The darkness of Heartless

Since when was it a good idea to produce and broadcast TV series that does not solve the key mystery at the end? Cliffhangers work only if there is a continuation.

heartless posterAs I write this, Norwegian state broadcaster NRK has just finished showing the Danish supernatural TV series Heartless. Its Danish world premiere only a few weeks earlier. The 5-episode teen drama was the first ever fiction production for Kanal 5, and probably the first Scandinavian attempt at a TV series for teens and young adults in the Hemlock Grove, Supernatural or True Blood segment. Or for us older people, X-Files and Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, Heartless failed in attracting viewers; the numbers plunged from healthy to disaster within four episodes. Even though many reviews were brutal, the Nordic region is underfed with entertainment like this, and it’s sad that viewers can not watch vampires, zombies, werewolves or “suckers” in their own language.

I don’t know why the Danes chose to create a new breed of supernatural humans and label them “suckers” (that’s the literal translation of the Danish word), but that wasn’t the show’s biggest problem. Poor viewing figures aside, the first season ends with an episode that is cut short. It is obvious that the writers planned at least one more season, but Kanal 5 representatives were quick to inform the media that they had no plans to continue the series. No wonder, since they could not get enough eyeballs to their commercials breaks. Fair enough; shows get cancelled all the time, sometimes with unfinished mysteries and WTF cliffhangers. What Kanal 5 should have done though, was to order a first season that wraps things up, just in case they could not achieve the lift-off they needed. Denmark is not the huge Anglo-American market where franchises are bred and born every week. Danish producers and TV stations, even those who collaborate with the rest of the region, can not afford to throw series out and see what sticks before they decide what to extend. Money is tight in the small Nordic market, and niche productions like Heartless can only get a small slice of a small cake. What I really mean by “can not afford” is that if audiences see that the broadcasters do not handle homegrown genre efforts well, they will not give the next concept a chance. Let’s forget for a moment that the viewers probably didn’t like what they saw in this case; if we look ahead, chances are there will be more genre productions in Denmark, but if the smaller stations like Kanal 5 get a reputation for cancelling shows before they have reached their natural conclusion, audiences may not invest time in better quality shows later. That will hurt the channels, the viewers, and the genres of horror, fantasy and sci-fi.

TV executives should know that establishing a new concept, new characters and a new fictional universe takes some time, and five episodes is not a lot of time, especially for a channel that is unexperienced with drama. By extension, their viewers will be unexperienced too; if your demographic has chosen your channel for reality shows, home styling docus and CSI, maybe more complex drama offerings should be reconsidered. The Danish channel is the equivalent of TVNorge in Norway and Kanal 5 in Sweden (all three are owned by SBS Discovery), two other channels with very little original drama programming.

heartless-still1

“We’re upper class. We’re the real heartless here.”

In Norway, Heartless was broadcast not on Kanal 5’s sister channel, but on NRK, the state public service channel. NRK chose to broadcast the series only a few weeks after it premiered in Denmark, filling True Blood‘s timeslot when season 6 ended on NRK. Heartless grabbed the attention of 81.000 Norwegians for the first episode. NRK was not co-producer on the series, but bought broadcasting rights before production ended, so they probably felt they did not have much choice in wether they should schedule the series or not. As Norway’s biggest TV channel by far, and being in a position where they don’t need to make artistic decisions based on money, NRK could have opted to not support a show that was at risk of not being finished. NRK buyers do read scripts before they commit to buy, I hope, and must have known that Kanal 5 was not in the best position to sustain a long-term commitment like a weekly series. NRK produces its own drama and buy large productions frequently, and are very experienced at development and assessment. Kanal 5 is not. Despite that, NRK chose to buy a series that, even if it was intended to run for two seasons, had no heavy guarantees in terms of an ending that would work.

The way NRK handled this opportunity is also a sign of the times; years ago, Norwegian viewers could wait a year or two before new series arrived on the small screen. It wasn’t just global distribution delays that caused those long annoying halts; NRK wanted to make sure that popular series were extended for another season or two before they bought rights. They could also avoid series like Heartless if they ended on cliffhangers and never got an extension. These days, people demand that new franchises are available fast, or else they’ll download episodes illegally. Broadcasting series that may not even be finished is partially an adaption to the new situation on the viewing market. Let’s hope that Heartless was not a trial run for Scandinavian supernatural horror on NRK – they have the muscles and the know-how to produce their own series, or develop one with SVT in Sweden, or become co-producer with the Danes with a proper season finale as a prerequisite.

heartless-still7

A proper teaser; this wasn’t even in the series.

At the time of writing, all hope is not lost, however. Questioned about a second season, SBS chief information officer Jesper Jürgensen said to Nordic Fantasy “We will make the decision in the coming weeks”. The series was concieved as a longer story from the beginning, Eric Vogel of Tordenfilm in Oslo tells us. Tordenfilm was involved with bringing the show to NRK on behalf of the Danish production company Fridthjof Film. -NRK knows that the series was [intended to run longer]. Without speaking for them, I think that they, like me, assumed that more episodes would be made. And we are working on that now, Vogel said in an email to NordicFantasy. -We do believe that audiences will see the complete story, he added – without being able to confirm anything. Thomas Gammeltoft of Copenhagen Film Fond, one of the financiers of the show, said this to the Danish newspaper BT: -We think [the series] is a success when considering which channel Heartless was on. It takes time and patience to build a tradition for watching Danish drama on a cable channel whose viewers are not used to watching quality drama. I really think they should make one more season. They owe it to their viewers. And perahsp they will consider broadcasting without commerical breaks.

