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Euro skeds fall into place

Cashing in on 'trash' as reality row rages

PARIS — Reality shows — and their glaring absence — dominate French webs’ fall schedules, announced last week, polarizing Gallic TV as the debate over their vices and virtues rages on.

French broadcasters’ determination to hold out against the genre was smashed in spring when “Loft Story” — a local, more titillating version of “Big Brother” — burst onto private web M6. It boosted audience share from 10% to 14.8% and did wonders for ad revs, up 6.5% while they were down across the market by more than 3%.

Leading web TF1 dismissed it as “trash TV” while execs plotted revenge. Yet in June, it struck an exclusive deal with Europe’s reality champion Endemol and boosted summer ratings with “The Koh-Lanta Adventurers,” a local “Survivor” produced by Studio Canal’s Expand.

Hardly surprisingly, TF1’s fall lineup is creaking under the weight of new reality shows, as well as audience-grabbing quizzers “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “The Weakest Link,” although it has vowed not to up its programming budget by more than 3%.

Its flagship reality skein will be “Star Academy” in which raw young talents will be groomed for stardom under the watchful eyes of French TV viewers. The winner will cut a disc and perform at Paris’ prestigious Olympia music hall.

In an ill-disguised attempt to justify TF1’s reality volte-face, broadcasting chief Etienne Mougeotte told a press conference Aug. 29: “There is a difference between trash TV and reality TV — and we are going to prove it.”

TF1’s stance left the way clear for pubcaster France Television to occupy the moral high ground all by itself, unveiling fall skeds for France 2, France 3 and La Cinquieme that were 100% reality-free Aug. 27.

Asked why the pubcaster had not jumped on the bandwagon along with TF1 and M6, prexy Marc Tessier haughtily replied, “They are them, we are us.”

But the broadcaster, which will benefit from a 3.45% public broadcasting budget hike next year, is also under severe political pressure to distinguish itself from the commercial webs. “It has to justify its existence,” comments one French observer.

Culture cruncher

Culture Minister Catherine Tasca, an outspoken opponent of reality TV, has berated the private webs for their “lack of imagination” and made it clear that she believes reality is culture’s enemy No. 1.

But while France 2 is banking on an array of new chatshows to shore up its flagging market share, which dipped below 20% earlier this year, M6 is planning further reality mischief.

It has scheduled the imported format “Popstars,” in which a girls band will be put together and trained by music industry professionals, and prexy Nicholas de Tavernost promised a “Loft Story 2” in the future.

The exec was bullish last week about spending on the sked, which went up some 12.5% in the first half of the year, telling journalists: “We are not trapped by having to keep our costs stable … It would be a mistake not to invest in programming of all kinds.”

Asked whether M6 had any other reality tricks up its sleeve, the prexy said enigmatically: “We didn’t announce ‘Loft Story’ this time last year, either.”

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