You’ve probably never heard of Walter Iuzzolino, but if you crave new and exciting independent television, he might be your new best friend.
The “Walter” of Walter Presents is the key figure in curating what he determines to be the best television ever, worldwide, and as of today there’s a new streaming service available to American audiences that will let you discover his picks.
Walter Presents began as a series airing Saturday nights on UK’s Channel 4, featuring the foreign television that Iuzzolino became obsessed with as a child in Italy.
“There, TV is dubbed,” he told IndieWire. “And whilst that’s artistically quite terrible because it means all the actors speak with the same voice, it means that the influx of international drama is much more robust.”
Iuzzolino watched shows from all around the world at an early age, and as an adult, Iuzzolino decided to dedicate himself to the curation of these programs. After years working as a programming executive in the UK, he gave up his job to dedicate himself to the cause of finding the best new television around.
“I spent all my savings, I locked myself up in my kitchen, and I started watching thousands of hours of material from all over the world,” he said — a story you see repeated a lot in the publicity surrounding the Walter Presents brand. But his quick speech and clear passion makes you believe it.
Channel 4 initially began airing Iuzzolino’s picks under the “Walter Presents” brand, later launching the UK version of its SVOD service in January 2016. One landmark program selected by Iuzzolino, “Deutschland 83,” proved his mettle: The period spy drama has played at festivals and won an International Emmy since its initial debut at the Berlin Film Festival, and was the highest-rated foreign language drama in UK TV history.
While the Channel 4 series is still running, the SVOD service has expanded to America as of today — subscription rates begin at $6.99 a month.Launch programming includes 34 series from 12 different countries, and the service will be available on Amazon Video, Google Play, iOS, Android, AppleTV and iTunes.
“My ambition was to create almost a subtitled HBO or subtitled Showtime,” he said.
Iuzzolino isn’t daunted by the idea of trying to convince American audiences to explore television from beyond its borders, because he feels that American audiences “are some of the most culturally progressive in the world, because they understand great quality.” He credited “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” in fact, as proof that Americans can embrace great drama when they see it.
And he even believes that subtitles are an advantage international TV has over other programming — because you have to pay attention to it. “My experience of it now is that, actually, subtitles force you to concentrate and so you invest more in the piece,” he said. “It’s a treat. It’s like the cinema coming into your own living room. You have to uncork a bottle of wine, sit down with your partner and actually pay attention. And I think it adds a layer because you’re watching a story, you’re also reading a story. And so it has the intimate pleasure of the novel.”
Walter Presents has plenty of competiton in this particular niche, joining recently launched BBC Worldwide/ITV’s Britbox and well-established Acorn TV in offering U.S. audiences international television via SVOD. Its primary selling point is Iuzzolino’s personal passion for the shows he picks — which echo the way in which many of us end up choosing to try new shows.
Pål Sverre Hagen, who stars in the Norweigian thriller “Valkyrien” — one of Walter Presents’ premiere shows — explained how he finds new TV: “Much of the time I listen to my friends. I listen to someone I know who has seen something they like, and they tell me about it, and okay, we will give it a try. I think that it’s brilliant that someone wants to be that friend.”