The U.S. series “Prison Break,” a huge primetime hit for Gallic web M6, is at the center of a brouhaha in Gaul.
Season one began airing Aug. 31 and was soon drawing record audiences for France’s second commercial channel.
But at the beginning of November, days before the 22-episode season ended, M6 received a terse letter from broadcasting watchdog the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel, complaining that some episodes were too violent for its “not for under 10s” rating, displayed during the program.
Under Gallic regs, a “not for under 12s” rating would relegate the show to after 10 p.m., while a “not for under 16” rating — for programs with pornographic or extremely violent content — would mean a slot after 10:30 p.m.
M6 went ahead and screened the final episode, along with episode one of season two, on Nov. 8 — notching up an audience of 7 million viewers, the fourth biggest aud for the web since it launched 20 years ago.
M6 has defended its choice of rating to the CSA; a CSA working group will examine the web’s arguments Wednesday ahead of a plenary session of the CSA council, which will have the final word on Nov. 28.
But that decision will concern only the already-broadcast first season — not season two, which the authority has not seen and M6 has still to air.
M6 has made no comment on the CSA’s move, but, privately, execs called the situation “absurd.”
“If they stick to their guns, France will be the only country where ‘Prison Break’ is not allowed to air in primetime,” said one, pointing out that it airs in primetime in U.S., Sweden, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands.
A spokesman for the CSA said Tuesday that, unlike films, which are classified by a national board, broadcasters decide for themselves what ratings to attach to violent or sexually explicit TV programs, but the CSA can intervene if it feels they are being too lenient.
There are no specific guidelines, the spokesman said, and no quantitative criteria, such as the number of times a swear word is used, as in the U.K.