Mylene, tell us how was The Lice Mother born?
Eight years ago, the director, Jan Albert de Weerd and I were making a youth series (The Year 0). In those days, we ourselves had children in primary schools and we were always crying of laughter when we told each other stories about it. That’s where we came up with the idea of the series. But the Net Manager of NPO3 in those days did not like the idea. Three years ago, we made a pilot together with lead actress Ilse Warringa, and then, Suzanne Kunzeler, the current Net Manager of NPO3, fell for it.
What goals were set for the series before it was launched? What audience did you expect to have in order to call it a success?
The goals we set were just to make a lot of fun while writing and shooting, to make exactly what we had in mind with a small amount of money but a lot of nasty jokes. A carte blanche so to say. We aimed for an audience of young parents (20-34) and we expected 300.000 to 500.000 viewers and we would have been happy with that amount.
Needless to ask if you were surprised by the huge numbers the show got in just a few days. How do you explain this success?
I think the playing around with all prejudices and different mentalities in the Netherlands nowadays, in combination with all these crazy characters in an arena everybody recognizes, suddenly touched the core of Dutch society.
The Lice Mother airs on a youth-skewing channel but it attracted a very wide audience both on TV and online. Can you reveal what is the average profile of the Lice Mother fan?
Funny thing is, there is no such profile. Everybody loves it, and everyone for different reasons.
When did you start receiving the first international calls asking for the format?
A week after airing the first episode.
The format has already been sold in Belgium and Germany. Will it be easy to adapt? How long was the production process for the original series?
I think all story lines and the wide range of characters are easy to adapt. But in every country mentality and prejudices will be different, so they might have to come up with different jokes. We created the series more or less in one year. We started writing in February 2017, and started airing it in January 2018.
When is the second season coming? Is the show going to move to flagship NPO1?
As we told each other over and over again during the hype around our series: ‘Let’s stick to the plan.’ So, we will work on season 2 for a year and it will be aired on NPO3 again. With 4.5 million viewers on average for each episode (including online viewers), there is no need to move the series to NPO1.
Ilse, why did you take this role and did you do anything special to prepare for it?
I’m one of the creators and writers of the show, so it was always clear that this character of Teacher Ank would be played by me. She is a combination of different teachers, my son “endured” during elementary school. The experience of those encounters and my fascination with these women over the years was my preparation.
What makes The Lice Mother so special? And your character in particular?
It feels a little bit like blowing our own horn, but I think The Lice Mother is a success because the behavior displayed is recognizable for everybody. The way the different characters interact in the limited and strict surroundings of a school playground, is a mirror of how people act in the grown-up world and if you put all different types of personalities and their diverse opinions opposite each other, it becomes funny, cringing, and touching at the same time. Teacher Ank is a one of a kind, but the funny thing is, is that everybody, who commented on the series, immediately said that they knew somebody exactly like her.
What did you do when you realized that “a small series on a small channel” all of a sudden has turned into the main talking point of Dutch people?
We all came together to watch Episode 3 and celebrated a little bit, but we were still editing the remaining episodes, so we mostly focused on finishing the series.
What was the most memorable moment for you from the first season?
I think it was during the shooting of Episode 5: Winterklaas. That was very funny, especially the scenes on the school playground. It felt a little bit like a war zone: the war between Minions and Black Pete’s, the war between people who like Winterklaas and those who don’t.
There were reports in the Dutch press that the cast was shocked by the success of the series and refused any press and publicity. Is that true? What changes for you from now on?
Haha, who did you hear this from? To my knowledge that isn’t true and everybody was extremely grateful for the success and responded well to press, but that’s something the network might know more about. We also ended the season with all the actors from The Lice Mother on a famous Dutch evening program (DWDD), so I don’t think there is any merit to that report.
For me it’s back to business. Acting on different shows and writing season two. So much more where this came from, I can’t wait!
How did you discover Lice Mother?
We had heard about BING Film & TV producing a new show for AVROTROS and NPO3 in the Netherlands, and have wanted to work with BING for quite a while. We then also noticed that The Lice Mother premiered in the Netherlands and started to build big audiences every week. It has become NPO3’s highest rating show ever – with audiences of over 5.2 million viewers and a 40% market share – and that definitely gets your attention! Our colleagues at the channels of ProSiebenSat.1, which is the parent company of Red Arrow Studios, also grew interested in the scripted format – and commissioned the show for a local German production for Sat.1.
Have you registered interest from other countries already?
We are launching the series at MIPTV 2018, so are just starting to discuss Lice Mother with international broadcasters. However, the initial feedback has been tremendous, with exceptional interest from broadcasters around the world – particularly in CEE territories. The show’s wild ratings success in the Netherlands – and now commissions in Germany on Sat.1 and Belgium for VTM, means that a show like this is quickly on the radar of broadcasters.
What is the international potential of the format? What will attract buyers to it?
We see big potential for tape sales and the scripted format. Indeed, major broadcasters have already commissioned it. A key factor in the success of Lice Mother is that the show is hilariously funny, and filled with cringe-inducing humor. Another is that viewers can easily relate to the characters and the setting: a primary school – which is a mini-society with its own playground rules, school-gate etiquette, competitive parents, teacher-parent evenings, and – in many countries - the lowest of volunteer jobs: checking the kids for head lice!
The central character is newly divorced mother Hannah, who finds herself alone and thrown into the strange warzone of this school playground. At first, she tries to avoid the ‘mom mafia’ and the weird teaching staff; but she soon finds herself living amongst them: an active member of five group apps, the overseer of the charity pot, and with the dubious honor of being nominated as the official ‘Lice Mother’.
Talent is also key in attracting buyers, and the series pairs director Jan-Albert de Weerd’s signature charm and humor with the writing and production incredible talent behind some of Dutch TV’s biggest drama and comedy successes. Furthermore, the series has been recommissioned in the Netherlands for a second season – which is obviously great in terms of additional episodes as part of a scripted format deal, and also great validation for the show from the originating broadcaster.
It is very rare that a “simple family comedy drama” achieves such high ratings on TV and online. Is this the start of a new international trend?
Let’s hope so! We think that brilliantly-made scripted such as Lice Mother, that comes from exceptional creators and talent, and that has been a massive local success, is always going to be “on trend”.