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FX's Border ShiftBuilds 'Bridge' to Viewers

Scandinavian TV series have been ripe fodder for U.S. adaptations in recent years, with entries such as AMC’s The Killing, PBS’ Wallander and A&E’s upcoming Those Who Kill. In the latest example, FX on July 10 will premiere new drama The Bridge, based on a Swedish/Danish series, although in a key creative and business decision, producers opted for a loose adaptation to move the focus further south.

While creators Meredith Stiehm (Homeland, Cold Case) and Elwood Reid originally pitched the series about two detectives tracking a serial killer be set on the U.S.-Canadian border to more closely parallel the friendly relationship between Denmark and Sweden, they switched it to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, over concern that there were not five seasons’ worth of storytelling in the former setting.

“The minute we heard they were setting it on the Mexican border, we were supremely interested in the show,” says Nick Grad, president of original programming at FX Networks and FX Productions. While Grad says network executives were fans of the original series, “there’s a real threshold to really stand out and have something that is conceptually noisy.”

That has become even more important in a TV landscape suddenly littered with serial killer shows such as Fox’s The Following and NBC’s Hannibal. Besides the setting, The Bridge differentiates itself by using the genre to focus more on the connection between the two main characters—played by Demián Bichir and Diane Kruger—than on the killer.

“You’re not telling a [story] about border patrol agents. It’s about two people trying to connect who are very different from each other, and it really becomes a metaphor for the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico,” says Carolyn G. Bernstein, executive VP of scripted programming at Shine America, which is producing The Bridge as its first scripted series.

Courting a ‘Nuevo’ Audience

The story line and casting of Mexican actor Bichir gave FX a unique opportunity to aggressively market The Bridge to the Hispanic community in an unprecedented way. The net hired outside agency Conill to help build a campaign that included a screening for Hispanic media in mid-May, an on-set producer creating Spanishlanguage behind-the-scenes content, a mural contest in five Latino markets, Spanish-language TV and radio spots and a microsite that toggles from English to Spanish—a first for the network.

The pilot will also air on Spanish-language sister network MundoFox in the week following the premiere, with the entire first season to re-air after its conclusion on FX. All the outreach for The Bridge has allowed FX to connect with Latino community and political leaders it can now tap for marketing future series such as its upcoming comedy Saint George (starring George Lopez) and horror series The Strain—a genre that indexes highly among Hispanics.

“It’s really about building those relationships now, and down the line obviously we’re going to leverage those relationships for [other] shows,” says Sally Daws, senior VP of consumer marketing at FX Networks. “We’ve learned a lot, so hopefully that will help us as we go forward.”

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