Due to the corona, visitors are not allowed to enter the Meret Oppenheim high-rise in Basel, the seat of the SRF cultural department. That is why the interview with boss Susanne Wille (47) takes place in the auditorium on the ground floor, where she wants to launch public events with Kultur this year if the pandemic situation allows. Proximity to the audience is still important to the former “10 to 10” presenter.
Ms. Wille, you were on screen for decades before you took up your new office in the summer of 2020. Didn’t the last election Sunday awaken any longings?
Susanne Wille: Last Sunday was exemplary for my new life. As a political journalist, I’ve always been very interested in culture. And as the head of culture, I’m still interested in politics now. I was at the Zurich Film Festival that morning. In the afternoon and the evening before, we followed the election and voting programs. And then came the first two episodes of “Neumatt”, all on the same day. I used to be able to moderate everything that is exciting in the field of politics. And now I have a new, responsible job as Head of Culture that I find very fulfilling.
How does the audience react to your new role? Are you still receiving fan mail?
(Laughs.) If you’re in prime time, people are familiar with you. What I am pleased now is that a lot of people know what I am doing today and are increasingly asking me about cultural content, giving feedback on a DOK film, a “context” on Radio SRF 2 Kultur or a “great moment”.
This is Susanne Wille
Susanne Wille (47) from Aargau studied journalism, history and English. She also worked as a flight attendant at Swissair before becoming a video journalist for the Aargau broadcaster Tele M1 in 1999. From 2001 to 2011 she presented “10 to 10”. Then she became a parliamentary correspondent and worked for the “Rundschau” newspaper. In 2016 she returned to “10 to 10”. In spring 2020, she stopped there because she was promoted to SRF culture director. She is married to “Tagesschau” presenter Franz Fischlin (57) and has two sons and a daughter with him.
Susanne Wille (47) from Aargau studied journalism, history and English. She also worked as a flight attendant at Swissair before becoming a video journalist for the Aargau broadcaster Tele M1 in 1999. From 2001 to 2011 she presented “10 to 10”. She then became a parliamentary correspondent and worked for the “Rundschau” newspaper. In 2016 she returned to “10 to 10”. In spring 2020, she stopped there because she was promoted to SRF culture director. She is married to “Tagesschau” presenter Franz Fischlin (57) and has two sons and a daughter with him.
What do people want from you?
I get a lot of letters and I try to answer most of them personally. I appreciate the dialogue and the exchange with the viewer, the listener. What strikes me: People want to be classified, and that’s where the science department in the department is challenged. To meet this need competently and to be able to provide this classification is a core task for us.
You have already mentioned the new SRF series “Neumatt”. The last two of eight episodes ran on Thursday. Satisfied?
We are far more than satisfied, we are enthusiastic. Admittedly, we were a bit nervous before the launch. On the one hand, “Neumatt” is not a simple subject and on the other hand we played at full risk with the dense broadcast mode. Now all of our expectations have been clearly exceeded. At the start on Sunday we had a market share of almost 40 percent; the average for all eight episodes was 33.2 percent. We would not have dared to dream of that at the beginning of the week.
The timing and type of broadcast within four days was a risk. Would you have been able to do more with other programming?
A legitimate question. We hardly think so. The current numbers far exceed our expectations. We thought about it well and for a long time. Ultimately, we decided to give the audience the opportunity to follow the series linearly within a few days. It seems important to me to try something out, to see how the viewing habits of the TV audience have changed. And we wanted to set an example. On SRF 1 we dedicated the whole week to “Neumatt”. The first numbers prove us right. The audience stayed with the show all week. We are now curious to see how much «Neumatt» is also used online.
The script draft for “Neumatt” comes from Petra Volpe, she has already written “Peace” and also provided the material for the film “The Golden Years”. Other names also appear frequently in fictional SRF projects. Some people smell nepotism there …
Petra Volpe’s example in particular shows that our strategy is working. She wrote for us long before she became known as “The Divine Order”. We accompany authors over a longer period of time and strive for continuous collaboration. Simone Schmid is also a name. She is writing the new Basel crime series by Michael Steiner, but has also worked for the “Undertaker” with Mike Müller. This pattern can also be seen in the “Tschugger” series, which starts in November. The craft of writing a series for television is incredibly complex and demanding – being interested in a longer collaboration is obvious and makes sense. All the better when it bears fruit, as with «Neumatt». It is important to be broad, with new talents and established authors.
