So, you’re a premium subscription entertainment service featuring programming that consists primarily of major motion pictures and/or classic and current television shows and specials, but you want to expand your content catalogue to include original series so you can compete with HBO. It’s not a bad idea to tap talent that once appeared in uber-popular HBO programming to headline at least one of your new series in order to invigorate and/or jump start your company’s original content division.
Lillyhammer is a Netflix original series shot on location in the town of Lilliehammer, Norway, produced by Shine Group’s Norway-based Rubicon TV AS and Steven Van Zandt, who also co-wrote and stars in the series and who you will recognize as both the guitar and mandolin player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and the long-time lieutenant and short-term skipper Silvio Dante on HBO’s The Sopranos.
In the words of Netflix’s Cheif Content Officer Ted Sarandos, Lillyahmmer is a quirky fish-out-of-water comedy, in which Van Zandt plays New York mobster Frank Tagliano, “who after testifying against a mob boss, is placed in witness relocation in Lilliehammer, Norway. His character will be familiar to U.S., Canadian and Latin American audiences, but the setting and situations are brand new.” So is the language.
Van Zandt insisted the series be as Norwegian as possible within the constraints of the production’s non-Sopranos-sized budget. That includes making sure a good portion of the dialogue was in Norwegian or a fumbling Norwenglish, as well as having the main character interact with the most particular Norwegian things and locations the writers could find.
“I told the other two writers, I’ve watched this happen twice in my lifetime – with Bruce Springsteen, and with David Chase – and the more eccentric and particular and detailed they are about things you wouldn’t think anybody outside of New Jersey would ever be interested in, that’s the stuff hat ends up being the most relatable and most universal,” Van Zandt said.
Lillyhammer is being released as a regularly scheduled weekly television program in Norway. The series is currently in its third week and reportedly receives an average of 1.2 million viewers per episode, which means roughly one out of every five individuals living in Norway is tuning in, which also means it’s the most watched TV show in Norwegian history (according to Netflix).
Individuals living in the US couldn’t catch the program until Monday evening, when Netflix made all eight episodes available at once to its subscribers. It’s the kind of distribution strategy we’ve sometimes seen from high-profile web series, but this is one of the first premium television-style offerings to give viewers the ability to watch an entire season of a series as soon as the program debuts.
“We are trying to give our members what they want,” Sarandos explained. “Choice and control. If you want to watch one episode a week, you can. If you want to watch the whole season this week, you can do that too.”
Sarandos revealed he had a difficult time convincing some people involved of the all-at-once distribution strategy, including Van Zandt, but he made a great argument in terms easily understood by the E Streeter. “I said, ‘Stevie, its exactly what happens when you record an album with Bruce.'”