Dramas play heavy at French TV mart

Biarritz flaunts its dark side with 'Spiral,' 'Braquo'

BIARRITZ, France At a sun-kissed Biarritz last week, tourists promenaded in shorts and T-shirts.

Meanwhile at TV France Intl.’s videotecque overlooking the beach, execs at the Biarritz Rendez-Vous, France’s biggest TV mart, watched a police officer stab a rape suspect in the face in the first scene of Oliver Marchal’s “Braquo.”

Bright sun and series noirs — that was just one of the contrasts at this year’s confab, which ran Sept. 7-11 and attracted nearly 200 industryites. Another was the Rendez-Vous’ context and content.

France’s domestic TV market is challenged. TV advertising is plunging 17.3% in 2009, more than the U.K. (down 14%), Germany (minus 13.9%), and Italy (-10.2%), though much less than Spain (down 27.3%), according to Daniel Knapp at media research org Screen Digest.

Even though international sales and pre-sales of Gallic fiction rose 22.1% to $38.6 million in 2008, the sales for all Gallic TV content edged down 1.5% to E150.4 million ($216.58 million).

Nobody at Biarritz was underestimating the impact on foreign broadcasters’ budgets of market fragmentation, local production growth and recession, which kicked in during the third quarter of 2008.

If this year’s Rendez-Vous had a buzz word, it was “tough.”

At the Rendez-Vous’ mid-point, four out of the five most-watched shows at the videotheque were dramas, led by paybox Canal Plus’ “Braquo,” followed by “La Commanderie” and “19th Century Tales and Short Stories,” both sold by pubcaster France Televisions Distribution, and commercial web TF1’s “Profilers.”

“The French fiction renaissance probably dates from three or four years ago,” says TVFI CEO Mathieu Bejot.

He highlights the “HBO phenomenon” at Canal Plus, which increasingly targets its pay TV auds with creative, hard-boiled dramas.

France Televisions is moving more into high-end historical events series and docus.

The fruit of change was on show at Biarritz.

Sold by Zodiak, “Braquo” is hard-boiled indeed. Characters snort coke, blackmail innocents and their every second word is an expletive. And these are the police.

The second season of “Spiral,” France’s best-selling fiction show in 2008, begins with a man being burned alive in the trunk of his car.

Meanwhile, in TF1 telepic “The Death List,” ex-soccer player Eric Cantona plays a former cop who hunts down his family’s killers. During Biarritz, France Televisions Distribution documentary series “Apocalypse: The Second World War,” which has just sold Stateside to the Smithsonian TV channel, pulled in a standout 22.3 share on France 2.

Comprising six one-hours, “Apocalypse” is made up of stock footage, restored, sometimes colorized, and rendered in HD. About half of the footage has not been seen before. It has sold to 50-plus territories.

France Televisions Distribution is also showcasing a 75-second trailer of historical adventure tale “La Commanderie,” set at a Burgundy fortress in 1375 during the Hundred Years War.

Produced by Tetra Media, the eight-seg “La Commanderie” will have its first episode ready for viewing soon after next month’s Mipcom, says Eric Verniere, FTD’s VP of international sales.

In other sales, France Televisions Distribution has sold the first and second seasons of “Ally McBeal”-ish “Clara Sheller” to the NBC U-owned pay TV network Hallmark in Eastern Europe.

The format for “Letters and Numbers,” the pubcaster’s goldie-oldie quiz show, has been taken by Australia’s SBS, proof of large interest these days in programming staple fare.

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