‘Weiss & Morales’: European Co-Production is ‘Medicine in the Crisis’ for an Industry in Recovery

“Weiss & Morales” is a new light crime drama procedural co-produced between Spain and Germany. It has received considerable industry attention over the past several weeks as broadcasters ZDF and RTVE have increased their PR for the show, which could represent an evolution in how pan-European series are developed and produced at an affordable cost without sacrificing quality.

ZDF and RTVE co-produced the series alongside ZDF Studios and Nadcon in Germany and Portocabo in Spain. RTVE has exclusive rights to the series in Spain, while ZDF handles international sales outside Spanish-speaking territories.

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Last week, at Conecta Fiction & Entertainment in Toledo, Spain, José Pastor (RTVE), Wolfgang Feindt (ZDF), Nina Hernández (Portocabo), Peter Nadermann (Nadcon), and Susanne Frank (ZDF Studios) hosted a lively discussion about the show and the implications it could have for European co-production.

'Weiss & Morales' Conecta Fiction Panel
‘Weiss & Morales’ Conecta Fiction Panel

“Weiss & Morales,” which started filming in the Canary Islands several weeks ago, is a procedural light crime drama starring recognizable local stars Miguel Ángel Silvestre (“Sense8,” “Narcos” from Spain and Katia Fellin (“Pagan Peak,” “Wild Republic”) from Germany. The duo contrasts culturally and professionally but must work together to solve four cases over four 90-minute episodes.

Below, we examine several factors that led to this nontraditional co-production and whether it could be repeated in the future under different circumstances or if its existence is simply a case of right time, right place, right incentives and right partners.

The Right Time

Global streaming platforms are cutting back and scaling down their commissions in many territories. To pick up that slack, European producers are turning to their local broadcasters for help with financing and distribution.

“I’m a great fan of linear television,” said Nadermann (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Bridge, “”) during the “Weiss & Morales” Conecta Fiction panel. He says that while streaming has certainly disrupted the TV ecosystem, linear TV still plays an important role for many. “People get home after a long day, and they want to turn on the TV and be surprised and see something new.”

The panelists agreed that in “Weiss & Morales,” viewers will get just that, as the cross-cultural storyline and cast will offer audiences something new that still feels largely familiar.

The Right Place

Spain’s Canary Islands have become a production hotbed thanks to their incredible aesthetic diversity, agreeable climate and some of the most competitive fiscal incentives in Europe.

While those factors certainly contributed to the development and production of “Weiss & Morales,” the Islands being one of the most popular tourist destinations for Germans was vital when ironing out the show’s narrative.

“For a project like ‘Weiss & Morales,’ the Canary Islands offer great advantages,” argues Portocabo’s Alfonso “Fosco” Blanco, executive producer of the show. “One of them is that it’s an organic co-production with Germany, given that there is a huge community of Germans settled on these Spanish islands. In addition to this, the Canary Islands offer a diversity of landscapes that is very valuable for Portocabo’s style, where the locations become an additional protagonist in the story.”

'Weiss & Morales'
‘Weiss & Morales’

The Right Incentives

Capped at 50% of a total production investment or spend and €18 million ($19.3 million) per TV episode, the Canary Islands’ shoot incentives now rate among the biggest in Europe, comparing favorably to France’s, levied at 30% with a €30 million ($32.4 million) cap, and the U.K’s, offered at 25% of eligible spend though with no ceiling on relief save that it cannot exceed 80% of a production budget.

“These days, it’s nearly impossible to finance an international high-end series without any advantages of the shooting location,” Nadermann told Variety after the Conecta Fiction panel. “We have obviously chosen the Canary Islands because we wanted to tell our stories for content reasons exactly there, but the advantages of the Canary Islands were, of course, important for the financing.”

The Right Partners

Germany’s ZDF and Spain’s RTVE are European public broadcasting powerhouses and boast some of the biggest audiences on the continent. According to Ampere Analysis, Germany is the second-largest TV market in Europe, while Spain is fourth. So, the two companies teaming up on a show that will feel both exotic and recognizable in equal parts in each market feels like a perfect fit.

“I think it’s important for the public broadcasters to work together,” RTVE Head of Cinema and Fiction José Pastor said at Conecta Fiction. “In this business, the most important thing is to build relationships. ZDF are strong partners, and at the same time, Portocabo is a reliable company.”

The spirit of collaboration extended to the artists working on the shows as well, added Nadermann, “All of the people working on the German side of this show love working with the Spanish talent, and vice versa.”

'Weiss & Morales'
‘Weiss & Morales’

Is This Model Repeatable?

Asked if the methodology behind developing and producing “Weiss & Morales” was something that could be emulated elsewhere or if it only works because there are so many Germans in the Canary Islands, Nadermann argued, “These types of co-productions are definitely repeatable in many other parts of Spain.

“Because of our long experience and great successes with our co-productions, Germany, and especially ZDF, may be more open to co-produce than other countries, but I hope this will change,” he added.

According to Blanco, Spanish companies can similarly look abroad to shoot future co-productions. “It is possible [to repeat this kind of production] both in Spain and in other territories, but the key is to be born from a reality of the environment that organically offers a realistic narrative,” he argued.

He pointed to past Iberian co-productions as evidence, explaining, “In our case, with Portugal and Galicia, everything stems from a historical cultural and territorial connection. We have produced successful series such as ‘Vidago Palace’ or two seasons of ‘Dry Water’ for networks such as RTP and TVG, accompanied by Portuguese production companies such as SPi and Hop.”

Nadermann agrees regarding the narrative values of working with international partners. “Co-productions can open so many interesting new possibilities for modern storytelling, and on the financial side, we are the medicine in the crisis.”

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