Danish drama in the form of The Killing and Borgen has taken over Saturday nights on BBC4 and will soon be spreading its influence to ITV with Those Who Kill. As well as spawning the inevitable American remake, The Killing, or more specifically Sarah Lund, has been credited with influencing catwalks with this winter's trend for chunky knitted jumpers. I myself have become addicted to these shows.
Much time has been spent speculating about why The Killing and Borgen have proved so popular with British audiences who are not normally seen as fans of extended subtitle reading. The stylish interiors, complicated plotlines, moody rainy setting and, of course, Lund's jumpers, all being cited as the main attraction. I wonder though, if there is a simple technological reason for their popularity.
Recent studies have shown that 80% of people tweet, browse and update while watching TV. This is something I am guilty of. I rarely sit down to watch television these days without my smartphone or laptop nearby. Often I am working while the TV creates background noise, sometime I will be commenting along or using IMDB to work out where I have seen that actor or actress before.
Sherlock creator Steven Moffat recently criticised this trend, responding to viewer complaints of "It's too complicated. I'm not following it" by advising "Well, you could try putting your phone down and watching it."
His views have not been taken on board by media and tech companies who are increasingly designing apps and devices predicated on the notion that we will all multi-task our media intake. The notion of 'second screens' or 'secondary attention' is increasingly taking hold as a realm for media to inhabit. The attention that we switch between the TV and our phone or laptop is seen as prime space for advertisers to catch our eye and sell into.
TV shows from Question Time to X Factor actively encourage their audience to tweet and comment as they are watching. Having viewers typing and reading on a second screen is seen as a valuable way to encourage their engagement with live TV shows, and to spread the impact of these shows into the online world. Increasingly viewer's tweets and comments are also being used by current affairs and news shows as a good source of cheap content. Reading out viewers comments shows that presenters are in tune with their audience, and it fills some valuable screen time.
But tweeting while watching subtitles? For two hours straight? Even the most talented media multi-taskers will struggle. Rather the rash of Danish dramas that have been taking over Saturday nights require the viewer's full attention. When The Killing or Borgen comes on I put down my phone and turn off my laptop, and that is part of their pleasure. It is now one of the rare occasions when I give my full attention to a TV programme.
Perhaps this is the secret of their success. That these shows re-introduce us to the simple pleasure of being engrossed in a drama. You cannot half watch a Danish subtitled drama while tweeting, if you do you may well miss that vital clue or coalition negotiation. They force the viewer to put down their phone, switch off their laptop, slip on a nice knitted jumper and convince themselves that if they concentrate hard enough they really can understand Danish.