Skam (TV series)

Skam (Norwegian pronunciation: [skɑm]; English: "Shame") is a Norwegian teen drama streaming television series about the daily life of teenagers at the Hartvig Nissen School, a gymnasium in the wealthy borough of Frogner in West End Oslo. It was produced by NRK P3, which is part of the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

Skam follows a new main character each season. While airing, a new clip, conversation or social media post was published in real-time on the NRK website on a daily basis. Each season has focus on particular topics, ranging from relationship difficulties, identity, eating disorders, sexual assault, homosexuality, mental health issues, religion, and forbidden love.

Despite no promotion ahead of its 2015 launch, Skam broke viewership records. Its premiere episode is among the most-watched episodes in NRK's history, and by the middle of season two, it was responsible for half of NRK's traffic. With season three, it broke all streaming records in Norway, along with viewership records in neighbouring countries Denmark, Finland and Sweden, and attracted an active international fanbase on social media, where fans promoted translations. The show repeatedly made international headlines for its popularity surge across the world, and the show's actors became famous worldwide. However, the international popularity was not expected, with the music industry requiring geoblocking of NRK's website due to music license contracts only supporting the Norwegian public. The series ended after its fourth season in 2017, reportedly due to high production stress.

Skam received critical acclaim and significant recognition for its portrayal of sexual abuse in the second season and homosexuality in the third. The series was also praised for its contributions to promote Norwegian language and culture internationally, as well as for its unique distribution format, adopting a new strategy of real-time, high-engagement, snippet-based distribution rather than rigidity and television schedules. It received multiple Norwegian awards throughout its run, being honored for its dramatic narrative, innovative storytelling format, writing, directing, and actors' performances. The success of the series has spawned an American version led by Skam showrunner Julie Andem, as well as multiple European remakes, four books containing original scripts, and blooper reels.

The series focuses on the daily life of teenagers at the Hartvig Nissen School (Hartvig Nissens skole), a gymnasium (preparatory high school) located in the Frogner borough in Oslo's West End, with the address Niels Juels gate (Niels Juel Street) 56.[1] The school is informally and widely known simply as "Nissen." Originally named Nissen's Girls' School, it was founded by Hartvig Nissen in 1849 as a private girls' school which was owned by its headmasters and which served the higher bourgeoisie. Its alumni include many famous individuals and two members of the Norwegian royal family. The school was the first higher school in Norway which admitted women.[2]

At the start of a week, a clip, conversation or social media post is posted on the Skam website. New material is posted on a daily basis, with the content unified and combined into one full episode on Fridays.[3] The main character differs from season to season,[4] and the fictional characters have social media profiles where viewers can follow their activities.[3] The show allows public interaction over the duration of the episode. The format has since been used in other NRK P3 series, Blank and Lovleg.[5][6]

1In season one, David Stakston was credited as playing a character called David, though his name was never spoken in the show. This could be the character Magnus or Stakston was playing a different student. Stakston also makes an uncredited appearance in the last episode of season two.

2In season three, Mikael appears uncredited in a video Isak finds on the Internet of Even.

The first clip from season 1 was made available on Tuesday, 22 September 2015,[8] with the combined clips during the week premiering as a full episode on Friday, 25 September 2015.[9] The season consists of 11 episodes; the main character is Eva Mohn.[9] The storyline deals with Eva's difficult relationship with her boyfriend Jonas and the themes of loneliness, identity, belonging and friendship.

The first clip from season 2 was made available on Monday, 29 February 2016,[10] with the combined clips during the week premiering as a full episode on Friday, 4 March 2016.[9] The season consists of 12 episodes; the main character is Noora Amalie Sætre.[9] The season is about her relationship with William and deals with issues of friendship, feminism, eating disorders, self-image, violence, sexual violence and the contemporaneous refugee crisis in relation to Norwegian democracy.

The first clip from season 3 was made available on Sunday, 2 October 2016,[11][12] with the combined clips during the week premiering as a full episode on Friday, 7 October 2016.[9] The season consists of 10 episodes; the main character is Isak Valtersen.[9] The season deals with Isak's burgeoning relationship with Even Bech Næsheim and is principally a coming out story that deals with issues of love, sexual identity, authenticity, mental illness, religion and friendship.

