U.S. series raise ratings roof in French

“House” is truly at home in Gaul.

Aired on TF1, the Hugh Laurie starrer nabbed nine of 2009’s 15 most-viewed TV slots in France, as U.S. fiction went on a ratings tear.

According to Mediametrie, 38 of France’s top 50 TV programs in 2009 were U.S. series, all broadcast on TF1, led by “House,” “CSI: New York” and “Criminal Minds.” “Without a Trace” dominated drama ratings at France 2, Gaul’s biggest pubcaster channel.

The success of serie americaine largely bucks trends in other European territories.

Through November, Blighty’s biggest single slots were the finales to “Britain’s Got Talent” (68.1% of audience share) and “The X Factor” (48.4%) and segs of soaps “Eastenders” (49.2%) and “Coronation Street” (41%). No U.S. skein made it into Britain’s top 10 drama list.

In Spain, “CSI” (peaking at 23.5% last year) and “House” (19.4%) have cooled, while topping the drama ratings is “Sin tetas no hay paraiso” (30.1%) a makeover of a Colombian format, and social comedy “Aida” (29.2%).

Elsewhere, the story’s more mixed: “CSI: Miami” and “House” duke it out for Germany’s drama crown with crime skein “Die Rosenheim Cops” and medico drama “In aller Freundschaft.”

But U.S series rule Gaul, for a number of reasons.

In 2009, TF1 held a 26.1% market share, and France 2 took 16.7%. Of Europe’s “Big Five” countries only France has one dominant broadcaster, notes Bertrand Villegas of media analysts the Wit. “(So) TF1’s primetime choices will dominate ratings,” he says.

Since 2007, when “House” and “CSI” caught fire in primetime, TF1 has run with U.S. series, often to large success.

U.S series in France’s top 100 slots exploded from just 14 in 2006 to 48 in 2007, 57 in 2008 and 63 last year.

Also, it’s more cost effective to buy hot U.S. series than produce local series, argues Mediametrie’s Jean-Pierre Panzani.

And, yes, U.S.-France relations blow hot and cold. But the French have always appreciated Hollywood’s quality fare.

Audiences don’t tire of U.S. procedurals or even Dr. House,” says Panzani. “They’re extremely well-written.”

(Emiliano De Pablos contributed to this report.)

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