PARIS — With Gallic workers’ aversion to authority and readiness to strike, French labor relations seem rich with comic possibilities.
But Gallic paybox Canal Plus is taking its cue from the BBC for its first fictional exploration of the workplace. It has adapted Brit cult comedy “The Office” by helmer-scribe duo Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Gervais stars in the Brit version as David Brent, the oily boss of a firm that sells paper in a dreary suburb.
A local version is already a hit Stateside for NBC, starring Steve Carell, after the original British skein did good business for BBC America.
French producer Elzevir claims it acquired the rights before NBC did. But the French series took longer to make because of negotiations with the BBC and a lengthy casting process, in which film/TV actor Francois Berleand beat 200 hopefuls for the part of Gilles Triquet, Gaul’s Brent.
“Originally we had wanted to get an unknown, but it is such a complex role that nobody matched up until Berleand came along,” says producer Denis Carot.
“Le Bureau” began airing May 25 in a 10:50 p.m. slot, and has garnered respectable, if not sensational, numbers. It will reach a wider audience when the paybox moves it to a Sunday 8:30 p.m. unencrypted slot this summer.
Film subsid Studio Canal will release a DVD of the six-episode series in August. A half-season of three episodes based on original French material is slated to shoot in November.
“We’re very pleased with the response we’ve had to the show,” a Canal Plus spokesman says. “It’s not widely known yet, but people love it.”
The original Brit series passed unnoticed when it was aired in latenight on commercial broadcaster M6, and DVD sales reached just 5,000 units.
The six French half-hours were made for E3.5 million ($4.4 million), including adaptation rights, putting it on a par with France’s costliest TV productions.
For instance, TF1’s “Law & Order” adaptation is expected to cost around $1.26 million an hour.
As with Carell’s Michael Scott in the American “Office,” Berleand’s Triquet is more of a likable buffoon than Gervais’ unwholesome Brent — taking some of the edge off the show.
Many other aspects of the script have been tweaked to make them reflect French cultural norms. For instance, drinks between workmates tend to happen in the office, rather than at the pub.
But what stands out is how closely the seriesresembles the original.
“Working in an office in a suburb is the same everywhere; people suffer the same ennui, they deal with the same stupidities. It’s universal,” says Nicolas, one half of the writer/helmer duo Nicolas & Bruno that goes by first names only.
Instigators of the Gallic adaptation, the two spoofed the world of corporate culture with their short TV show “Message a caractere informatif,” and they co-wrote helmer Jan Kounen’s soon-to-shoot bigscreen adaptation of “99 francs,” also set in the business world.
The two were so determined not to serve up an exact copy that the actors and technicians weren’t allowed to see the original English series.
In their half series, which will shoot in November, Nicolas & Bruno will take Triquet and his colleagues on a motivational retreat to Senegal. After that, they hope to adapt the second British season, although they may veer further from Gervais’ scripts, which saw Brent shunned by his colleagues.
“Triquet’s a bit of an idiot, but underneath, he’s a nice guy,” Nicolas says.