The first clip from season 4 was made available on Monday, 10 April 2017,[13] with the combined clips during the week premiering as a full episode on Friday, 14 April 2017.[9] The season consisted of 10 episodes,[14] and the main character is Sana Bakkoush.[9] The season deals with the Islamic religion, forbidden love, cyberbullying, friendship, and the Norwegian russ celebratory period.

The series finale episode switches character clip-to-clip, focusing on short stories by characters not given their own, full season. The episode deals with parental depression, love rejection, jealousy, friendship, mutual relationship support, and fear of abandonment.

Julie Andem created Skam. In an interview with Rushprint in April 2016, Andem discussed production of the series. Originally developed for 16-year-old girls, Andem made use of the "NABC" production model ("Needs/Approach/Benefit/Competition"), and instead of collecting information from a vast amount of sources, she had extensive, hours-long interviews with a single representative to uncover what needs that specific target audience had in order to cover that story. In contrast to American shows, which were the primary competition for shows attracting attention from teenagers, Andem stated that she had one advantage; knowing who the audience were and what culture they grew up in. One major area of exploration Andem found through research was pressure; she stated that "the pressure to perform is very high for this target audience. They strive to perform in so many ways. That's fine, and it doesn't necessarily have to be dangerous or unhealthy. But what is unhealthy is that many feel like they can't live up to the demands, and therefore feel that they failed. They are comparing themselves to each other, not themselves. And then a thought occurred: How to get them to let go of the pressure through a series like Skam".[15] Andem wanted the show to be a combination of social realism, soap opera, and sitcom, transitioning between the genres as the scenes switch, for example from the comical scenes of a doctor's office to the make-out scenes on the stairs. She admitted it did not always work, saying that one particular scene change in episode 5 of season 1 from the stairs to the doctor's office was "a dramatic jump", and elaborated that "in a later scene, I told the photographer that we maybe should try to go a little closer. But we didn't get the humor, so: fuckit, we'll shoot sitcom-ish and blend the genres."[15]

Andem created nine characters, without any backstory. Everyone was supposed to be able to lead a season, and the show was going to switch character season-to-season. 1,200 people auditioned for the roles in the first round of casting. As production started, Andem wrote scripts for the shows, and there was no improvisation. "A lot of people think much of the show is improvised. It's not. A lot is written for the actors. And before and after a scene, I'll wait for a while before I say thank you and let them play a little in the scene. If a scene doesn't work, we'll fix it and see what in the script doesn't work."[15] Production had a short deadline, with scripts written in three days, one-and-a-half days to shoot, and four-to-five days to edit. "The plan must be there, and we just have to finish through".[15] The series' use of real-time was planned from early on, and Andem wrote the series in episodic format, although the content also had to work for daily releases, including a cliffhanger ending in each scene. Andem read the comments for each day, and looked for feedback from the audience on how to end each season while still keeping her original plans in some way.[15]

As the series premiered, there was little or no promotion for the show, due to the production's and NRK's wish for teenagers to find it on their own, spread the news through social media, and avoid the older generation even noticing the series.[15] There were no launch interviews, no reviews,[15] and the actors were shielded from the media, with NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet saying that "We want most of the focus to be on the show. These actors are very young, I think it's good they're being shielded a little. They do also notice the popularity of the series".[16]

The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported in December 2016 that the production of seasons 2 and 3 of Skam had cost a combined sum of NOK10 million. NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet stated: "For being a drama of high quality, Skam is a very cost-efficient production."[17]

In December 2016, the series was renewed for a fourth season.[18][19] In early April 2017, it was announced that the first clip from the fourth season would premiere on 10 April, and that it would be the last season of the series.[20][21][22] NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet stated that the making of Skam had been "an extreme sport",[22] and in an Instagram post, creator, writer and director Julie Andem wrote that "Skam has been a 24/7 job. It has also been amazingly fun to work on, and I really believe that has given the series a unique energy, and ensured that Skam continues to surprise and entertain. We recently decided that we won't be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I'm confident this is the right decision."[23]

