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TF1’s reality romp

Web highlights fall sked laced with such skeins

PARIS — TF1, France’s No. 1 web, has hitched its wagon to reality programming this fall, peppering its schedule with the genre in a range of guises.

But at a press conference Wednesday, execs distanced themselves from what TF1’s chairman and CEO Patrick Le Lay described as “trash TV.”

Etienne Mougeotte, head of broadcasting, told journalists, “There is a difference between reality TV and trash TV — and we are going to prove it.”

Before raising the curtain on highlights from the sked, TF1 screened an interview with a sociologist extolling the virtues of the genre that is, according to Mougeotte, “an expression of the change in social relations.”

In the ongoing French debate about reality’s virtues and vices, pubcaster France Television took the high ground Monday, saying it was having nothing to do with reality TV, a declaration that Mougeotte likened to “a fish that says it doesn’t want water.”

TF1’s flagship reality show will be the much-hyped “Star Academy,” an Endemol-produced talent-spotting format that begins Saturday. Others include “Stars a Domicile” (Stars at Home) and the imported format “Star of Night.”

The shows follow up on two reality skeins, “The Weakest Link” and “Survivor,” that boosted TF1’s auds this summer but didn’t generate the same frenzy as rival web M6’s hugely successful “Loft Story,” France’s first-ever reality show.

TF1 will also screen “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” this fall and, getting a head start on the introduction of Europe’s new currency next year, has upped the prize money from 1 million francs to 1 million euros.

Not all is reality, however. Several U.S. dramas will make their French debut, including “Experts,” “Angel” and “Wasteland,” while French programs include the series “Fabio Montale,” starring Alain Delon and the miniseries “L’Aine des Ferchaux” with Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Quoting from a French TV viewing survey published by Mediametrie this week, Mougeotte boasted that terrestrial channels were the No. 1 choice even among cable and satellite subscribers, who tuned in to the major webs 70% of the time.

“It’s extremely reassuring, and very encouraging,” the exec said.

Mougeotte remained tight-lipped on the budget for the sked, saying only that TF1 was “determined to hold on to the purse strings.”

With the advertising market in the doldrums, analysts are anxiously waiting to find out at a briefing Sept. 12 just how TF1 plans to make ends meet.

The broadcasting chief also refused to give details on negotiations with the Kirch Group for next year’s soccer World Cup. “The World Cup interests us, but we’re not ready to buy it at any price,” he said.

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