PARIS– Less than three months after becoming Vivendi’s biggest shareholder, Vincent Bollore has already ruffled feathers in a major way. The billionaire businessman, who has claimed he wanted to shake up the editorial core of pay TV group Canal Plus, is reportedly considering pulling the plug on the pay TV group’s crown jewel: the cult satirical muppets show “Les Guignols de l’info.”
A rep for Canal Plus declined to comment.
Bollore’s project to terminate the 28-year old “Les Guignols de l’Info” leaked today on French blogs before getting picked up by every major newspaper’s website. The rumor immediately sparked waves of protests from local film and TV industryites, with Cannes film festival president and former Canal Plus boss Pierre Lescure among the high-profile voices that have expressed deep concern.
Lescure has indeed just announced that he resigned from the administration board of Havas, a subsid of Vivendi, after learning of Bollore’s plan to discontinue “Les Guignols.” “I resigned from Havas after learning of the threat of ‘Les Guignols”cancelation. It’s also to have the freedom (…) to express myself. I hope I won’t need to,” Lescure told French mag Le Nouvel Obs.
French journos have highlighted the poor timing and context of such a decision if Bollore followed through. In the spirit of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” “Les Guignols de l’Info” was created by Alain de Greef, who passed two days ago and was widely celebrated for having forged the audacity, satirical edge and irreverent spirit that have made Canal Plus a game-changer in the French TV industry and a pop culture reference.
Although it has lost some of its steam over the years, “Les Guignols” is still regarded as a strong symbol of free speech, caricaturing everyone, from politicians to TV hosts, and coming up with elaborated, often razor-sharp sketches to comment on headline news and/or bring some perspective on current affairs.
Bollore had already raised eyebrows in February when he suggested during a radio interview that he didn’t care much for “Les Guignols” because “making fun of oneself is good, but making fun of others is not as good.” He also said: “Sometimes there is too much derision. I prefer when they are more in the discovery than in the derision. Because sometimes it’s a bit hurtful and embarrassing.”
For many in France, “Les Guignols” has been to TV what Charlie Hebdo has been to the press. The prospect of losing “Les Guignols” six months after the terror attack that decimated Charlie Hebdo’s newsroom is striking a chord among French folks who fear another backlash against freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Some reports have also hinted at the fact that Bollore might be looking to unplug “Les Guignols” before the start of the upcoming presidential race. “Les Guignols” has traditionally had an effect on public opinion and is said to be leaning toward the left wing. Bollore, on the other hand, has been linked to former president and right-wing politician Nicolas Sarkozy, who has often been heavily mocked in “Les Guignols.”
A petition called #TouchePasAuxGuignols has been circulating on the blogosphere and has already enlisted numerous industry figures.
Update: According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, the four authors of Les Guignols – Lionel Dutemple, Julien Hervé, Philippe Mechelen and Benjamin Morgaine — on July 25. While the show hasn’t been scraped it has been pulled out of the free-to-air primetime slot and will be broadcast for subscribers at 8:50 p.m. beginning in September.