On 23 June 2017, one day before the series finale, the entire cast officially met the press before the series' wrap party, answering questions from fans around the world and describing their experiences and memories from production. It was notably the first time all the actors were allowed to break their silence and speak to the public.[24][25]

On 9 December 2018, NRK published the first of four official blooper reels from the series. The 9 December release featured never-before-seen content from the first season, with the remaining three blooper videos released throughout the following week.[26]

In Norway, the series is available on the radio channel NRK P3's website,[9] and on the web television solution NRK TV.[27] The weekly episodes are also aired on Fridays on TV channel NRK3.[27] The series has been licensed to air as a Nordvision co-production by public service broadcasters in other Nordic countries, specifically:[28][29]

In Norway, on average, about 192,000 viewers watched the first season, with the first episode being one of the most viewed of all time on NRK TV online.[33] In the first week of June 2016, streaming of Skam was responsible for over half of the traffic on NRK TV.[34] Following the release of the third-season finale, NRK stated that the second season had an average audience of 531,000, while the third season broke all streaming records on its NRK TV service with an average audience of 789,000 people.[35][36] The trailer for the fourth season, released on 7 April 2017, was watched by 900,000 people within four days.[37] During the start of the fourth season, 1.2 million unique users had visited Skam's website, and the first episode had been watched by 317,000 people. NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet told Verdens Gang that "We see that there is high traffic and high interest for season 4. Since the end of the season we have seen a pattern around viewer interest. We lie high in the first week and towards the end of the season when the drama kicks in."[38] In May 2017, NRK published a report on 2016 viewing statistics, writing that the third season broke both the streaming record for a series on NRK TV and for streaming of any series in Norway.[39]

An October 2016 Aftenposten report detailed that Skam had become popular in Sweden, with "well over 5000" viewers with Swedish IP addresses watching the episodes, not counting the individual clips.[40] A later report from Verdens Gang in January 2017 stated that Skam had "broken all records" in Sweden, with over 25 million plays on SVT Play.[41] Following the series' licensing deal for broadcasting in Denmark,[42] the series broke records in January 2017, with the show's first episode scoring 560,000 viewers on DR TV.[43] In Finland, the first episode had more than 130,000 views by the end of February 2017, two and half months after its release, described by Yle audience researcher Anne Hyvärilä as "quite exceptional".[44]

Skam has received critical acclaim. The newspaper NATT&DAG selected it as the best TV series of 2015.[45] In its second season, Kripos, Norway's National Criminal Investigation Service, praised the series' handling of sexual abuse, including the girls' encouraging the victim, Noora, to go to the emergency room to explain the situation and gather evidence of the abuse, and Noora confronting her abuser with relevant laws he has broken to prevent the sharing of photographs showing her naked.[46][47] The National Center for Prevention of Sexual Assault also praised the portrayal, adding that they wish for the series to become a syllabus in schools.[48] In the third season, Martine Lunder Brenne of Verdens Gang praised the theme of homosexuality and wrote that "I praise it first and foremost because young homosexual people, both in and outside the closet, finally get some long-awaited and modern role models. It doesn't matter if it's a character in a fictional drama – right now, Skam is Norway's coolest show".[49] In the fourth season, Christopher Pahle of Dagbladet praised a conversation about religion, writing: "two young people, with Muslim backgrounds, have a reflected, respectful and enlightening conversation about religion without arguing or taking it to the trenches. Think about that. They pick flowers and dribble a ball, and even if they don't necessarily convince each other, that's not the purpose either. The point is that they understand each other".[50]

Skam has been recognised for its contributions to promote Norwegian language and culture, and to foster affinity between Nordic countries. In December 2016, the Nordic Association awarded Skam the annual Nordic Language Prize for its ability to engage a young Nordic audience, connecting with young people across the Nordic region and fostering positive attitudes about the region's neighbouring languages.[51] In April 2017, Skam and its creator Julie Andem were awarded the Peer Gynt Prize, an award given to a person or institution that has had a positive impact on society and made Norway famous abroad.[52][53] The show also led to popularisation of the word , which was noted by the Norwegian Language Council in 2016 when it chose it as one of the words of the year.[54]

