Czech TV serials
Besides movies for children, TV serials were another very successful arena of the Czech production. Although first Czech serials were made in early 60's, the "Czech(oslovak) serial culture" actually started in early 70's, with the success of such titles like Pan Tau (Mr. Tau) and Nemocnice na kraji města (The Hospital In The Outskirts Of The Town). Here the cooperation with West German producers also began, and the fruits of this collaboration include - I can perhaps say legendary - serials like Návštěvníci (The Visitors), Lucie, postrach ulice (Lucie, The Terror To The Street) or Arabela. The contribution of Slovaks was limited; in fact, I only remember two Slovak serials for children worthy of note: Spadla z neba (She Has Fallen From Heaven, 1978) and Safari (1986).
The list of Czech(oslovak) serials that ran on foreign TVs until 2003 (after http://f22.parsimony.net) may not be entirely complete, because I think that in Australia, there have run at least two serials, but Australia has only one serial on this list. The number of serials running on German TVs may seem suspiciously high, but it certainly consists of many animated serials for children that were produced in large masses. As the enumeration also suggests, the Czech(oslovak) serial success was limited to neighbouring regions of Central Europe. However, it's curious that while some European countries completely ignored Czech production (Great Britain, Italy), the "Top Ten" includes Japan and Taiwan.
|1.||East Germany (until 1991)||113|
|2.||Germany (since 1992)||55|
|3.||West Germany (until 1991)||38|
The title melody: http://filmovezvuky.ic.cz/mp3/17_pan_tau.mp3
Třicet případů majora Zemana (Thirty Cases of Major Zeman, 1974-1979)
(Thirty Cases Of Major Zeman)
Direction: Jiří Sequens. Screenplay: Jiří Sequens + various authors. Music: Zdeněk Liška. Cast: Vladimír Brabec (major Zeman), Renáta Doležalová (Lída-his first wife), Jaroslava Obermaierová (Blanka), Ivana Andrlová (Lída-daughter), Rudolf Jelínek (major Hradec), František Němec (colonel Žitný), Ladislav Mrkvička (lieutenant Stejskal), Emil Horváth (lieutenant Gajdoš), Vladimír Ráž (dr Veselý), Miloš Willig (colonel Kalina), Josef Větrovec (major Pavlásek), Radoslav Brzobohatý (Bláha) + other actors.
Fan-club of Major Zeman
This title is certainly no jewel in the Czech serial archive, but it's mainly due to its pro-communistic, propagandistic purpose. Otherwise it is one of the most demanding projects in the history of Czech cinematography with a very interesting idea - the authors decided to map a life's career of a fictious policeman, who gradually gets from a local service to the highest ranks among Czech police. The history of the serial begins in 1945, when young Jan Zeman returns from a concentration camp and comes to his native village just at the moment, when his father is killed by an unknown murderer. The official police investigation fails, but Zeman is determined to find the murderer on his own. His risky attempt is successful and he decides to join police service. In the wild years after the World War, he serves in a little village near the German border, and proves his qualities during investigation of many dramatic criminal cases. In 1948, he stands up for the communists during the February revolution, and subsequently is invited by his friends from the concentration camp, now policemen in Prague, to serve in the capital, and again, he proves excellent qualities and advances in police ranks. During 50's, much of the time is devoted to Zeman's deathmatch with his former chief, now the biggest enemy, Western spy Bláha, that ends with the death of Zeman's wife. During 60's, we again watch a lot of espionage stories in the Western Berlin. At this time, Zeman becomes the chief of all police chiefs in Prague and meets his former girl-friend Blanka, who substitutes mother to his little daughter Lída. In 1968 he is temporarily suspended, but after the comeback of his red friends he again returns to the office.
In Czech republic, there is a very tense debate around this serial, especially after its recent two repeats. Some people are very angry that this "communistic excavation" finds its way on TV and threaten with lawsuits; other create passionate fan-clubs and organize public projections. Therefore, there exist a wide variety of extreme opinions and some of them lead to grotesqueness. This discrepancy mainly results from two problems: on one hand, a very visible propaganda (tearing ears sometimes); on the other hand, a good craftmanship of the director Sequens, who was very skillful in creating tense, rough atmosphere, and his hand especially excelled in parts like Studna (The Well). Besides that, the soundtrack of Zdeněk Liška is really legendary. However, one must confess that the quality of the serial is not ever good; in fact, it is very changeable. The first ca. ten parts are located in the "wild" border area, full of murders and dramatic events - and this is also obviously Sequens' area. The second series (from mid 50's to mid 60's) got on footage and are mostly a step back - sometimes entertaining, but often too long and boring, with abortive and embarrassing dialogues. It is here, when the propaganda started to be visible - especially due to many spy stories, where the leading bad guy Bláha stars. The third series largely continue in this trend, with the "top" in 1968, when we watch a conspiracy of all anticommunistic forces against Zeman's pure character. However, in the end of the serial, we can find quite interesting exceptions like the above mentioned Studna, a drama of a kidnapped airplane in Mimikry (Mimicry), or exotic adventures of Zeman's colleague, scout Hradec, in South America (Rukojmí v Bella Vista/The Captive In Bella Vista), that were filmed in Cuba.
