Gauls fall for tabloid tales

Many new TV films, minis ripped from local headlines

CANNES — While most Mipcom attendees with product to show are busy trying to sell their wares internationally, Gallic web TF1 last week unveiled a slate of resolutely local drama shows that seem destined to stay at home.

Of 11 upcoming TV films or minis based on true events, all but one deal with stories that are ripped from local headlines.

The only exception to the strictly local feel of Oct. 10’s line-up was a drama about the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, shot recently in South Africa.

Canal Plus also recently tackled the same subject, but in docu-drama form.

“A Mother,” for example, based on the affaire Ranucci, stars Catherine Frot as a woman who tries to clear her convicted son of a murder.

“We don’t consider the international market when we put shows into production,” says Takis Candilis, TF1’s head of drama. “Our priority is to commission drama that will appeal to French audiences.”

Although TF1 has notched up some impressive ratings with U.S. shows like “CSI,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” local fare is capable of achieving substantially bigger audienceshence the upcoming Paris-set, French-language “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” an experiment for the best selling franchise.

But in Gaul the more provincial the tale, it seems, the better it does.

“Marie Besnard,” starring Muriel Robin as a middle-aged woman accused of murdering successive husbands, drew 11 million viewers, TF1’s biggest audience for a drama this year.

Those numbers make it worth the extra money true- life dramas cost to produce.

TF1 gets its current affairs department to research a story, often for months, before passing on the info to drama writers.

Still, injunctions from people unwilling to see their personal histories recounted in a TV drama are frequent. So lawyers have to ensure that shows based on real-life events respect French privacy laws and steer clear of ongoing legal cases.

TF1 still hasn’t aired a drama about a crazed gunman’s slaying of local officials in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, because of opposition from one victim’s family.

Right now pubcaster France 2 is similarly embroiled in a legal wrangle over a series about l’affaire Gregory, the unsolved murder of a little boy that has been a nationwide obsession for years.

Period reconstitution also sends production costs soaring, drama topper Candilis says.

“A two part show can cost anything from E2.5 million to E5 million ($3.14 million-$6.3 million), it’s costly,” the topper says.

Even if its subject matter doesn’t sound very saleable abroad, sometimes a well-written Gallic drama in this vein can break out internationally — and win prizes.

Last year French actor Thierry Fremont nabbed an International acting Emmy for his portrayal of notorious Gallic serial killer Francis Heaulme in “Murder in Mind.”