Global Screen’s Julia Weber

The prestige spy drama Davos is inspired by real events that occurred in the early days of the European Secret Services. The 6×45-minute series was launched to buyers for the first time at MIPTV by Global Screen, with presales top of mind. Julia Weber, head of international acquisitions and sales, talks to TV Drama about Global Screen’s scripted strategy, including tentpole pieces like Davos, always with an eye to quality first.

***Image***TV DRAMA: There are several factors impacting the drama market today—from a looming recession to war in Europe to post-Covid effects and a squeeze on talent. How is Global Screen navigating these challenges?
WEBER: You have to differentiate between two kinds of content. On the one hand, you have to have the right number of hours. There is always a need for the kind of content that is more like a steady sound that’s always on, that you have to have in your catalog as well for hours of solid programming. On the other hand, there are standout event series that are big-budget, maybe IP-related. Outstanding programming like Davos or Hostage, tentpoles that rise out. They are a challenge to find because producers have been focusing so much on streamers and prioritizing that. This independent world that we still believe in and want to stand for has stepped back a bit. The good thing is in Europe, we have different capabilities of financing, which is very different from the U.S. We can get financing from funding [schemes], and we also have broadcasters and co-producers that can bring money from their countries. We also create presales. That’s a very different business from the “solid sound” content that we have. This is programming we have to find to really make sure that producers trust in us and show us what they are developing so we are able to pick out the pearls, to find the standouts.

TV DRAMA: What are your hopes for Davos and its presales?
WEBER: Big hopes, but they are reasonable ones. We picked up Davos nearly two years ago, at a very early stage. We have known the producers for many, many years, so we have a trusting relationship with them. When the producers came to us and said, “We have an idea, taking place in Davos, 1917. It’s an espionage thriller, but also has a dramatic point.” We were like, OK!

The thing is, if you ask buyers what they are looking for, they never mention period. But if it happens to be something intriguing that they find thrilling and is well-produced and well-told, then it is fine for it to be period as well. Lately, there have been other good examples of period pieces, such as Sisi and Vienna Blood. These are not successful just because they are period; they have other perspectives and happen to also be historical.

In my opinion, there are three things about Davos that make it particularly interesting. First of all, we have really good production values. It’s €18 million ($19.3 million) for six episodes. You can see that on the screen. Also, it takes place in a town that everybody has heard of, even if they have never been there. There’s also the fact that Switzerland has always been known for being neutral, but then you hear that’s where the espionage happened [and you’re surprised]. It features stunning locations, as it is shot in the original locations. That was very important to really make it as authentic as it is.

It also appeals to both men and women. Buyers still very much focus on finding content to get access to women and then to men as well. Davos can fulfill both because you have, on the one side, the very emotional fact that a woman is giving birth to a child and is not allowed to keep it—that’s a disaster emotionally. Any woman could not even imagine something like that. So that triggers the emotional part of women. On the other side, you have what is intriguing for men: the espionage, thrilling pace and action. You have the political background. You can learn something as well. We know a lot about World War II. But, to be honest, we’re not so familiar with World War I. When you leave the series, it’s not only an emotion that drives you, but it’s also that you may have learned something new.

The third aspect is Dominique Devenport; she is a USP in this case. The fact that she was in Sisi, which didn’t only sell well, it also performed well. With the news of season three, a lot of the clients who bought Sisi are approaching us [about Davos] because of her.

We have great interest in presales, which is not always the case, especially with non-English-language. Being an event production, it will get great promotion in the home territories of Germany (ARD) and Switzerland (SRF), which will broadcast it around Christmas. It’s a great time for the broadcast launch, since the whole family is home together, ready to watch a big event piece.

TV DRAMA: What will you be focusing on for the drama slate in the 12 to 18 months ahead?
WEBER: We’ll continue to select quality first. There’s so much content out there. It is so important not just to have an expensive production. It needs to be paced well. How a series starts is critical; the first ten minutes are a decision-maker. It is also crucial to have the right cliffhangers, to convince the viewer to keep watching the next episode. It’s something we tell producers again and again. Everybody wants to do second and third seasons, which is great. But it usually takes a good amount of time between the first season and the second to be produced, to be financed, to get it done. So, you still have to make sure that the audience is satisfied after the first season. They have a result, but there is still something a bit open.

We are looking much more into English-language than we used to. That’s why we are establishing more U.K. relationships, and we are developing content with U.K. producers and partners. This is important to overcome language barriers, travel into the English markets and still be reasonable within the budget for financing.
The other thing is to concentrate more on procedurals. Ideally, to have the combination of being in English and procedural. The “crime case of the week” needs more attention. It can be IP-related—that’s, of course, something we very much look for—but it can also be original and smart. You can always find what you’re looking for if you knock on the doors of the producers. That’s why we have started to develop ourselves. We’ve gone into co-development together with producers, but we’ve also begun to buy IP ourselves or to option material and get our hands on something and then find the right producer. We now have around 12 to 15 projects that we are co-developing with a co-producer, which means we also invest in the development. Often the producer contributes because we want to make sure they have their hands in it and are motivated to make it happen. We can, at a very early stage, get everything moving in the right direction. Ideally, once it is developed together with the producer, we can search for the right partners—for financing, commissioning broadcasters or whatever it may be—as a team.