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French TV producer broadens base

Legardere's Atlantique eyes U.S. shores

As international broadcasters hunt for the next hit drama, Paris-based Lagardere Entertainment’s Atlantique Prods. is carving itself a leading position in Europe’s TV landscape with “Borgia” and “Transporter TV.”

Driven by Lagadere Entertainment prexy Takis Candilis and Atlantique’s managing director Klaus Zimmermann, the shingle has wrapped Tom Fontana-scripted original series “Borgia” and kicked-off pre-development of season two with the same production partners and creative team on board, says Zimmermann, who aims to shoot next spring if all goes well.

With a budget of approximately €24 million ($35 million) for 12 hourlong episodes, “Borgia” was greenlit thanks to powerful allies — Gallic paybox Canal Plus, which commissioned the mini and put down 40% of the budget, Jan Mojto’s EOS Entertainment and sales arm Beta Film in Germany, as well as the Czech Republic’s Etic.

“The fact that we were able to produce and finance a high-end historical drama with a contemporary edge like ‘Borgia’ and do it without a U.S. deal sparked the interest of foreign broadcasters, because it established our credibility and our status as international producers,” Candilis says.

Zimmermann concurs. “HBO had seen footage of ‘Borgia’ and liked it very much, which is why when we offered them the chance to co-produce ‘Transporter TV’ with us, it only took them about a week to say yes.”

Based on Luc Besson’s film franchise, “Transporter TV” is also co-produced by Canada’s QVF and commissioned by Gallic commercial net M6.

Besson’s EuropaCorp TV pre-sold the $48 million, 12-episode series to HBO in the U.S., Germany’s RTL and HBO Canada. It will bow on M6 in January.

A former drama and documentary producer, Candilis joined Lagardere Entertainment in 2008 to head audiovisual production after spending nine years at Gaul’s top commercial broadcaster TF1 as deputy director general for programming and head of fiction.

Candilis commissioned some of TF1’s most popular minis, including “Dolmen” and “Le maitre du zodiaque.” But ratings dropped when he tried to break the mold of 90-minute dramas with one-hour shows based on popular American formats such as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and NBC’s “Law and Order.”

But from that experience, Candilis said he developed his contacts with U.S. studios.

Candilis brought in Zimmermann, who was previously in charge of international film production and acquisitions at Munich-based Kirch Group. The France-educated German exec most recently co-founded Zen Prods., whichproduced a flurry of international miniseries including “The Sinking of the Laconia” with German pubcaster ARD, U.K. pubcaster the BBC and Canal Plus.

Zimmermann says the success of “Laconia” on BBC1 encouraged BBC Worldwide to tap Atlantique to co-produce $23 million “Death in Paradise” with Red Planet Pictures. The eight-episode skein is the BBC’s first collaboration with pubcaster France Televisions.

Ben Donald, BBC Worldwide’s exec producer of international drama, says, “I’ve gotten to know Zimmermann very well over the last three years, and I was aware he had a successful collaboration with the BBC on ‘Laconia.’ So when France Televisions asked us to choose a French production company, we immediately thought of him.”

Currently lensing in Guadeloupe, “Death in Paradise” stars Ben Miller (“Primeval”) as a British detective who is posted to the Caribbean to team with a local cop, played by French thesp Sara Martins (“Tell No One”), to solve crimes.

“We aim to produce two to three international series per year with a French commissioning channel and foreign broadcasters that participate in the development and production stages to create genuine international franchises and TV events,” Candilis says.

He and Zimmermann emphasize that they’re not producing for a specific broadcaster but targeting worldwide auds.

“Audiences differ from one country to another, tastes are evolving very fast, and the ways that people consume TV dramas have changed,” says Zimmermann. “Online streaming services like Netflix bring in substantial revenues and allow producers to seek mixed financing models for their shows. Eventually, producers will be able to finance original TV series without broadcasters’ money.”

On its development slate, Atlantique has “La Dame du nil” (working title), an English-language, 12-episode skein commissioned by France Televisions. Set in Ancient Egypt, it is based on Canadian author Pauline Gedge’s bestseller “Child of the Morning” and focuses on Queen Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh. Zimmermann says he is in negotiations with a U.S. studio to co-produce the series.

Atlantique is also developing a pilot of “Europol,” a crime series centering on the European Union’s Criminal Intelligence Agency, with TF1.

“Law & Order” showrunner-producer Judy McCreary is among the lead writers.

Next up, Atlantique Prods will launch production arms in Munich and London.

The U.K., France and Germany are Europe’s biggest drama producers, and Atlantique having offices in each country presents many advantages such as gaining direct access to creative talents and broadcasters, Zimmermann says.

Gaul’s No.1 producer of primetime TV series, Lagardere Entertainment encompasses 17 firms.

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