Who Is Walter of 'Walter Presents'? Pulling Back the Curtain on Walter Iuzzolino

Walter Iuzzolino does the introduction to a new series on 'Walter Presents'

Walter Iuzzolino on 'Walter Presents'

Channel 4

Our coverage mandate here at Telly Visions – “The Very Best of British TV and Culture” – gives us the latitude to consider not only the cultural output of the entire United Kingdom but also TV series and films better described as British-ish. Australian films? Sure! A Canadian miniseries? Why not? Literally anything Irish? Absolutely – it’s on the same island as Northern Ireland! Commonwealth Nations and former colonies are an easy yes, but what about the superior series from Denmark? Germany? France? The answer is “yes” more times than you might imagine, all thanks to Walter Iuzzolino and the TV series he selects each year for the U.K.’s Channel 4’s anthology franchise Walter Presents, which PBS Passport has adopted as a unique feature, focused entirely on international TV series in their original languages, with English subtitles. 

Iuzzolino is a TV producer — his production company, Eagle Eye Drama, is behind PBS mainstays, including Hotel Portofino and English language remakes like the Belgian hit Professor T — but in his capacity as the chief selector for Walter Presents, he’s first and foremost an erudite fan of and enthusiastic evangelist for European TV. As he explained in a 2017 conversation with Interview magazine, his taste development in TV and film began very early, thanks to parents who loved “beautiful, clever, interesting, sophisticated filmmaking” and grandmothers who were “quite addicted to serialized drama” and learned early on that great TV isn’t dependent on its genre but on the quality of its storytelling, characters, and production value. 

When he moved to London to apply to film school about 25 years ago, Iuzzolino was disappointed to find little in the way of continental shows, unlike in mainland Europe, where series from across the continent and in various languages find keen viewers thanks to dubbing. Although dubbing is “comically bad” from an artistic perspective, it also means that “language is not a barrier to the appreciation of content.” Consequently, across Europe, imported series from all over the world are, in Iuzzolino’s telling, “all mainstream; you, the audience, don’t think of them as foreign,” providing viewers with far more variety in terms of “styles and textures: different ways of photographic, different actors, different writing, different paces.” 

The contrast with British TV couldn’t have been more stark or more disappointing for a connoisseur with such broad taste: the only shows available were in English, either from the U.K. or the U.S. Many were excellent, but the lack of even first-rate series from other countries made the TV landscape very flat and lacking in texture. Iuzzolino chalks it up to a certain linguistic chauvinism: “Subtitles were a bit of a dirty word. They were associated with niche, elitist, art house, almost opera club-type stuff — very snobbish.” 

Iuzzolino stayed in London, anyway, and through reading thousands of scripts and watching untold hours of TV, he continued to develop his eye for compelling characters, sturdy structure, and brisk pacing. The results bear out with the Walter Presents slate, offering a broad survey of high-quality series that have been popular successes in their home countries. Each series meriting the imprimatur of Walter Presents does so with prestige-level production values. The shows aren’t necessarily high-budget, “but the production values need to be crisp and amazing. If we say, ‘Watch mainstream excellence,’ I’m sorry, I want to be eased into something beautiful and perfect.” 

The other essential criterion for selection is how engrossing a show is. In a 2018 interview for the French TV festival Série Series, Iuzzolino summarized this factor as “hook[ing] you in from the first five minutes,” an aspect that’s both taste- and market-driven. He elaborated, “with the competition that’s happening in the [streaming] marketplace, an audience needs to land straightaway, otherwise it’s incredibly difficult to get an audience” to continue watching. He also highlighted tight storytelling as a critical factor in a series’ appeal, noting that a series with 8-12 episodes per season can often make the show a little too leisurely when “that arc would have been perfect in six or seven [episodes].”

Iuzzolino launched Walter Presents in 2017 as a video-on-demand service, later striking deals with broadcasters in individual countries, like Channel 4 in the U.K. and, in 2019, the recently launched PBS Passport, to bring his carefully curated selections to wider audiences. His belief that English-speaking audiences can embrace series in any language has borne out with the popularity of selections, including the Danish historical drama Seaside Hotel and Astrid, a contemporary French police drama. 

The prescience of Iuzzolino’s theory extends beyond PBS. This past spring, the popularity of Shōgun — the subtitled, predominantly Japanese-language FX series that drove many cultural conversations for months — demonstrated that good storytelling plus subtitles could attract a large, highly engaged viewership, even in the U.S. where we cling to an outdated stereotype that subtitles are for art house cinema, not mainstream television. 

Shōgun is a likely contender for many of the 2024 Emmys, and Walter Presents should capitalize on the long-tail opportunity presented by the series popularity and rapturous critical reception to remind viewers that there is a whole world of engrossing, moving, fun international storytelling out there to enjoy. 

The Walter Presents Collection boasts nearly 100 titles, with more added monthly. The entire set is available for members to stream on most PBS Passports and the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel, but local streaming services can have different line-ups, so check your local listings/streamers. Look for new arrivals and titles in our monthly PBS streaming roundups.

Stream Now

Professor T (Belgian)

Eccentric psychology Professor T has a brilliant mind and an unpredictable nature.
Professor T: show-poster2x3

Sophie's Selfie

Sophie has been happily steeping in the potent brew of British TV since her parents let her stay up late on a Thursday watching the Jeremy Brett adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. She loves mysteries, espionage thrillers, documentaries, and costume dramas, and if you're not careful, she might talk your ear off about the Plantagenets. Sorry about that in advance! 

You can find Sophie on all the platforms as @sophiebiblio and keep an eye on her bylines from all over the internet via her handy portfolio.

More to Love from Telly Visions