It is important to note that many stories in this serial were based on true cases from the Czech criminal history - thus Zeman is infiltrated among a band of banderites in summer 1947 (Rubínové kříže/Ruby Crosses), pursues a ruthless gang murdering people fleeing from the communistic country across Šumava marshes in 1948 (Bestie/The Beast), is a witness of the massacre of communistic leaders in Babice 1953 (Vrah se skrývá v poli/The Murderer Hides In The Field), goes after bloody traces of the Mašín brothers, the infamously famous "anticommunistic heroes", who riddled their way to Western Germany (Strach/The Fear), investigates a brutal murder of a woman in late 50's (Kvadratura ženy/The Quadruple Of A Woman), reveals the background of a family tragedy in Zvonokosy 1969 (Studna/The Well), and eventually seeks a way, how to prevent a group of drug addicts from kidnapping an airplane in Mimikry.
I should add that this serial project was the life's role of Vladimír Brabec (*1934), an excellent characterful actor, who, unfortunatelly, didn't have enough opportunities to use his qualities in praxis. As he himself said, the problematic role of Major Zeman "was of those that you can't refuse". By the way, the role was originally offered to Radoslav Brzobohatý, which suggests that the first intentions of authors were to create something like "a socialist action hero". But later, Brzobohatý got the role of the badman Bláha and the "action hero" Zeman was casted by a "more humanly-looking" Brabec. Since in many parts, the story turns around Zeman's "action colleague" major Hradec (performed by Rudolf Jelínek), I suspect the authors that they overwrote the screenplay and originally Zeman's (Brzobohatý's) parts were assigned to Jelínek.
(in Germany also known as: Die Märchenbraut)
Direction: Václav Vorlíček. Screenplay: Miloš Macourek, Václav Vorlíček. Music: Luboš Fišer. Cast: Vladimír Menšík (Mr. Majer), Stella Zázvorková (Mrs. Majer), Jana Nagyová (Arabela), Vladimír Dlouhý (Petr Majer), Jiří Lábus (Rumburak), Vlastimíl Brodský (Fairy king Hyacint), Jana Brejchová (Fairy Queen), Dagmar Patrasová (princess Xenie), Oldřich Vízner (prince Willibald), Jiří Sovák (wizzard Vigo), Ondřej Kepka (Honzík Majer), Veronika Týblová (Mařenka Hermannová), Jiří Hrzán (TV assistant Gross), František Filipovský (the devil), Iva Janžurová (Miss Müller), Jana Andresíková (the witch), Ladislav Županič (Mr. Hermann), Jana Drbohlavová (Mrs. Hermann), Josef Dvořák (the merman) and many others.
Well, where to begin? Mr. Majer is an occasional film extra and once he takes part in a western about Indians. During digging in one scene, he accidentally finds a magic bell. He rings it, and the ringing calls a strangely looking man in a long coat, who introduces himself as Rumburak, a wizard of the second class from the World of fairy-tales, and asks him for some wish that he could satisfy. Mr. Majer is at first confused, but eventually accepts Rumburak's help, because he was at the fair and learned that he can't shoot at the target. Rumburak takes him into the World of fairy-tales - an ideal place for shooting practice - , but the first target that Mr. Majer successfully hits is a wolf from the Little Red Riding Hood fairy-tale. For Rumburak, it's a tragedy, because they were caught in the act by princess Arabela, who promises him big problems with her royal father. Rumburak is then really punished and, being changed into a wolf, he is to substitute the killed canine in the above mentioned fairy-tale. But Rumburak is determined to take revenge, finds an old witch, who changes him back into a wizard, and together they find an old castle in an impenetrable forest, where they start to plan their vengeance - to both the royal family and Mr. Majer... Oooh, this is only a plot of two parts - if I continued, it would be the most extensive description on the whole website!
