Canneseries Winner ‘The Allegation’ – Trial by Social Media & The Attraction of Half Hour Drama

German series “The Allegation” (“Glauben”), directed by Daniel Geronimo Prochaska and written by best-selling author Ferdinand von Schirach, won the Dior Grand Prize and best screenplay at Wednesday night’s Canneseries prize awards ceremony.

The controversial story revolves around the real-life German Worms Trials from the 1990s with the series modernizing the context.

In the small town of Ottern, a pediatrician discovers seemingly incontrovertible evidence that a small girl has been continuously sexually abused. An email by his assistant to a friend sparks a social media furore against the child’s parents, with 25 people in Worms ending up being accused of belonging to a local child pornography ring.

Peter Kurth plays a brilliant, if gambling-addicted, criminal defense lawyer brought in to defend the accused in a series whose standout screenplay constantly challenges and changes audience perception of truth, suggesting elegantly that uncertainty may be a far more intelligent standpoint.

Produced by Moovie for Constantin Television, “The Allegation’s” international distribution will be handled by Fremantle. Variety sat down with Constantin Television’s managing director Jan Ehlert and Jens Richter, CEO of international at Fremantle to discuss one of the most buzzed up titles at this year’s Canneseries.

What attracted you to ‘The Allegation’ as a project? 

Richter: It’s the package that Jan and Constantin put together. We love premium drama. There are plenty of successes coming out of Germany right now. For “The Allegation,” it’s the author that is amazing. It’s inspired by a true story. The cast is phenomenal. Then when you look at it from the sales pitch, it’s trial by social media. These people were condemned before there was anything out there in the true history in the ‘90s.  Especially because the allegation is of sexual abuse against children, the media went for them straight away, and made those people’s lives messy.

RTL is currently powering up a new high-end slate of big event and auteur series. Fremantle has already worked with Constantin Television on “We Children from Bahnhof Zoo” and now “KaDeWe.” What is your take on the state of health of German scripted production at the moment?

Richter: It was an amazing and fascinating experience to work together. Constantin does great films and series in general over the years.  Now we work together on a project by project basis.

Constantin has the background of doing movies so you have the premium DNA already built in when you do TV. When a South Korean series (“Squid Game”) can be the number one Netflix series worldwide, then the world is open for non-English-language entertainment.

Could you talk about the state of sales on “The Allegation”? Have there been any pre-sales? Or are any territories or deals currently under negotiation? 

Richter: We are going out now with the show. We had some buyers in the screening. They got good feedback from the audience in the room. On a show like this, they want to see the whole show. It will most probably be sold territory by territory, as it’s a very specific show. It would work well on premium subscription, but I could see this functioning really well on any state broadcaster because trial by social media is a popular topic, plus the cast is great.

The series begins with a pediatrician confirming beyond reasonable doubt that a six year old girl has been sexually abused. Whether he’s right is another question. Later, in Episode 2, Schlesinger conducts a brilliant legal defense of a woman who seem 100% guilty of killing her husband, leading everybody to believe that she is innocent, overlooking key evidence. The series appears from the get-go to be challenging audiences to separate appearance and reality, to not fall for the knee-jerk reactions of social media is. Could you comment?

Ehlert: There are parallels between the two cases: In the case of the woman accused of murdering her husband for the life insurance, the state attorney talks to the press and the media echoing the view that she has to be guilty. At the Worm Trails, the accused were also written off as guilty – just like in the abuse case in our series.

The episodes are just over half an hour long. That’s not unheard of for drama but could you talk us through that decision?

Ehlert: As far as the half-hour drama goes, I hope it’s a big trend because it’s fantastic to work like that. The storytelling is fast. The characters and development can be slow, but things happen fast. It’s fun to have a narration done like that. In this case we have seven episodes, which is unusual. When Ferdinand von Shirach started developing it, we had some back and forth. Is it four or thee-and-a-half hours? He said, ‘I can’t do more than this because it wouldn’t be good any more.’ In all of his work as a writer, his short stories are all about reduction. There is the story and then the reduction. What you do while you read and while you watch “The Allegation” is that the things that are left out, you fill them in all the time. You see that you might have been right or wrong as the narration continues, but it’s not about what is actually there but what you make out of it.

This is your third series with Fremantle…..

Ehlert: Jens and I teamed up together because the series we have done work in Germany but also internationally.  With an international powerhouse like Fremantle, it’s where we want our content to go. It’s fine to create content for Germany and local broadcasters but it’s also great to see it at Canneseries with other series from all over that world that work all over the world.

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