Paris Opera Cottonwood Media/ZDF
Courtesy: Cottonwood Media

Starring a time-traveling ballerina, Paris-shot series a high-profile addition to upscale live-action teen fare

Los Angeles and Paris-based Cottonwood Media, the kids/children premium content subsidiary of Netflix’s “Marseille” producer Federation Entertainment, and ZDF Enterprises, the giant German public broadcaster, will produce and sell “Paris Opera,” a weekly teen drama starring a time-traveling ballerina that marks the partners’ first live-action co-production deal.

World sales will be handled by Federation Kids & Family, Cottonwood Media’s overseas distribution arm, and ZDF Enterprises, which will jointly introduce the series to buyers at early April’s Mip TV trade fair in Cannes.

A half-hour young adult drama, “Paris Opera” centers on Lena Grisky, a young ballet dancer trying to navigate the perils of adolescence in 2015 as she is poised to become the next international prima ballerina at the Paris Opera. The fact she’s a time traveler from 1905 and Princess Helena Grisky of Russia makes things just a little bit more interesting.

Greenlit by ZDF for production, in a wide-ranging international collaboration, “Paris Opera” is an original creation of Canadians Jill Girling and Lori Matter Welch, who originated Nickelodeon’s “Let It Ride.” They serve as as “Paris Opera” ballet’s showrunners. Producers are Pascal Breton, founder of Federation Ent., Cottonwood Media’s parent, and producer of Netflix’s first-ever French drama “Marseilles,” and Cottonwood founders Zoe Carrera, Cecile Lauritano and David Michel. Nicole Keeb, ZDF head of intl. co-productions and acquisitions, and Arne Lohmann, VP of ZDFE.junior, oversee production at ZDF.

Over the last decade, especially with secret mermaid drama “H2O: Just Add Water,” producing upscale natural location shot dramas ZDF has emerged as one of the only companies to propose alternatives in the live-action teen space to Disney’s now classic format of multi-cam comedies.

With “Paris Opera,” ZDF and Cottonwood Media aim for a premium half-hour that will stand out from the crowd thanks to its high-concept, Paris locations and suspenseful mix of dance, sci-fi and romance.

“Paris Opera” is about “living a dream in a magical city like Paris and even more in an ancient building like the Paris Opera Garnier full of history and stories,” said ZDF’s Nicole Keeb and Arne Lohmann.

They added: “The show is set in the world of ballet combined with fantasy elements. This is perfect not only for a tween audience but as well for family co-viewing. You can only achieve this with a high- profile cinematic look.”

“Even a high-budget show in the U.S. or Canada is shot on a set. Paris Opera will shoot in natural settings in Paris, more like a movie than sitcom, a half-hour drama with the production value of adult drama,” Michel added.

Shooting in English, “Paris Opera” will feature an international cast with the characters of dancers and time collectors – young guys, who looks like something out of a boys band but in fact serve to try to ensure that time travelers arrive at their rightful time period and do not impact its development – drawn from Canada, India, Germany, France, the U.K. and U.S.

Tensed by competition for the lead in the Paris Opera Ballet’s end of year showcase, and the fact that if Lena lands that spot, she will create a time ripple forbidden by the rules of time travel, “Paris Opera” has a strong romantic drive. Back in 1905, Lena falls for Henri, the son of the school janitor, who sets her on her time travel but doesn’t make it to 2015 with her.

In the modern day, she has at least a crush for her dance partner, Max, who creates an underground company below, in the vaults beneath Paris Opera. Here and at rooftop parties, dance will feature mashups from ballet, street, ballroom and hip-hop styles.

Partners’ goal is for “Paris Opera” to be written in summer and fall 2016, shot in 2017, and on air by September 2017.

“Paris Opera” features a “very feminine but not girly style which can draw boy audiences,” and is “a show that works for North America and Europe,” said Michel.

The ZDF partnership marks Federation’s first tie-up with the giant pubcaster. “We’re in a new era, an open world where business will be less and less about a producer controlling everything from beginning to end but striking great partnerships and sharing rights and revenues,” Michel said.

For ZDF, Cottonwood Media’s “reputation for being able to produce high profile shows with international appeal is essential for an ambitious series like this,” Lohmann said.

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