What is the truth of the rumors that the fourth season of the hit hit «Wilder», which will be released this winter, will also be the last?
In season 4, investigator Rosa Wilder will return to Oberwies in January 2022, where the story began. This closes a circle. Which suggests the series is coming to an end here.
So actually the end?
For now, we’re assuming the series will end there. Even with the “Undertaker”, our motto was “Stop when it’s at its best”. We always want to create space for new things. And as the current example of “Neumatt” proves, the audience is also curious about new characters and new stories. But the crime audience will continue to get their money’s worth with us. We are planning the new crime series from Basel for 2022.
At the Swiss “Tatort”, the change from Lucerne to Zurich was reduced to one sequence per year in order to save money. SRF boss Nathalie Wappler has promised a return to two cases. What’s the status?
From 2022 we will again show two episodes a year. But at ARD there was an overhang of films due to many Corona-delayed filming. In consultation with our ARD colleagues, we decided to push our next “crime scene” into the new year. Episode 3 will run in March 2022, Episode 4 in the second half of 2022. Then we’ll be back on track.
You had to take a lot of criticism for episode 2, “Chocolate Bar”. Her reaction?
The episode has polarized. There were positive and critical reactions. We decided to invest even more in script development, to take a closer look. How can we make the arc of suspense easier? What can we change in the assembly? The tonality? The way of telling the story? We were and are very self-critical – and are now looking forward to the broadcast of the third episode.
You recently emphasized that there will be as many women as men in front of the camera in future episodes.
Equality and equal opportunities are very important to me. We measure the gender ratio in scripts or in production and also pay attention to diversity in front of the camera. But more can and should be done here: We are currently working on a checklist with the Swiss film industry to raise awareness of the topic of diversity. We expect a lot from this.
And what about your department in this regard?
We have a high part-time share of 85 percent at SRF Kultur. In addition to the ratio of women to men, it is an important benchmark for the compatibility of family and work. We currently have 60 percent women and 40 percent men, also in management positions. When I started, it was exactly the opposite in the management team. I pay attention to equal opportunities when filling vacancies, I am often in conversation with women and encourage them to take on responsibility, also to lead projects and to experience what it means to lead a team. For me, equality is a matter close to my heart in the company, but also in the program. In your company (Ringier) this initiative is called «EqualVoice», in our case «Chance 50:50». We want to increase the visibility and audibility of experts and interlocutors in the program and measure how many women have their say in our programs on a monthly basis. I am pleased that the numbers are increasing all the time.
After about a year you now have a good overview. What are your biggest construction sites for the near future?
It is nothing new that the pace in the media industry is fast. What my teams do every day for an output, parallel to saving and downsizing, parallel to digitization, transformation and developing new offers, is really demanding. On the one hand, we are launching new offers, such as the new digital sustainability and climate format “SRF Co2ntrol” this summer or daily cultural reporting on Instagram at @srfkultur. The task now is to check their response and to push them further. In addition to the digital, we must not forget the linear. For example, how are we redesigning the TV program “Kulturplatz”? I am looking forward to this trip. We have to try, we have to be brave. If something doesn’t work, I’ll be happy to stand here and take responsibility. If it works, it should be the team’s credit.
The pandemic has boosted TV consumption. At your home too?
Not really. For us, the difficulty or challenge is to combine the interests of three children aged 10, 14 and 16 when choosing. Sometimes it takes as long as the film itself (laughs). But we enjoy the time together and discuss what we have seen. But we also like to do something together. So we went to an art exhibition together last weekend.
Which films do the children want to watch?
With the selection you get to know the basic democratic principles, so to speak (smiles). It’s almost like a consultation: the oldest child has to give in because the action film doesn’t score the most, and the youngest. We always find a compromise without ending up with the same genre every time.
Did you actually set yourself a deadline when you took office?
That would contradict my nature. I want to move something, change something. I see what it means to take responsibility in a digital transformation. That means: getting involved every day and standing up in case of problems. Clarify, listen, understand and make decisions. And although it takes a broad back, I feel it is a privilege to be able to create something in such a time. If I were to say up to this point and no further, that would be absolutely the wrong way of thinking. I am on the road with a lot of energy and have a lot more plans with my team.