Prime time is the key moment for public service broadcasters to showcase how they contribute to the public sphere and culture of the society that finances them and determines their remits. After the news, TV drama is the medium of choice for this performance of public service ideals. By tracing how the BBC in the UK, DR in Denmark and ZDF in Germany translate the remits they have been charged with into their policies, schedules and fictional programmes, this project seeks to fathom how they use TV drama to contribute to the public sphere. The focus on broadcasters in different nations accounts for the fact that even though they share similar ideals, the national public service broadcasting systems in Europe have developed in different directions. At the same time, taking different nations into account allows for exploring the transnationalisation processes in the production, distribution and reception of television in a fragmented, digital and global television market.

The individual dramas selected as case studies all perform a dual role in their national public spheres and on the global market: The multinational co-production The Team (ZDF/DR et al. 2015) has been prime-time crime in both Denmark and Germany and reveals the cultural negotiation processes necessary in transnational co-productions. The British social melodrama Call the Midwife (BBC 2012-) unites British audiences in front of the TV screen but has also become an asset for BBC Worldwide’s global sales. The historical mini-series Generation War (ZDF 2013) was produced to generate a national debate about World War II memories in Germany, but the debate spilled over borders before the programme was even officially sold abroad.

These cases highlight the challenges that the globalized and digitalized TV market brings to the performance of public service ideals through TV drama. At the same time, looking beyond the realms of national TV systems and individual broadcasters’ practice also opens the question what contribution border-crossing television drama can make to the emergence of a transnational public sphere.


Cathrin Bengesser holds an international MA in Audiovisual and Cinema Studies (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Birkbeck, University of London, and Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris) and an MA in Literature & Practical Media Studies and American Studies (Universität Duisburg-Essen). Between April and July 2017, she was visiting the research project “What makes Danish TV drama series travel?” at Aarhus University in Denmark. Her PhD project is funded by Cusanuswerk in Germany. Aside from her PhD-work she is blogging about the intersections of media and society for the Grimme Institut in Marl.


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Image credit, European Union Stars (1981) by Mark Notari, CC-BY 2.0