Really, Arabela is the top of Miloš Macourek's fancy, a serial crammed by a lot of humour, action, but also romance and thrill. Deservedly, Arabela also won big success abroad, especially in West Germany, and ran even on Taiwanese TV. Note also the actor's cast - perhaps the best cast that has ever appeared in any Czech film or serial project. But I think that to fully appreciate this serial, you must see it as a child, because basically, it's a fairy-tale for children. As an adult, I can't accept some logical simplifications that I didn't see as a child.
In 1984, the authors made a free continuation called Rumburak. They allegedly wanted to "honour a debt" to children, who sympathized with the unhappy fate of Rumburak. Here the bad wizard "enjoys" his punishment in the Human world, where he was left and changed into a raven. Yet every night he changes into a human. Soon he falls in love with beautiful girl Helenka that is tempted by bad, technically oriented engeneer Zachariáš hating animals. The duel between Rumburak and Zachariáš tops, when Zachariáš steals a magic formula that enables transporting people and animals into the Fairy World. Zachariáš uses it according to his gust and sends there one animal after another, including his human enemies. Soon the Fairy World resembles a zoo and Rumburak, who found the good in his heart, decides to stop it and get the heart of his beloved Helenka.
While this continuation was quite entertaining, one can't say the same about the continuation of Arabela filmed in early 90's - Arabela se vrací (Arabela Comes Back, 1994). Frankly, it was the biggest failure in the career of Miloš Macourek, who was trapped into this flop by German producers. From the beginning, it was a big fault that Macourek and Vorlíček began to make Arabela without Arabela - Jana Nagyová refused the role because of too low a fee, and she did a good thing. The role of Arabela was thus offered to Miroslava Šafránková (who was to get this role in the first series already). As soon as after three parts one film critic called it "an extended mash" - which was true. The plot was weak and almost tragicomical (Rumburak must have been again changed into "a bad wizard"; Honzík and Mařenka relate about their adventures in the Fairy world at the university and are charged with an exploratory journey there; Petr Majer is fired from his job, after his genial anti-gravity machine damages his chief's car! etc. etc.), suggesting that Macourek desperately "cooked from water". The lack of a good story was substituted by a flood of modern tricks, but it obviously wasn't enough to save the final result. Globally said, this continuation should have never been made, because it damaged the renomée of the first series.
The title melody from
And a short video. How it all actually began... (dubbed in German)
The title melody: http://filmovezvuky.fdb.cz/navstevnici/zvuky/navstevnici_uvod.mp3
The final melody: http://filmovezvuky.ic.cz/mp3/02_navstevnici.mp3
Czech fan page: http://www.akademik.cz/navstevnici/galerie.htm
German fan page: www.geocities.com/phonik2/adam
Although after 1989, Czech serials are probably not much sold abroad, I think that it's worth mentioning to list several titles that won big popularity.
Život na zámku (1995-1999)
(Life At The Palace)
Direction: Jaroslav Hanuš. Screenplay: Jan Míka. Cast: Tomáš Töpfer (Přemysl Král), Kateřina Macháčková (Marie Králová, his wife), Kateřina Hrachovcová (Simona Králová, daughter), Petr Rajchert (Otakar Král, son), Jiřina Jirásková (the grandmother), Pavel Soukup (teacher Mára), Jana Synková (director Kocourková), Lenka Termerová (teacher Nováková), Vlastimil Brodský (Mr. Vaněk), Stella Zázvorková (Andulka Šafářová), Kateřina Brožová (Renáta, the secretary), Jan Čenský (dr. Bohata), Klára Jandová (his daughter), Jiří Zahajský (Hruška), Saša Rašilov (Hruška's son), Bronislav Poloczek (Pešák).
The most successful Czech serial after 1989 - perhaps only with the exception of Pojišťovna štěstí (The Insurance of Happiness). After a sudden downfall of the Czech serial production in early 90's, both Czech TVs (TV Nova and Czech TV) made attempts at a revival. While private TV Nova experimented with a project of the first Czech sitcom, public Czech TV has eventually given precedence to a "traditional" Czech serial that was written by a little known screenwriter Jan Míka. The result? The "sitcom" of TV Nova totally bombed, while the new serial of Czech TV Život na zámku (Life At The Palace) recorded the biggest success in the modern history.
In short, the serial relates about a family of stomatologist Král that lives in a small flat in the street called "Na zámku" (At The Palace). Since their living conditions are no more sustainable, they are looking for some bigger flat. After many escapades, when a chance for getting a new housing seems improbable, they unexpectedly inherit a big castle that was donated to their grandmother by the dead castle owner. Obviously, it was no coincidence, because the relationship of the grandmother to the castle lord was once closer than normally close, and her son thus posess the "blue blood". After the first 26 parts that were very successful, the creators decided to make continuation that was devoted to the fates of Král's family in their "new house". However, the TV rating of these new series decreased and the Králs were forced to lose their castle seat and to get closer to problems of "normal people". In the last 12 parts, attention was drawn to the family of Mrs. Král's brother, and I think that it was the right time to finish.
