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.
The cross between “Big Brother” and “Blind Date” has catapulted M6 to the top of the ratings since its April 26 debut.
Its constantly jammed Web site drew a record 20 million hits in the first three days — compared with a monthly average of 30 million for all M6 sites together.
Like “Big Brother,” the Endemol France-produced show involves shutting a group of twentysomethings inside a house and watching what happens. The difference with “Loft Story” is that cupid is encouraged to play a central role. The public eliminates the competitors until a couple (male and female) is left. The two must live together for six months in a “dream house” worth 3 million francs ($406,000) to win it.
But while “Loft Story” has shot M6 to the top of the ratings, it has plunged politicians and intellectuals to the depths of despair.
“It reduces TV viewers to voyeurs,” lamented the weekly newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche, reflecting the widely held view that French television ought to be above such vulgarity.
The left-wing daily Liberation devoted six pages to the show “that nobody likes but everybody watches,” while Le Monde published high-minded articles penned by psychoanalysts, sociologists and essayists.
The Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel, France’s broadcasting authority, scolded M6 rather lamely May 2, telling the channel not to show the participants “drinking and smoking too much.”
But M6 execs were too busy totting up their increased ad revs to notice complaints.
The channel usually garners 13%-15% of the aud, ranking behind market leader TF1 and pubcaster France 2. But the first episode of “Loft Story” doubled M6’s aud to 26%, and placed it second behind TF1’s top-rated cop show “Navarro,” watched by 41%.
Daily half-hour shows since then have been watched by more than 30% of the aud, putting M6 ahead of the other channels and allowing it to hike its ad rates from $23,000 to $37,000 per 30 seconds.
A spokesman for M6 said the channel was “very, very happy about the fantastic ratings” and defended M6 against charges of voyeurism.
However, there was a wave of publicity after a couple allegedly having sex in a swimming pool was broadcast on the Internet and cable but not the analog show.
Ironically, it merely prompted the CSA to criticize the cross-fertilization that encouraged viewers of the daily analog TV show to turn to a pay Internet site or cable TV to watch 24-hour coverage.
The fight over “Loft Story” could yet turn dirty. Smile You Are Being Filmed, a lobby 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.