A German film production company is not obliged to continue engaging two TV police inspectors in a long running crime drama series. Rather it remains in its discretion to oust the two characters for artistic reasons. The production company can freely decide how to develop the plot – with or without the two officers.

This was the result of a recent decision of Germany’s Federal Labour Court. The case was about two sidekicks in the German TV series “Der Alte” (internationally known as the “The Old Fox”) who were getting a bit long in the tooth. One actor had been part of the TV series for 28 years, the other for 18 years. After the production company decided that they do not want to keep the characters for future episodes, the two actors went to court. They had been hired on fixed-term basis contracts throughout the seasons and now wanted to be considered as permanent employees with all benefits.

The court decided that even after 28 years and around 280 episodes the production company was free to decide that the characters shall disappear from the series – and with them the actors. The legal issue here was that German labour law typically does not allow endless fixed-term employments. But there are exceptions and one is the film business. Its “characteristics of performance” allow production companies to hire actors on fixed-term agreements one after another. This is an expression of the freedom of art and broadcasting which is a fundamental right in Germany. According to the court it must be tolerated that the production company substitutes actors from time to time. Therefore, the artistic decision of the broadcasting company had priority over the actors’ job protection which results from another German fundamental right – the professional freedom.

So, the total number of single employments can obviously be quite numerous and extensive. The chief of forensics played his role in the drama series for almost three decades, starting at the tender age of 22 years. Time is ripe to re-invent: Thankfully, this may be easier for actors than for roles in real life.