FNE at DISCOP Budapest 2011: Latvia

By Sanita Grina

    RIGA: If you want to watch Latvians justify their claim to be the "singing nation," turn on the TV. It's not only the contestants who are competing in an abundance of singing and dancing shows. Both commercial and private channels are fighting it out - for viewers. While many of the programmes are local versions of acquired formats, Latvian TV stations are also making a mark with their own new formats and programmes, with decidedly local appeal. While coproduction would seem a natural for Latvia, sandwiched between its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, neither stations nor audiences have yet developed an appetite for them.

    Latvia's TV landscape includes four main national channels: public broadcaster Latvian Television (LTV, www.ltv.lt) which broadcasts LTV1 and LTV7; and commercial channels Latvian Independent Television (LNT, locally owned, www.lnt.lv) and TV3, a member of the Modern Times Group (MTG, www.mtg.se).

    Over the last few seasons LNT and TV3 have fiercely competed over viewers through singing shows, with LTV also entering the fray. While TV3 produced the shows Sing with a Star and Dance with a Star, LNT offered a singing show with an unusual twist - Singing Families (Dziedošās ģimenes). The concept proved to be very successful and the show will be entering its third season, Parsla Araja, the head of programming and planning at LNT, said. Both LNT and LTV1 also have singing competition shows for kids.

    Latvia has its own version of the Got Talent format - Latvia's Golden Talents (Latvijas Zelta Talanti), produced by LNT. Home makeover and culinary show formats are regulars on the stations as well. LNT also has a version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? called Brain Bank (Prāta banka) while LTV has recently abandoned Zini vai Mini (Know or Guess), a popular, albeit poor rendition of The Weakest Link, substituting it in March 2011 with an original-concept game show Veiksme Intuīcija Prāts (Luck Intuition Intellect).

    While LNT and TV3 share the crown as the reality and game show kings, LTV produces original series from time to time, the most successful being the historical saga Likteņa līdumnieki (The Wood-clearers of Fate). Based on the four-part novel of Latvian writer Vladimirs Kaijaks, the series followed the fate of Narbuli family through the 20th century. During its initial run from 2003-2008 The Wood-clearers of Fate became the most watched TV series of all time in Latvia. In 2011 LTV began re-runs of the series.

    This year's newcomer in the field of scripted series is the soap opera Būt mīlētai (To Be Loved), also produced by LTV and directed by film and TV director Maris Martinsons (features - Loss, 2008; Amaya, 2010) who had been living in Lithuania, producing and directing more than ten original TV series and shows. Despite his experience, To Be Loved has lagged in the ratings, far below the most popular Latvian soap opera UgunsGrēks (Fire Alarm), formerly known as Neprāta cena (The Price of Folly). Originally produced by LTV the series was taken over by TV3 with the entire crew and cast (featuring the most popular Latvian actors) in 2009, when LTV had to cut its budget due to the financial crisis.

    Latvian television stations rarely adapt foreign TV series because of the cost and production difficulties, with one notable exception which was as immensely popular as the original: a Latvian adaptation of 1950's sitcom I Love Lucy - Sirdsmīļā Monika. Produced by LNT, directed by Aigars Grauba (who directed the only Latvian blockbuster The Defenders of Riga) and featuring Latvian theatre stars Mirdza Martinsone, Janis Reinis, Leons Krivans and Olga Drege the series ran for two seasons and proved that Latvians are not always clumsy at comedy.

    This year saw the premiere of the LTV1 soap opera To Be Loved which began broadcasting in March 2011); a series on film Kinotēka (Cinemateque); and a show promoting a nature-friendly lifestyle, Izvēlies zaļi! (Choose Green!). The latter two are original concepts, and all three shows will continue into the next season.

    TV3 introduced two new shows in spring 2011: a style make-over show for women Ievas pārvērtības (Ieva's Make-overs), and a talk-show A Man on a Carpet (Vīrietis uz paklāja) featuring popular Latvian men scrutinized by the two female hosts.

    LNT has renewed its 2010/2011 competition show, Singing Families and most recently introduced two original concept shows with a particularly Latvian bent: a comedy face-off between the actors from Latvia's two largest rival theatres; and a brand new travel show (it premiered the last weekend in May) featuring five famous Latvian blondes on a yacht in the Mediterranean dealing with the struggles of sailing on their own.