DVB

Israel’s war, seeking refuge, polyamorous relationships and the British Empire

Among the many grants awarded in December, mention can be made of the documentary directed by Even G. Benestad and August B. Hanssen and entitled ‘Three Fathers’ about a polyamorous relationship. Hanne Røislien, a religious historian and Middle East expert in the Norwegian Armed Forces, is working on a book about what Israel at war actually hopes to achieve. Journalist and commentator Nazneen Khan Østrem is writing a book entitled ‘A life where the sun never sets’ about the British Empire. Social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher Ståle Wig is writing the book ‘Madelyn. A true story about the world’s most perilous journey’, a new addition to migration literature, based on fleeing across thirteen national borders from Latin America to reach the US.

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