New Gallic channel: Comedie! Tonight

PARIS — French thesp, director and producer Dominique Farrugia and former Studio Canal Plus topper Olivier Granier have teamed up to launch Comedie!, a new cable and satellite channel.

The new offering, which has an initial budget of 60 million francs ($10 million) per year, is backed by Canal Plus (30.25%), Pathe (22.5%), Polygram (22.5%) and Rigolo Films 2000 (24.75%), the film production joint venture between Farrugia and Granier.

Comedie! will bow on the Canal Satellite digital platform on Nov. 29 as part of the unscrambled basic package of channels, and Granier told Daily Variety that talks are currently under way with cable operators in France. The channel will start broadcasting 11 hours per day during the week and 15 hours on the weekend.

In recent weeks, several startup digital channels have reported that they had tried to place themselves on the three digital platforms — Canal Satellite, AB Sat and Television Par Satellite — in order to hit the maximum possible number of subscribers. However, given the tough competition between Canal Satellite and TPS, the former is calling for exclusive access to channels rather than sharing them with its main rival.

Comedie! prexy Farrugia, who sprang to fame as one of the stars of Canal Plus’ hit comic series “Les Nuls,” insisted that neither he nor Granier had thought about approaching another digital operator, “given that we both have extremely strong ties to Canal Plus.”

In keeping with Gallic television rules, Comedie! will have to hit broadcasting quotas, requiring the channel to screen 60% European product within five years. However, the channel will lean heavily on Anglo-Saxon humor drawn from the U.S. and the U.K.

Among a plethora of half-hour sitcoms and series destined for the air are the BBC’s hit show “Men Behaving Badly,” ABC’s primetime winner “Drew Carey,” Emmy-nominated “NewsRadio,” “The Single Guy,” “Tracy Takes On …” and “Saturday Night Live” — all making their debut on French television.

Comedie!’s thirst for anglo fare is likely to bring it into direct acquisition competition with another Canal Plus-backed cable and sat channel, Canal Jimmy, which already runs the likes of “Dream On,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” and which traditionally has been unchallenged in this sector.

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