In June 2017, just prior to the show's ending, Aftenposten published a report featuring interviews with many well-known Norwegian television creators, writers and directors, all praising Skam showrunner Julie Andem for her creative work on the show. Praise was directed at the series' "unpolished" nature, her ability to maintain "such a high level of quality over a long period of time", the series' blend of different sexualities and ethnicities and use of dialogue to resolve issues, and the show's compassion, thereby its ability to truly capture its generational audience.[55]

The show's series finale received positive reviews. Vilde Sagstad Imeland of Verdens Gang praised the final clip for being a "worthy and emotional ending".[56] Cecilie Asker of Aftenposten wrote that "The very last episode of Skam leaves us with a big sorrow, a sore loss, and a craving for more. It couldn't have been better."[57]

On 1 July 2017, during the celebration of Oslo Pride, Skam, its creator Julie Andem, and actors Tarjei Sandvik Moe, Henrik Holm and Carl Martin Eggesbø were awarded the "Fryd" award, an award given to persons or organizations that break the norms in gender and sexuality in a positive manner.[58][59]

In February 2018, Prince William and his wife Catherine, members of the British royal family, visited the Hartvig Nissen school to meet with the cast and learn more about Skam, its impact on the actors' lives and to discuss youth and mental health.[60]

Starting with season three, the show attracted an international audience, and NRK was therefore heavily asked to add English subtitles to the Skam episodes online. The requests were declined due to the license for the music presented throughout the series being restricted to a Norwegian audience, and that easy availability outside Norway would violate the terms of NRK's license agreements. An attorney for NRK elaborated that YouTube videos featuring more than 50% original Skam content would be automatically removed.[61] When denied official subtitling, fans started making their own translations of the episodes into several world languages, greatly expanding the online fanbase.[62] Norwegian viewers were quick to share translated clips quickly after availability through Google Drive, and also started blogs to cover additional material and language courses to explain Norwegian slang.[62][63]

By the end of 2016, Skam had been trending globally several times on Twitter and Tumblr, and its Facebook, Instagram and Vine presence grew rapidly.[63] On social media, fandoms developed creative paintings, screensavers, phone covers, and fan videos.[63][64][65] Filming locations, including Sagene Church,[66] and the Hartvig Nissen school, were visited by fans, and the actors were receiving worldwide attention.[62] After being featured in an episode in the third season, Gabrielle's song "5 fine frøkner" saw a 3,018 percent increase in listening on Spotify, with over 13 million streams and, at one point, rising to eighth place on the Swedish top music rankings.[67] Its social media popularity continued into its fourth season in April 2017, with over 20,000 tweets containing #skamseason4 registered in 24 hours at the time of season four's first clip, a substantial portion of which originated from the United States.[68]

In January 2017, Skam was geoblocked for foreign viewers. NRK attorney Kari Anne Lang-Ree stated that "NRK has a right to publish content to the Norwegian audience and foreign countries. The music industry is reacting to the fact that many international viewers are listening to music despite NRK not having international licensing deals. NRK takes the concerns from the music industry seriously. We are in dialogue with [the music industry] to find a solution".[69] NRK stated that "We want to thank our international fans and followers who have embraced SKAM. We are blown away by your dedication – it is something we never expected. That is why it hurts to tell you guys that due to a necessary clarification with the music right holders, SKAM will until further notice not be available outside Norway. We are working hard to figure out how to solve this issue so that the fans can continue to enjoy SKAM from where they are".[69] When the fourth season premiered in April, the geoblock was removed for Nordic countries.[20]

The series has received significant attention from international media publications for its unique distribution model of real-time snippet-based information.[65][70][71][72]

