If you wanted to gauge how far the growing Greek TV industry has come in just a few short years, you’d have to look no further than last month in Lille, France, where Series Mania offered a splashy showcase for the Mediterranean nation’s sudden rise.
The prestigious French fest opened with Amazon Prime Video’s “Greek Salad,” director Cédric Klapisch’s follow-up to his beloved “Spanish Apartment” trilogy that chose Athens as the setting for its portrait of contemporary Europe at a crossroads. Meanwhile, a Greek series bowed in the festival’s international competition for the first time: Vasilis Kekatos’ “Milky Way.”
Directed by the short film Palme d’Or winner and inviting comparisons to “Euphoria” from festivalgoers, the envelope-pushing teen drama (pictured) is part of a bold new wave of Greek storytelling that reflects an industry striving to reach new heights. “We have amazing talents in Greece. What was missing was a little bit of craziness … and a huge willingness to take a risk,” says Vasilis Chrysanthopoulos, of series producers Foss Prods. “But it’s possible.”
The Series Mania standout is among a raft of recent high-end Greek series to reach global audiences, among them “Maestro in Blue,” directed by and starring heartthrob Christoforos Papakaliatis, which was the first Greek TV show to bow on Netflix, and the abduction thriller “Silent Road,” written by Melina Tsampani and Petros Kalkovalis and directed by Vardis Marinakis. Repped internationally by Beta Film, the series has sold to the U.S. streaming platform Topic for North America.
There’s more to come, with a host of top-shelf series in the pipeline. They include a six-part adaptation of M. Karagatsis’ boundary-pushing 1930s-set novel “The Great Chimera,” about a beautiful young Frenchwoman whose passion for a Greek shipowner threatens to consume her. Also in the works is the anticipated historical drama “The Witch,” an ambitious series that’s set in the waning days of Ottoman rule.
Produced by powerhouse outfit J.K. Prods., the company behind the hit “Wild Bees,” the show’s first season carries a price tag of €10 million ($10.9 million), making it the country’s most expensive TV production to date. Written by Melina Tsambani and Petros Kalkovalis and directed by Lefteris Charitos — the same creative team behind “Wild Bees” — the series is an example of what J.K. Prods. CEO Giannis Karagiannis describes as “storytelling [that] knows no boundaries.”
Partly such prestige dramas are a testament to the success of Greece’s 40% cash rebate that has led to a surge of film and television production in the sun-splashed Mediterranean nation. Last year alone, Greece produced more than 40 scripted series and hosted buzzy foreign TV shows “Greek Salad,” Prime Video’s “Daisy Jones & the Six” and the Apple TV+ series “Tehran.”
The hyper-competitive domestic TV market, meanwhile, is pushing local players to take financial and creative risks that were unthinkable just a few years ago. “When we launched our first project, ‘The Other Me’ season 1, nobody was doing miniseries,” says Faye Tsitsipi, of pay-TV network Cosmote TV. “They had no idea back in 2018, 2019. It was very strange to people that someone was producing an eight-episode series. Things have changed,” she adds, noting that season 3 of the hit series — which the company is selling at MipTV — went “way beyond our imagination.”
Fenia Cossovitsa, of Blonde Prods., who provided production services for “Greek Salad” and is currently line producing season 3 of “Tehran,” says, “Broadcasters finally got the message … [that] you have to invest if you want to create a library with original, high-end content.” That shift is pushing budgets and production values to new highs.
The Greek TV industry was hit hard by the mid-2010s financial meltdown that almost pushed the country from the Eurozone. Public broadcaster ERT was shuttered for nearly two years as part of broader efforts to curb government spending, while Mega TV — the country’s first private network — narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 2018. It remained off the air for more than a year before returning in 2020.
Today Mega is at the forefront of the surge in premium scripted drama, serving as producer or co-producer on both “Maestro in Blue” and “Milky Way,” while ERT has beefed up its scripted offerings and is partnering with Foss and Athens-based Boo Prods. on “The Great Chimera,” which, at a cost of €750,000 ($815,000) per episode, will set a new benchmark for the local biz.
“It’s a very exciting project for Greece and the Greek industry,” says director Dennis Iliadis (“The Last House on the Left”), who co-wrote the period drama with Ioannis Pappos. “It’s a very sweeping, epic love story which is very relevant today … and can really travel and appeal to many different viewers around the world.”
Meanwhile, Papakaliatis’ steamy, island-set “Maestro” cracked Netflix’s global top 10 of most-watched shows after launching internationally last month. For the Greek industry, hopes are high that such trailblazing success is a harbinger of things to come.
“It’s important for us to get a hit — a mainstream hit,” says Christos Kompos, of private broadcaster Alpha, whose breakout series “Sasmos” is being sold at MipTV by United Media. “Greece is a small country,” adds Nicholas Alavanos of “Silent Road” producer Filmiki. “In order to keep growing, we need collaborations, and we need to export our projects [to the rest of the world].”