The serial "Život na zámku" undoubtedly brought many positive things. Above all, it actually "discovered" Jan Míka, whose story-line is characterized by interesting, unexpectedly changing plot filled with nice humour. The serial also discovered a new TV star with big comedial talent - Kateřina Hrachovcová (Král's daughter Simona). Another young actress, Kateřina Brožová, subsequently became a sex symbol of many Czech men. And it also meant the top of the actor's career of Tomáš Töpfer, and a big comeback for actress Kateřina Macháčková, whose grace was not adequately used in Czech cinema during her girl's years. Unfortunately, some other things don't seem too perfect to me - especially unbalanced dramaturgy. For example, the screenwriter "killed" a boyfriend of Simona (he died from cancer), which doesn't fit into the comedial atmosphere of the whole project. In some other part, he devotes a lot of time to Simona's unsuccessful attempt to get to the university, and in one part later, her successful admission is briefly "announced" in one sentence. But in general, it was a pleasant revival of the Czech serial, and it also began a successful career of Jan Míka that continued in serial projects like Šípková Růženka (Sleeping Beauty), Náměstíčko (The Square) and Náves (The Village Square).
Rodinná pouta (2004-2005)
The big final wedding between Cinderella-Eva Pokorná (Klára Jandová) and her "prince" Adam Rubeš (Tomáš Krejčíř) successfully closed the first 100 parts of the "neverending" TV novel
Direction: Mojmír Kučera, Jan Sládek, Zdeněk Švarc. Screenplay: Jitka Bártů, Kateřina Bártů. Cast: Tomáš Krejčíř (Adam Rubeš), Klára Jandová (Eva Pokorná), Dana Morávková (Andrea Lišková), Roman Štolpa (MUDr. Liška), Jan Révai (ing. Krátký), Jan Kačer (František Rubeš), Lenka Termerová (Jiřina Rubešová), Milena Steinmasslová (Jana Prchalová), Zdeňka Volencová (Ivana Kučerová-Hrušková), Zuzana Dřízhalová (Marcela Rubešová), Otto Kalus (Filip Rubeš), Jana Ivanovic-Infeldová (Markéta Prchalová), Alice Bendová (Simona Pražáková) and many others.
"The first Czech soap opera" produced by private TV Prima, appeared on Czech TV screens in early spring 2004 and soon became the most successful project of its maternal TV. The screenplay was written by two sisters-twins Bártůs, who studied screenwriting in Los Angeles, and after their return to Czech republic, they offered a story that strongly resembles the traditional fairy-tale motive about poor Cinderella and a rich prince: Eva Pokorná lives with her stepmother in a small flat and their financial situation is usually very tense. Once Eva visits a little shop and pays few crowns for a sympathetic youngster, who obviously forgot money at home. Eva has no idea that the young man without money, Adam Rubeš, is son of a rich owner of a glass facory, but he himself don't want to betray it, when he invits her to drink, because he is afraid that she would love him only because of money. After several months, Adam learns that Eva is a very good and sincere girl, and tells her the truth - to her immense shock, of course. In the meantime, on the background of their love story, we also watch events in the house of Rubeš family, the marriage conflict between Adam's sister, insidious Andrea "J. R." Rubešová and her flirtatious husband, the artistic attempts of another Adam's brother Filip, the unsuccessful "hunting" of an ideal partner that undertakes Adam's second sister Ivana, or intriques of ambitious "badman" of the glass firm, ing. Krátký.
Frankly, it is not easy to evaluate qualities of this serial; on the one hand, it enjoys big popularity in the country and many less known actors, who took part in it, became very known persona of Czech show business. On the other hand, I can't leave aside that it is no artistic masterpiece. Some roles are very badly chosen, some less known, unexperienced actors act affectedly and unnaturally, the psychology of title heroes and their incredible decisions and escapades is a cathegory for itself. Not speaking about the direction (in TV properties) that often works strangely. But in general, my attitude to Family Ties is not negative. It was aimed to public loving romantic stories and furthermore, it gave opportunities to many young, unknown actors, who had a chance to show their qualities (the performer of Ivana was nominated for the annual award "The Newcomer Of The Year 2004"). Klára Jandová, the performer of Eva, was an ideal choice because of her romanticly sincere and clean spirit, and thanks to this role, she was symbolicly rewarded for her long-lasting career of a child-star.
The Official Scientific Page > The history of Czech cinema