It is commendable that Kanal 5 chose to go ahead with Heartless, and we certainly need more homegrown genre drama up here. And maybe Kanal 5 was not being completely clueless, because one light in the darkness that is Heartless is that while it was abandoned by the viewers, it must have struck a chord with someone, as it has been nominated for the Best TV Drama Award at the Copenhagen TV Festival in August. It competes with The Bridge 2, a prime example of Nordic Noir, but that trend can’t continue forever, and we’ve already seen that Nordic Twilight (the international label on Nordic fantasy and horror) is doing well both locally and internationally, so there is no reason to not have focus on the fantastical, the mythological or the supernatural. Heartless is a lesson learned; fantasy and horror audiences won’t take anything they’re thrown. We demand quality, but first and foremost, we demand to be taken seriously as viewers, and want our stories to wrap up nicely.

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42 thoughts on “The darkness of Heartless

  1. Pingback: Heartless continues | The Nordic fantasy movie site

  2. Thanks for the info! Was difficult to find much on the series. I have been watching it on SBS in Australia and was disappointed to find the series just ‘stopped’. Glad to hear we will get some more eps 🙂 🙂 :).

  3. Season 1 is playing on Channel 4 in the UK now. Who performs the music in the various episodes? Trying to find the songs because they’re good.

  4. There is no season 2 of “Heartless”. I saw the whole season one on British Channel4, via vpn (as British tv channels BBC, ITV, and Channel4 are blocked in the USA where I live). The series has 8 episodes and I think it concluded, though it had a really strange ending. My question is: where can i buy it on dvd with English subtitles? I am buying an all region or a no region dvd player, so it will cover regions 1,2,3, and 4.

    • Hi,
      The Danish TV channel that produced the series only ordered 5 episodes to begin with. The continuation, which effectively was the second season, was not decided upon until long after the first episodes had aired. Had there not been sufficient interest in more episodes, the last few episodes would not have been made, so it is not a case of delayed production of the last few episodes. It is a case of evaluating the first episodes’ impact and then decide from there. That’s more like two seasons than one long 🙂

  5. *spoiler*

    Hi,

    In England we have 8 episodes on 4od, however after Carla saves Sebastian it finishes rather abruptly. Can you confirm this is the final episode? If it isn’t where can more be watched (with English subtitles) online. I really enjoyed it and need more!! Haha.

    Can anyone tell me if more are planned?

    Thank you

  6. Just caught the 8 episodes on All4 (4OD) in the UK. A real mix of Twilight and Charmed characters but filmed in the darkest, bleakest and most cruel way. The level of sadism and disregard for safety of pupils in a “boarding school” was terrible. The headmaster was a joke and a Gary Oldman wannabe. The prefects were quasi-Nazi and reminded me of Thomas Eichorst in The Strain. Filming in darkness and shadows gets old very quickly! I was desperate to open the window shutters and throw light onto the screen. Shame this was a 2-dimensional series. No real depth. Disappointing because I love supernatural dramas.

  7. I would Iove it if they make more episode this was addicted I love it! I don’t care if it was in another language this is is amazing ! Please make some more! I’m demand more!

  8. I am from America and I found Heartless on Netflix ;and I am in love with the show. I really think they should make another season because the first one was awesome.

    I hope they make more episodes and another season

  9. I just discovered Heartless on Netflix (in the US) and absolutely loved it. Please make more episodes!! The cliffhanger ending of episode 8 definitely left the door open for that.

  10. I really loved the show I’m in america and had to read it it is the only show I’ve had to read or wanted to.I hope they make a second season cause obviously they were cursed again after Clara saved them but its a different curse,if they don’t want to make the second season maybe Netflix should buy it out from them like they have done to other shows. Its worth a second season.

  11. I liked the series! I was excited to get to the second season after watching the first on Netflix (America). And then, sigh. No commitment from the producers.
    I have no problem with subtitles. I thought it was invented and fresh.
    Bring it back!

  12. Am mad at the fact that there not a second season… I love it… wish I could see more especially the way it ended… no conclusion. .sucks

  13. I just watched the whole series on Netflix, here in Canada. I thought it was fantastic. I was disappointed thereally is no season 2. It says above theyour are concluding it but that was a least a year ago…what happened

  14. Just watched Heartless via Netflix, am totally absolutely in love with the show! Fell instantly in love with the music! I’m hoping that there’s more seasons. I love that it is not in English. Watching subtitles and listening to it in the native language just makes it that much more enjoyable!!! I’ve already pinned it to my Pintrest.

  15. Heartless should have more than 8 episodes, wheres the petition to get it started up again? i bet you would get enough people to back it. I’m from the UK and in desperate need for another season of this show, the way it was left in episode 8 was a great cliffhanger but it needs another season to clarify things and further go into the relationship between sofie and emillie, thanks.

  16. I have just finished binge watching of Heartless on Netflix and i absolutely Love this show! I live in the U.S. and am 62 years of age and found it very entertaining. There were subtitles, but did not bother me as the characters were very riveting! Please continue this show as the ending only left a lot of questions, and the show still has a lot of different avenues to the various characters. We in the States love these type of Gothic supernatural shows. So few of them and Heartless has a different concept that is a winner!!! DON’T DISCONTINUE THIS SHOW!!!!!! PLEASE!!!!

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