A quick Overview of the German TV-Series Landscape

3D Rendering, old tv sets
German TV is totally dubbed. Westend61@gettyimages.de

First of all, compared to the British or American TV-Show market, Germany is a desert. The recent international acclaim of the German-American co-production “Deutschland ‘83” may have stirred the pot a little, but it cannot overshadow the fact, that the rest of the German television, in general, offers a dim prospect.


Before we start looking at the state of TV-Series quality, I’ll take a minute to explain the German television system.

Before 1984, there were only public-law broadcasters servicing the screens of the Bundesrepublik. The socialist German Democratic Republic only had a public broadcasting structure. January 1st of 1984 marked the beginning of the dual TV-System in Western Germany. From the start, a big chunk of the program consisted of American or British shows and series or German adaptations of those formats. The Anglo-American influence originates in the roots of the broadcasting apparatus in the country as, it was set up by the Allied Forces after World War II, which served as the technological foundation of broadcast media.



And still, the influence of Anglo-American TV-Formats is enormous. Moreover, it led to the development of a large synchronization industry. Yes, pretty much all British or American TV-Shows or series that are broadcasted on German television, are dubbed by German actors.

Some actors even have signature-speakers, making it a peculiar experience to hear the original voice of actors such as Harrison Ford or Kate Winslet for the first time, after being used to a specific voice-actor for a few years.


It is entirely possible, that the normality of this situation has a negative influence on the average English-language-skills in Germany, compared to non-dubbing countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands or Sweden.

The synchronization of movies and series is of course not limited to the English language. Television broadcasters rarely ever show media with original audio material. To watch the original versions, viewers have to resort to program cinemas, dvds and equivalent media or the Internet.


As you can imagine, the translation and synchronization of TV-shows are not necessarily a top priority for broadcasters, due to the costs. This sometimes results in a poor quality, regarding the content as well as the means of getting it across. This is especially the case with older TV-Series or movies and can quite often end up in involuntarily humorous experiences, should the viewer know the original. These outdated dubbings do reflect the German language of earlier years as well as past images of English or American behaviors, sociolects, and language in general.


Should you be learning the German language, it might be very entertaining to watch old dubbed western movies, just to hear how German voice actors tried to mimic a cowboy attitude.


The State of German TV-Series

To be blunt: it’s bad. The state of German TV-Series is and was always pretty bad. The few shows that could keep up with international standards (including the famous Scandinavian television landscape) are mostly broadcasted in the middle of the night and have almost no audience.

The aforementioned “Deutschland ‘83” (being a German-US coproduction), the crime-show “Im Angesicht des Verbrechens (In the Face of Crime)” and the comedy-drama “Tatortreiniger (Crime Scene Cleaner)” could serve as examples. Some of the better German TV-Productions are only remakes of foreign shows, such as “Stromberg”, our version of “The Office”.  


For TV-Show-aficionados, all of the rest is not worth the time. Some of the series are, of course, enormously successful, but we all know that does not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of the content. Most of the German TV-Series landscape is comprised of the German take on Telenovelas, regional crime dramas, and cheap action shows. There are almost no animated or cartoon series to speak of produced in Germany. Numerous channels almost only show British or American program, dubbed of course.


Regarding the use of streaming services, the average German household is pretty “old school”. The majority of Germans consume Series in the regular television program. Streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime are growing slowly concerning content as well as usage.  


This article does not include Austrian TV-Series, even though they are in Austro-German language and some of them being very good. The TV-Series we refer to are, of course, fictional drama shows and not reality TV, scripted reality, sports news etc.  

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Schmitz, Michael. "A quick Overview of the German TV-Series Landscape." ThoughtCo, May. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/german-tv-series-landscape-4041373. Schmitz, Michael. (2016, May 2). A quick Overview of the German TV-Series Landscape. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/german-tv-series-landscape-4041373 Schmitz, Michael. "A quick Overview of the German TV-Series Landscape." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/german-tv-series-landscape-4041373 (accessed November 18, 2017).