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Will ‘Peaks’ Flop Sink LA Cinq’s New Topper?

Who killed Laura Palmer? And does anybody care? The answer from France appears to be no, judging from viewer figures for the first three episodes of “Twin Peaks.”

In fact, David Lynch’s thriller is fast becoming part of a greater mystery: When will private web La Cinq find its audience, and will new network honcho Paul Josephe’s much-vaunted programming reputation be buried with Laura Palmer?

While the network changes ownership, logo and programming policy with the regularity of a snake shedding its skin, some things remain the same, most notably the network’s inability to attract viewers.

Losing to La Sept

“Twin Peaks” isn’t the only hiccup in the 5-week-old revamped sked. The network’s much-vaunted primetime Saturday gameshow, the 90-minute “Grain De Folie,” has had the unfortunate honor of joining a tiny band of programs that has been beaten by cultural channel La Sept.

In the critical access primetime slot, Josephe and his team are faring no better. The web’s new inhouse comedy, “Bonsoir Ma Serie,” is grabbing less than 3% market share. Josephe insists the network needs time to develop an audience.

“Twin Peaks” debuted Monday, April 15, but scored only a modest 10.8% market share, placing it in fourth position out of five networks despite an unprecedented ad campaign behind the thriller. Josephe said at MIP April 22 he believed the show’s ratings would improve.

When the second episode aired later that night, it attracted a 9.1% market share. In its third outing, April 29, “Twin Peaks'” market share slipped again, to a last-place 8.8%. There are 12 more episodes to go.

Program exec Jean Mino remains calm. He points out that “Twin Peaks” is up against fierce competition from TF-l’s heavyweight Monday variety shows and argues that the series’ market share is in line with the overall La Cinq score. Per Mino, there are no immediate plans to shift “Twin Peaks” to another slot.

No ‘easy’ shows

Josephe caused a stir at his Cannes press conference when he said La Cinq’s would be France’s No. 1 channel in five to eight years. Josephe said that he will not rely on “easy shows like ‘Navarro'” – TF-l’s leading, critically acclaimed detective series. Instead, he will opt for programs “that reflect the changing, more sophisticated taste of the audience.

Josephe warned that programs will be axed if they fail to get adequate ratings. He didn’t say what he considered “adequate.” Some unkind souls joke that this is a cost-cutting excercise: “If you follow that logic, La Cinq won’t be screening anything” quipped one observer.

Eager to draw public attention to the fact that with its third owner (Hachette) in five years, the network has finally found itself an “identity” La Cinq has undertaken a mighty 68 million francs ($12 million) nationwide advertising campaign, and the company logo has been redesigned.

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