Anna Leszkiewicz of New Statesman posted in March 2017 that she considered Skam "the best show on TV", highlighting the second season's handling of sexual assault. She praised the series for avoiding "shocking, gratuitous rape scenes", instead focusing on a single hand gesture by abuser Nico as a sign of predatory behavior. However, Leszkiewicz criticized the show for taking the "escape route", in which Noora finds the courage to speak to another girl who was at the party, who insists that, while Noora and Nico were in bed together, no sexual intercourse took place. Leszkiewicz commented that "So many women go through what Noora went through in Skam. Most of them don't get offered the same escape route. Instead, they have to live with the shame and confusion of an "ambiguous" assault."[73] The same month, Elite Daily's Dylan Kickham wrote that the international fanbase for Skam on social media was "much larger than I ever would have predicted", with major fan groups on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. He credited the third season's storyline of homosexuality, calling it "incredibly intimate and profound", particularly praising a scene featuring a conversation about flamboyant attitudes between main character Isak and supporting character Eskild. While acknowledging highlights of the past two seasons, Kickham explained that "season three stands above the rest by shining a light on aspects of sexuality that are very rarely depicted in mainstream media", praising Eskild's "magnificent and timely take on the toxic 'masc-for-masc' discrimination within the gay community" in response to Isak's homophobic comments. "It's these small, incisive moments that show just how much Skam understands and cares about the issues it portrays", explained Kickham.[74]

In March 2017, voters of E! Online's poll regarding "Top Couple 2017" declared characters Isak and Even, main stars of the show's third season, the winners.[75] Verdens Gang wrote in April that Skam had become popular in China, where publicly discussing homosexuality is illegal. It reported that almost four million Chinese people had watched the third season through piracy and a total of six million had watched all episodes so far translated to Chinese. The report also stated that NRK has no plans to stop piracy in China, and NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet told Verdens Gang that "It was Isak and Even that captured a young Chinese audience. There's a lot of censorship in China, and they are role models and have a relationship that Chinese people have a need to see."[76]

Anna Leszkiewicz wrote three more articles on Skam and its impact between April and December 2017. In the first report, she credited the series for having tackled multiple difficult topics with the use of universal emotions like loneliness rather than issue-based strategies.[62] In the second, she specifically focused on the series' ending, noting that it originally had nine characters designed to each lead a season, and quoted fans with the sentiment that "It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn't serve the storyline at all." Acknowledging the pressure of the show's global popularity as potentially a key element to end Skam, Leszkiewicz highlighted some fans' disapproval of the storylines presented towards the ending; season four's main character Sana, a member of the Muslim religion who had been under-represented in the series, had a shorter amount of focus in her season than other main characters had at their respective times; the final moments of the series focused on short stories by characters not given their own season, one of which told the story of a minor character without significant relevancy to the series; and a lackluster conversation about Islamophobia between Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend Isak. Leszkiewicz quoted disgruntled fans, one of which said that "Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better".[77] Finally, in her last report, she focused on Skam's legacy as an American adaption was in production. NRK P3 editorial chief Håkon Moslet told her that "There was a lot of piracy", acknowledging that the show's global popularity was the result of fans illegally distributing content through Google Drive, though adding "But we didn't mind". Producer and project manager Marianne Furevold explained that "We were given a lot of time to do so much research, and I think that's a huge part of the success that we see today with Skam", referencing extensive in-depth interviews, attending schools and youth clubs, and immersing into teenagers' online lives, something that she did not think would have been possible with a commercial network. In regards to ending the series after its fourth season, while its popularity peaked, Moslet told Leszkiewicz that writer Julie Andem spent an enormous amount of time developing the series; "It was kind of an extreme sport to make, this series, especially for her. It was her life, 24/7, for two and a half years. It was enough, I think. And she wanted to end on a high. So that's the reason. I think it was the right thing". Andem had posted on Instagram that she "wouldn't have been able to make a season five as good as it deserved to be", though she had also written that she didn't want to give away the producing job of the American version, opting to take on the responsibility of that adaptation. That decision itself disgruntled fans, who "found her decision to leave the Norwegian series just to take on another huge commitment with the American show disappointing". Moslet praised the series' diverse set of characters, concluding with the statement that "At a time of confusion and intolerance, it seems more important than ever" for content creators to embrace diversity and reject intolerant attitudes.[78]

In December 2017, Tumblr released its list of the most talked-about shows of the year on its platform, with Skam topping the chart as number one, outranking hugely successful American series, such as Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and The Walking Dead.[79]

