Culture / Interview

Walter Iuzzolino: Arbiter of Britain’s Nordic Drama Tastes

When WALTER IUZZOLINO quit his job, he switched on the television. Two years later, he emerged with Walter Presents, a curated collection of his favourite dramas…

Xander Brett

When the world was in quarantine, Walter Iuzzolino spent weeks at the same kitchen table where, in 2014, it all began. After selling his production company to Discovery, he took his expertise as a Channel 4 commissioning editor to found Walter Presents, an on-demand boutique available via the catch-up service All 4. When it launched in 2017, it doubled the original ‘Scandi noir’ viewing figures, turning followers in new directions, and going international with spin-offs in Italy, Belgium, Australia and America. “My life hasn’t changed!” Iuzzolino exclaims over the phone, still reeling from contracting coronavirus. “What has changed, though, is that it’s no longer a gamble. When Jason Thorpe, Jo McGrath and I began, we were relying on savings. Now it’s worked, and we’ve got a job, we can relax.”

Iuzzolino grew up in Genoa, where he watched Italy’s prime channel, Rai Uno. Their content was international, but always dubbed. When he came to the UK, he was delighted with the preference for subtitles. Riding the wave of BBC Four hits The Bridge and The Killing, he took redundancy as an excuse to order highly rated content from around the world. “It was incredibly exciting,” he explains. “I’d watch a series from France one day, Argentina the next, and so on. I’d get through ten episodes a day. Obviously, if I didn’t like something, I’d only watch two instalments, but otherwise I always saw them through.” Together with his colleagues, Iuzzolino burned through well over five thousand hours of television, selecting about 1 in 20 shows for his final pick.

“With the success of ‘Nordic noir’,” Iuzzolino explains, “the producers had become aware they were a factory of ideas. They were constantly reinventing themselves. You could see it was a balancing act for them.” Despite the guaranteed success of ‘Nordic noir’, however, Iuzzolino was determined to include hits from elsewhere. He’s since shown dramas from South America, and he’s about to preview series from Africa and Bulgaria. “Every country,” he says, “comes at things from different directions. Nordic series are very Lutheran, Italian shows are nostalgic and the French are more convoluted in their aesthetic. A country that particularly fascinates me is Belgium. Sandwiched between France and Scandinavia, they’ve created quirky, funny and very unique cop shows.”

Launching in America was a challenge, though Iuzzolino says viewers have flocked to PBS Masterpiece, once the stalwart of British drama. He says launching in the UK was scarier. Though ‘Nordic noir’ was already popular, it was shown on the arty, often misunderstood BBC Four. Iuzzolino was preparing to show Nordic comedy and international thrillers on the mainstream Channel 4. It was a gamble but, after a massive poster campaign, he needn’t have worried. His debut, at prime-time on a Saturday, doubled BBC Four’s figures. That night’s episode of Deutschland 83 became the most watched foreign drama in UK history and, with more series on the way, it’s a wave he’s still riding.

WALTER IUZZOLINO curates Walter Presents, available via Channel 4 in the UK, PBS in the United States and Foxtel in Australia.

This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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