PARIS — Take some bleeding stones, ghosts, the stunning Brittany coastline and a heroine with Lara Croft’s vital statistics and what do you get?
French commercial broadcaster TF1’s recipe for the Gallic TV ratings hit of the year so far.
It may be corny, but the web’s $18 million six-parter “Dolmen” has had the whole of France glued to the TV every Monday evening for a month.
Show bowed with a bang June 13, pulling 12.1 million viewers to grab a 48.8% audience share. It bettered by a million the record-breaking audiences achieved by “Zodiaque,” last summer’s TF1 miniseries.
Viewership has held steady through to the fourth episode, which drew as many viewers but upped its audience share to 49.1%.
And it has trounced U.S. ratings wonder “Lost,” which goes out on TF1 on Saturdays at 8.50 p.m., the first time TF1 has given a primetime slot to an American series in seven years.
Despite all the hype surrounding its French bow June 25, “Lost” has hooked only 7 million viewers at most.
“Dolmen” has also been a big hit in French-speaking Switzerland and in Belgium, where it doubled the usual audience of commercial broadcaster RTL/TVI and outperformed “Lost” and “CSI.”
Show is leading independent TV producer Marathon’s first foray into primetime miniseries.
The company is better known for early-evening shows such as the long-running “St. Tropez,” France’s most successful TV export, which airs around the world.
“Dolmen” was produced by Marathon’s Aline Besson.
“We knew that all the elements were in place, but we never imagined ‘Dolmen’ would be as big as this,” Besson tells Variety.
“The audiences achieved by ‘Zodiaque’ last year set the bar very high, and it is incredible to think we’ve done better on our first attempt.”
Show, helmed by vet TV director Didier Albert, stars Ingrid Chauvin, a well-known TV actress who plays a cop in long-running series “Femmes de Loi.” Male lead Bruno Madinier also is in a popular TV crime series, “The Cordiers, Judge and Cop.”
“It’s a bit of a tradition here to take familiar TV heroes and turn them into new characters for a summer miniseries,” Besson says.
In “Dolmen,” Chauvin plays detective Marie Kermeur, who returns to Ty Kern, the Brittany island where she was born and raised, to marry her childhood sweetheart.
But in script penned by Nicole Jamet and Marie Anne Le Pezennec, things soon start to go awry. A dead bird is found in her veil, members of her family are murdered and stones in an ancient circle start to bleed. Fortunately, talented detective Lucas Fersen (Madinier) is on the case.
Intellectual French newspapers have had fun mocking the show’s formulaic approach, which adheres closely to a TF1 summer miniseries blueprint.
“Dark family secrets, old legends, regional traditions and, in the midst of it all, an energetic young woman giving her all to fight destiny. ‘Dolmen’ uses all these ingredients with obsessional fastidiousness,” scolds Le Monde. “We must console ourselves with the magnificent views of Belle Ile (where the series was shot) and of Ingrid Chauvin’s equally vertiginous bosom.”
But overall, the Gallic press coverage has been positive, with numerous mags putting the photogenic Chauvin on their cover.
Meanwhile, cameras are already rolling on TF1’s 2006 feuilleton d’été, as the French call these summer miniseries. Next year, the broadcaster will be back wooing auds with a sequel to “Zodiaque.”