Alatriste

TV series adds to Europe’s historical flagship fiction shows

MADRID – Adding to Europe’s appetite for big historical TV series, Spanish commercial broadcasting group Mediaset Espana is linking with Germany’s Beta to produce a 13-seg series spin-off from “Alatriste,” a 2006 smash-hit movie in Spain that starred Viggo Mortensen.

Mediaset Espana CEO Paolo Vasile and Beta CEO Jan Mojto inked a deal Friday in Rome that sees Mediaset Espana contribute two-thirds of financing while Beta provides the rest.

Mediaset Espana takes rights to Spain, Beta those for Germany, Austria and France, selling the rest of the world and sharing revenues with Mediaset Espana.

Inspired by Arturo Perez Reverte’s bestsellers, the Spanish-language adventure skein is set between 1622 and 1643 in Madrid and the Netherlands where Spain battles to hang on to its empire in Flanders. Plot turns on the eponymous Alatriste, a courageous but jaundiced Spanish soldier forced to survive as a mercenary.

TV star Aitor Luna (“Gran reserva”) will play Alatriste. Helmer Enrique Urbizu, set to direct “Silver or Lead” for Relativity Media, will shepherd the first episode while TV vet Jose Manuel Lorenzo’s Madrid-based DLO will produce.

“Alatriste” “is a valiant experiment in costs and (international) reach,” Vasile said in Rome.

The budget has not been revealed but costs are dropping in Spain as producers vie to compete for fewer projects. This means “Alatriste’s” price, which Vasile described as “correct for a product of this scale,” is likely to be significantly less than the reported $39 million for the second season of “Borgia,” co-financed and sold by Beta.

Even though Mediaset Espana is Spain’s most profitable broadcaster, it could not afford to finance the skein on its own.

The recession hit TV advertising at the group with annual earnings plunging 55% to €50.1 million ($65.5 million) in 2012. Spain’s TV ad market shrunk a further 15% year-on-year in the first two months of 2013.

In such a negative scenario, the Beta partnership shares cost, reduces risk and reaches out to far richer international markets that have a seemingly insatiable appetite TV historical and fantasy fare.

“Alatriste” fulfills Europe’s hardly new aim of providing an alternative to U.S. product, Mojto commented in Rome.

With original TV series increasingly driving subscriptions at Europe’s pay TV giants BSkyB in the U.K. and Canal Plus in France and also offering potential upside to crisis-strapped broadcasters in southern Europe, more and more players want to get in on Europe’s bigger-budget historical fiction boom.

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