A new television series starring Steven Van Zandt finally started running in Norway on Wednesday, after a lot of local media hype and unexpected delays. The show, called “Lilyhammer,” ended up being watched by nearly a fifth of the country’s entire population, and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) officials are mighty pleased.
“We’re super-happy that so many people are interested in the series,” Tone C Rønning, project chief for NRK Drama, told NRK’s own website on Thursday. “We hope, of course, that as many people will embrace the rest of the series, too.”
Ratings service TNS Gallup could report that 998,000 viewers tuned in when Van Zandt, also known as “Little Steven” in Bruce Springsteen’s band and for his role in the hit US-series “The Sopranos,” made his own long-awaited debut on NRK. The series was supposed to start running on New Year’s Day, but NRK halted its premiere over allegations of illegal product placement.
Van Zandt told newspaper Dagsavisen last week that he was surprised a conflict over product placement arose but was “glad Norwegians could finally get to see their own TV series.” Its dialogue flows between Norwegian and English, as it often does when English- and Norwegian-speakers converse, but Van Zandt said he personally thinks Norwegian is a difficult language to learn. “I don’t understand as much as I’d like, but my character does,” he told Dagsavisen.
NRK and producer Rubicon eventually came to terms over the product placement dispute, after Rubicon agreed to edit and re-touch scenes that NRK claimed violated the product placement laws to which the state broadcaster must adhere. When the show finally could air Wednesday night, it broke NRK ratings records for a drama series.
Now NRK’s own analysts think the ratings numbers will rise over a million when viewership from other platforms like Net-TV are included. Rønning is the first to admit that the publicity and conflict that arose over “Lilyhammer” may have boosted Norwegians’ curiosity.
“But we hope the good story (behind the series) and good acting will hold viewers’ interest,” she said.
The series is based on a New York mafia boss, played by Van Zandt, who moves to Lillehammer as part of a witness protection program. He quickly runs into a series of cultural conflicts in the small Norwegian town that hosted the popular Winter Olympics in 1994.
The script, which Van Zandt helped write, also touches on a series of hotly debated issues in Norway, from immigration and integration to conflicts between the cities and outlying districts, and between ranchers and those seeking to protect the country’s small wolf population. Van Zandt’s character takes matters into his own hands, and quickly lands in conflict himself.
The series has won mixed reviews from local critics, with some finding it merely “amusing” and others calling it “great fun” with good acting by a long list of Norwegian actors as well. Newspaper Dagbladet, however, deemed it as “over-exposed” and gave it only a score of two on a scale from one to six.
“Lilyhammer,” which is how the former head of the International Olympic Committee mispronounced the name of Lillehammer, will also be shown in the US on Netflix, starting February 6. Van Zandt believes the series can help “put Norway on the map,” adding that he thinks the country otherwise “has been a mystery for many. We’ll take people places they’ve never been before, in a different way than standard American series.”
He told Dagsavisen that he won’t be able to spend as much time in Norway as he has the past two years, though. He’ll be heading out on tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band again this spring, with a new album due out in March. They’ll be holding concerts in Bergen and Oslo in late July, when Norway also will be marking the one-year anniversary of last summer’s terrorist attacks.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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