French-bred TV

Warner Int'l targets Euro markets with pact

FROM MIP TV
CANNES — Continuing its march into Europe, Warner Bros. Intl. TV is partnering with France’s Europe Audiovisuel to co-produce and co-finance programming for both the French and international markets.

The American studio powerhouse — which last fall announced a similar deal in Germany — is now hoping to expand into local programming in all of Western Europe’s major production centers, including the U.K., according to WBIT prexy Jeffrey Schlessinger.

“We’d like to be in production in all five of the major territories,” Schlessinger told Daily Variety.

Alliance, announced Wednesday at Mip, will have “substantial resources” with which to co-produce English- and French-language fiction and has already identified several French-language projects for production. The pact also puts WBIT in business with Lagardere Medias, parent company of Audiovisuel.

Special challenge

Deal is WBIT’s second foray into Europe, but in moving into France, the U.S. company faces a special challenge — to succeed where no other American fiction producer has been able to.

When Columbia TriStar tried to set up shop in France a few years ago, the enterprise curdled.

But whereas Columbia TriStar had wanted to go it alone, Warner has the local savvy of Europe Audiovisuel and the might of the French publishing and communications group Lagardere Medias to count on.

With increasingly high quality Euro fiction continuing to top primetime ratings all across the continent, many American programmers are finding it tougher to land their fare in key timeslots. Though Schlessinger insists WBIT has had “no problem” selling its product, industry observers say Warner’s arrival on French soil, and its overall Euro expansion plan, is akin to admitting: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Local angle

Describing the deal as a “compelling opportunity,” Schlessinger said the new venture “signals our commitment to being at the forefront of local programming as well as the continuation of bringing successful American programming to the global marketplace.”

WBIT plans to bring both French- and English-language product to the market using a U.S. network model, where the studio deficit finances part of the production cost of a skein or telepic in exchange for WBIT and Europe Audiovisuel retaining certain second and third-cycle distribution rights.

“In today’s production environment it only makes sense to share the risks involved and the costs associated with launching a product,” said Europe Audiovisuel CEO Jean-Pierre Ozannat.

WBIT senior VP for international TV production Catherine Malatesta repped WBIT in the deal negotiations.

No firm figures have been set, but the new alliance includes provisions for the hiring of staff in both Paris and Burbank. Most of the output from the WBIT/Eurovisuel pact is expected to be drama programming.

French fiction

The Franco-American marriage comes on the tail end of a Mip in which big-budget French fiction has featured prominently.

The biggest star at the TV mart has undoubtedly been Gerard Depardieu, here to promote several miniseries and talking up television in a big way.

Including the 159 million franc ($23 million) “Les Miserables” unveiled this week, in which the towering French actor stars opposite John Malkovich, TF1 also has two other big-budget miniseries lined up with Depardieu, based again on classic French novels: “The Three Musketeers” and “Notre Dame de Paris.”

Pubcaster France 2 is also getting in on the act, using the same winning team of Depardieu, writer Didier Decoin and producer Jean Pierre Guerin, of GMT productions, for a lavish, four-episode “Napoleon.”

As GMT belongs to Europe Audiovisuel, the Warner name will be associated with the creative team that seems to have become the only game in town.

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