French TV Dramas Gain Popularity Around the World

Foreign buyers flock to new series created for international audiences

In the global game of TV program distribution, France is a rising player.

The land where only a few years ago U.S. series monopolized the primetime airwaves is now becoming one of Europe’s top creators of international drama skeins.

Not long ago French industryites were lamenting the aging of the local talent pool and the lack of homegrown, upscale series. Today, as the second edition of Direct to Series — a two-day confab and showcase in L.A. on Oct. 27-28 — underscores, France has established itself as a fertile ground for innovative narratives, up-and-coming talent and singular settings that, for U.S. and international buyers, represent a viable alternative to Scandinavian drama series.

This globalization trend has been bolstered by the launch of big-scale, globally driven companies like EuropaCorp TV (“Taxi Brooklyn”), Lagardere’s Atlantique (“Transporter”), Newen’s Capa Drama (“Versailles”), Haut et Court TV (“The Returned”), Shine Films France (“The Tunnel”) and more recently Federation Entertainment (“Marseille”). As their needs for content increases, U.S. companies are opening up to French shows.

“There are about 50 channels in the U.S. looking for international series and they don’t have the means to finance more than 200 shows per year: It’s attractive for U.S. networks to collaborate with independent production companies that can find financing in Europe,” says Pascal Breton, whose shingle Federation Entertainment bowed last month.

French producers are now avoiding series co-produced by multiple European broadcasters, which can result in flavorless programs, said Olivier Rene Veillon, managing director of the Ile de France Film Commission. “High-profile French series are now developed very early on with U.S. or U.K. partners, either via co-productions or creative collaborations.”

“The Last Panthers,” for instance, is produced by Peter Carlton of Warp Films, and Caroline Benjo and Jimmy Desmarais of Haut et Court.

The successful launch of Gaumont Intl. Television (“Hannibal”) in L.A., led by U.S. TV vet Katie O’Connell, set a model for other French companies aiming to penetrate the U.S. market.

EuropaCorp Television created a U.S. division in May and tapped Matthew Gross (“Body of Proof”) to lead the company’s development and production slate for the American market. The unit has also been following the same strategy as the film studio, producing shows for U.S. auds. And it’s working: Its latest series, action-comedy cop show “Taxi Brooklyn” garnered stronger ratings on NBC than on TF1, Veillon points out. Although the series is produced by EuropaCorp in Paris, it has a U.S. showrunner, Gary Scott Thompson (“Las Vegas”).

Federation Entertainment is on the same track. It has offices in Paris and L.A. and has tapped Ashley Stern, former exec at Ensemble Entertainment (“The Pacific,” “Boardwalk Empire”) to spearhead development and marketing.

The rollout of Netflix in France and its willingness to produce homegrown shows is also forging opportunities for local producers. “Digital platforms like Netflix have a deeper understanding of the international market because they’re active in multiple territories,” says Christophe Riandee, CEO of Gaumont International Television. Netflix has commissioned “Marseille,” a politics-themed thriller penned by Dan Franck, the co-scribe of Golden Globe- winning “Carlos,” from Federation Entertainment and is in discussions with other French companies.

As well, Amazon has come on board “Barbarella,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s series projects set up at GIT and commissioned by Canal Plus. “Amazon got a taste of the French industry during the shoot of ‘The Cosmopolitan,’” and is enthused by the prospect of collaborating again with French talent, per Veillon.

And as supernatural thriller series “The Returned” underscored, French-language series with original concepts can also be attractive to foreign channels, notably in the U.S., says Adrien Sarre, exec director of the Film and TV Office of the French consulate in L.A., a co-host of Direct to Series.

“The Returned” was picked up by Sundance and Music Box Films in the U.S.; Bruno Dumont’s “L’il Quinquin,” a comedy series that premiered in Cannes, was picked by Kino Lorber.

Sarre says “The Churchmen,” a TV series about five young candidates for the priesthood (sold by Film & Picture), and “Witnesses,” a procedural starring Thierry Lhermitte (sold by Newen), are among the French-language shows with international appeal set to be presented at Direct to Series.

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