TF1 Places Big Bets on Chris Noth Drama ‘Gone’ and More Co-Productions

Under Gilles Pélisson’s management team, the TF1 Group has significantly increased its commitment to TV drama production.

The splashy co-production slate includes international series such as the upcoming procedural series “Gone”; the miniseries “Just One Look,” based on Harlan Coben’s novel; and launch of projects and acquisitions via the group’s new subsidiary, Newen. “Gone” is the first project under the “trinity agreement” — a co-production pact among TF1, NBCUniversal and Germany’s RTL.
Ara Aprikian, TF1’s executive VP for content, says procedural dramas have high potential in the European market.

“There’s a strong economic argument for procedural dramas, because serialized dramas have much less value,” he says. “They’re much more difficult to amortize on a free-to-air channel, unless we have a partner like Netflix or Amazon, because audiences have to follow the entire series and repeat screenings have much lower audiences.”

“Gone,” a 12-part drama series starring Chris Noth, is executive-produced by creator Matt Lopez, NBCUniversal Intl. Studios’ executive VP of scripted programming JoAnn Alfano and Sara Colleton.

TF1 has provided detailed feedback on the script: “This is a learning process, to see whether we are capable of producing a series with a strong character that will work in the international market,” Aprikian says. “We want to see the results so that we can adapt the process for further projects.”

The revenue stream associated with these projects goes well beyond broadcasting windows on the group’s channels, and is integrated within TF1’s strategy to become a significant content producer on the international stage.

“One of our key goals is to produce content at the European level that’s not just aimed at the French domestic market,” Aprikian says. “That’s why it was so important to acquire Newen. They have a proven track record in producing premium content, including series such as ‘Versailles’ and ‘Braquo.’ ”

Newen’s Deputy CEO, Christophe Nobileau, echoes this sentiment. “Our main objective isn’t really to build a massive business between TF1 and Newen,” he says. “It’s to create a European production group, which will enable us to amortize our project development and R&D costs at the level of the European market. This is the key change.”

Newen incurred significant debt to finance the development of its French activities and was attracted to the deal with TF1 because of the financial resources to build a European group.
This objective squared with Pélisson’s goal to extend TF1’s international footprint.

In February, Newen acquired Dutch producer Tuvalu and is opening a London office, run by Julien Leroux, deputy managing director of Newen Distribution. Nobileau is also eyeing acquisitions in Scandinavia and Italy, and the creation of an investment fund to gap-finance projects.

“We’re interested in producing more English-language drama,” Nobileau says. “That’s why we’re opening a company in the U.K. that will distribute our own products and also co-produce and distribute the best U.K., U.S. or Scandinavian projects.”

Newen produces eight major series for different French channels, but also wants to develop original formats and believes there is a shortage of good ones in the market. This was one of the main reasons to acquire Tuvalu.

TF1 is also on the lookout for strong formats and non-scripted shows. It was the first European broadcaster to adapt the NBC format “The Wall,” which launched soon after its December debut in the U.S.

TF1 Production has several popular factual entertainment shows, such as the entrepreneur/inventor showcase, “Les Français ont du genie,” which will be presented at MipTV.

In terms of drama, TF1 aims to source new projects from Newen. This summer TF1 will launch a major series, produced by Newen, called “Demain Nous Appartient,” to be shown on daily access primetime. TF1 is banking on Newen’s expertise in long-running series, including France’s highest-rated soap, “Plus Belle La Vie,” broadcast on France 3.

TF1 is also committed to more complex, character-driven series. Aprikian cites “No Second Chance,” based on Coben’s bestseller, whose ratings broke a 10-year record on TF1. Producer Gallonde reteams with Coben and TF1 on “Just One Look,” with worldwide distribution rights handled by TF1 Intl.

“We had great success with ‘No Second Chance,’ and other projects that are more ambitious in terms of writing and financing,” Aprikian says. “This shows that the French audience is now open to more sophisticated fiction.”

Concludes Pélisson: “We have a global content strategy. We don’t want to follow a vertical integration model. We want to get the best from the market — in scripted and non-scripted programming. That will be the key to our success.”

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