Channel 4 will be hosting online channel ‘Walter Presents’ (named after its expert curator, more below), which promises 1000 hours of drama from Andorra to Argentina. ‘Deutschland 83’, which will also be debuting on Channel 4 at 9pm, to coincide with Walter Presents’ launch.
This epic eight-parter set at the height of the Cold War tells the story of an East German youth who must play his part in allaying the East’s fears about NATO’s future plans. Martin Rauch is hand-picked by his intelligence officer aunt to go behind enemy lines and work at the heart of West Germany’s military control.
‘Deutschland 83’ is intense, sometimes very funny and also very stylish. Imagine ‘Homeland’ with Nena’s 99 Balloons playing in the background. Come for the gripping story of betrayal being played out in two countries, and stay for the wealth of nostalgia, including a piping synth soundtrack. Prepare to be hooked.
And the good news is… there’s plenty more where this came from, as I discover when I sit down with the new channel’s extremely enthusiastic curator, Walter Iuzzolino, who could be forgiven for having very square eyes after the amount of telly’s he’s consumed in preparation for today’s launch.
He blushes at the mention of a channel built around his name, but it is a fitting tribute to the hours and passion he has poured into the project.
“I’m not a megalomaniac. It was like an out of body experience being told the channel would have my name because I am really shy,” he explains. “I spend my life producing talent, I have always been tucked away, but I did understand the notion of personal curation that is an important feature.
“It is true, it isn’t an algorithm, it is an individual who has watched 3,500 hours of TV, and will keep watching them.”
A dedicated telly addict since childhood courtesy of two grandmothers, one a Croatian hooked on German drama, the other a glamorous Neapolitan who only wanted Latin novellas, Walter has spent his life watching the kind of shows British viewers have only recently taken to their hearts. “When Spiral came along and then The Killing became so massive, that was the sign I needed to follow my dream,” he says today.
For 20 years a successful producer for Channels 5, 4 and his own company, Walter has dedicated the last two years to watching TV… 3,500 hours of it to be exact, all of it with subtitles, at the desk in the corner of his flat “turning into a library mouse for eight hours a day” and now he’s bringing the best 1,000 to British viewers.
Walter needed each show he viewed to satisfy three requirements before making it to ‘Walter Presents’.
“They have to be big shiny hits in their native country,” he explains. “I have become increasingly intolerant of self-indulgent art house pieces. These shows have to be like ‘Homeland’ or ‘House of Cards’. This is a service for everyone.
“The second is a quality benchmark – the finest writing, directing and acting that each country has to be offer. This has to be something worth our time as viewers.
“Finally, they have to be award-winning or already critically acclaimed.”
Walter’s absolutely right, of course, that the stage has never been more perfectly set for drama of this variety to turn up on our screens. The success of shows from ‘Borgen’ to ‘Breaking Bad’ proves that audiences will sit through subjects from Danish coalition politics to DIY meth construction when the writing is robust and the performances suitably charismatic. He’s equally impressed by Channel 4’s decision to put this channel online, on its AllFour hub.
To drive traffic to the VOD platform, some programmes such as this evening’s ‘Deutschland 83’ will also be on Channel 4, while others, including the magnificent French political thriller ‘Spin’, will debut on More4 in a regular Friday evening slot.
“You create that bridge with fresh viewers to know there’s more they can get. Channel 4 have seen the convergence of linear and online TV,” says Walter. “It’s like launching a mini free Netflix of premium product, the best stuff in the world, and it’s all completely free to UK viewers. It’s a complete revolution that I’ll always be very proud to have had a part in,” he says happily.
“It’s also a gesture of public service and modernity, understanding global viewers. We drink the same tea, and when something is excellent like ‘House of Cards’ or ‘The Killing’, we all feel the same about it.”
Absolutely true. My only fear for Walter and his channel is that the more successful and popular his world drama becomes, the more likely the bigger channels will start sniffing for the best new content with their deeper purses and huge viewing platforms. He reassures me he’s not worried.
“The more channels that reflect the breadth and diversity available in international drama, I am thrilled.
“There are thousands of hours available. These channels aren’t foreign channels, they might have these dishes on their menus once or twice a year, but my restaurant is entirely based on them.
“Think of a patisserie which happens to have a few macaroons in its range, and my business entirely built on macaroons. You watch ‘Deutschland 83’ on Channel 4, you decide you like the taste of that macaroon, then you come to me for your macaroons, and I have the broadest range of them you could possibly desire.”
'Deutschland 83' begins tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm, and also on WalterPresents. 'Walter Presents' debuts today - click here for info and your foray into a brand new world of world drama - too much choice!