French love ‘Loft’

Gauls go nuts over local reality show

PARIS — Passions are running high in France over “Loft Story,” a homegrown reality show that’s proving the French have just as keen an appetite for trash TV as other nations.

Debuting last week, the cross between “Big Brother” and “Blind Date” catapulted M6 to the top of the ratings.

Like “Big Brother,” the Endemol France-produced show involves shutting a gang of twentysomethings inside a house and watching what happens. The difference with “Loft Story” is that the public eliminates successive male and female participants until a couple is left. Then the two must live together for six months in a “dream house” worth 3 million francs ($406,000) to win it.

The first episode, which ran primetime April 26, doubled M6’s aud to 26%, but couldn’t beat TF1’s top-rated cop show “Navarro,” watched by 41%.

Half-hour shows Friday and Sunday were watched by more than 30% of the aud, putting M6 ahead of the other channels. The Friday seg in particular made a dent in TF1’s celebrity gossip show “Exclusif” which saw its aud plummet from 30% to 15%.

M6 usually garners 13%-15% of the aud, ranking behind market leader TF1 and pubcaster France 2.

Netizens queue up

The “Loft Story” Web site has become the hottest in France, with 20 million hits in three days — compared with a monthly average of 30 million for the entire M6 Web site.

While propelling M6 to the top of the ratings, “Loft Story” has plunged politicians and newspaper columnists to the depths of despair.

“It reduces TV viewers to voyeurs,” lamented the weekly Journal de Dimanche, reflecting the widely held view that French television ought to be above such vulgarity.

Broadcasting authority chief Dominique Baudis weighed in on the “Loft Story” debate Friday, promising to “look at it very closely.” Meanwhile, Smile You Are Being Filmed, a lobbying group that campaigns against video surveillance in public places, has urged people to protest by dumping their garbage outside M6’s headquarters in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

A spokesman for M6 said the channel was “very, very happy about the fantastic ratings,” adding, “we thought it would do well, but weren’t expecting anything like this.”

The spokesman defended M6 against charges of voyeurism.

“The people who have been complaining are criticizing ‘Big Brother,’ not ‘Loft Story,’ which takes a much softer approach. We aren’t going to show people having sex or anything else that might be considered shocking.”