France

PARIS — Fiction is flourishing on French TV, with U.S. shows and local drama slugging it out in an increasingly close contest.

While TF1-aired “CSI: New York,” broke records for U.S. fare (one episode drew 10.9 million viewers), “Prison Break” and “NCIS” have put No. 2 commercial web M6 on the primetime map. Both shows delivered up to a 25% audience share, compared with the channel’s overall average of 13%.

Those results have fueled the already fierce rivalry between France’s two leading commercial webs for the hottest U.S. shows ahead of the upcoming May L.A. Screenings scramble.

But while some local skeins have suffered an erosion of their auds — TF1’s Italian-skein adaptation “R.I.S.” (recently renewed for a third season) and “Commissaire Moulin” are among those that have seen a downturn recently — other French shows are more than holding their own. For example, a recent episode of TF1’s “Ladies of the Law,” about a prosecutor and police lieutenant femme duo, drew 7.4 million viewers.

Indeed, the top three drama programs so far this year are all Gallic, led by “Profession: Guardian Angel” and the surprise French hit of the season, France 2’s period literary adaptation “Chez Maupassant.” Showing there’s still mileage to be had from a well-made costumer, the series, based on short stories by 19th-century Gallic author Guy de Maupassant, drew up to 8 million primetime viewers.

That was good news for the pubcaster on more than one count, offerhing hope there could be life for France Televisions after Warner Bros. Although the pubcaster still has “Without a Trace,” and “ER” to satisfy series fans — and more recent acquisitions including “Men in Trees” and “The Nine” in the pipeline — it will no longer have the pick of WB shows as of this year’s May Screenings, when the major’s new multiyear deal with TF1 kicks in.

Execs at the pubcaster are playing down the importance of the split with WB.

“We aren’t going to be involved in all-out bidding wars for U.S. shows,” says Cecile Negrier, series buyer for France 2. “We’re a public-service channel, and we’ll never have American series on in primetime three nights a week.”

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