SKAM has been the subject of numerous academic studies. Vilde Schanke Sundet argues that the real-time quality of shows like SKAM help broadcasters to reconnect with younger audiences,[80] and has examined viewers motives for engaging with the community online.[81] Other scholars, such as Tore Rye Andersen and Sara Tanderup Linkis, analyse the narrative effect of what Ruth Page[disambiguation needed] calls "real-time narration", while Jill Walker Rettberg analysed the use of social media narrative to include the viewer in a "we-narrative", a collective narration that emphasises the group above the individual.[82]

In December 2016, Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment production company signed a deal with NRK to produce an American version of the series, then-titled Shame.[89][90] Development of the series continued in the following months, with a title change to SKAM Austin, casting calls taking place,[91] and the announcement that Austin would air on Facebook's "Facebook Watch" original video platform[92][93] and on the original's series network, NRK. It premiered in April 2018[94] and has been renewed for a second season.[95]

In April 2017, the Danish theatre Aveny-T was reported to have acquired exclusive rights to produce a stage version of Skam. Four different performances will be made, one for each season, with the first show having taken place in Copenhagen on 15 September 2017,[96][97] and the remaining three performances produced once a year through the year 2020.[98]

In September 2017, French entertainment website AlloCiné reported on the imminent production of a French remake of the series.[99]

In October 2017, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter reported that local adaptations of Skam would be produced in five European countries; Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. NRK CEO Thor Gjermund Eriksen said in a statement that "We are very excited about the tremendous interest that Skam/Shame has generated outside of Norway. The creators of Skam aimed to help 16-year-old-girls strengthen their self-esteem through dismantling taboos, making them aware of interpersonal mechanisms and showing them the benefits of confronting their fears. This is a vision we are proud to bring to other countries".[100] Variety notes that each local production will be required to do its own local research into the dilemmas and dreams of its teenagers, rather than copying the original Norwegian production.[101] In October 2018, Belgium began airing its own adaptation.[102] On 3 April 2019, the educational Swedish broadcasting channel UR began broadcasting the first seasons of Druck (as Skam Deutschland), Skam España, and Skam France.[103]

Having achieved success, multiple remakes have been renewed for additional seasons, progressing in development at different speeds.[104]

In September 2018, Julie Andem announced on her Instagram account that, in coordination with Norwegian book publishing company Armada Forlag, four Skam books, one for each season of the series, would be released to the public, including original, unedited manuscripts, featuring scenes that were never filmed, lines that were later cut, as well as Andem's personal comments and thoughts. The first book, focusing on season one, was made available for purchase on the day of the announcement, on Monday, 3 September 2018. In the press release from Armada Forlag, Andem said that "Releasing these unedited scripts, including typos and nerd comments, is right at the edge of my comfort zone", while adding that "I hope people think it's fun to read the scripts, and that maybe someone gets inspired to write themselves". Jonas Forsang, chairman of Armada Forlag, said that "This is not just TV-history, this is major literature". Norwegian press company Aftenposten noted at the time that the timeline for the release of the three remaining books was unclear.[105]

A few days later, Andem signed a book contract with Swedish publishing company Salomonsson Agency, which included rights for the agency to distribute the Skam books outside of Norway. CEO Julia Angelin told Verdens Gang that "We are incredibly proud to be working with the genius Julie Andem. She has changed the entire Scandinavian culture", and added that "It will be incredibly fun to build her career as an author with this unique project. We have only seen the beginning". The report from Verdens Gang also stated that the first book had been sold "at record tempo" since its release just three days earlier, and that all four Skam books will be released before the 2018 Christmas holiday period. Andem told the publication that "The Skam fans are, as I've expressed before, "the coolest fanbase on earth". And they are always very enthusiastic and thankful. That is nice and moving". A later update to the same article clarified that the book had "already" been distributed to Finland and Sweden, without details of further distribution. Website Books From Norway, which provides English-language information on Norwegian literature, states that rights for international book release have also been sold to Denmark through the Høst & Søn agency, Italy through the Giunti agency, Poland through the Rebis agency, and Russia through the Popcorn Books agency, though the website does not specify release dates.[107]