Auds vote for TF1

Political programs enthrall France

PARIS — Hit U.S. series “Without a Trace” trailed in the Gallic TV ratings Feb. 19, when the public tuned in to more gripping fare on TF1.

It sounds improbable, but Gallic viewers are glued to political shows, such as “I’ve a Question for You,” a 2½-hour program starring presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

Socialist Royal’s live Q&A sesh with the public drew an average 8.9 million viewers, 37% of the aud, a figure comparable with TF1’s top drama primetime ratings, and peaked at a huge 10.6 million viewers.

(Over on pubcaster France 2, three back-to-back episodes of “Without a Trace,” trailed with 7.2 million viewers, a 29.7% aud share. However the U.S. show scored best in the “housewives under 50” and 25-to-49-year-old demos.)

The last time TF1 achieved comparable scores for a political show dates back more than a decade to 1996, when President Jacques Chirac made a televised plea for an end to nationwide strikes that were crippling the country.

At TF1 last week, toppers basked in the success of “Question,” a more viewer-friendly, format than most political shows in France that has capitalized on high levels of interest in the current elections. Right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy garnered only slightly lower ratings on a Feb. 5 airing of the same show.

TF1’s news topper Robert Namias tells Variety: “In the past, the French public felt disconnected from the media/political world. A program like this gets a dialogue going between the candidates and the electorate.”

TF1 is devoting five to six times as much airtime to the contest as it did in 2002, when the election wasn’t deemed worthy of primetime.

“There is a lot of public interest in this election because it’s seen as a turning point in French history,” Namias says. “The candidates are more modern, and fresher, which also makes for better television.”

The other major webs also are avid followers of the campaign. Pubcaster France 2, which gives the most airtime to politics year-round, has upped the rhythm of its monthly primetime political show “A Vous de Juger” to once a fortnight. The show’s best score of 5 million viewers — a 25% audience share — was when Sarkozy was its guest in November.

Canal Plus’ main Sunday political show, “Dimanche Plus,” has been following the campaign since last fall, and the web has also dabbled in more experimental political coverage, recently inviting the Christian Democrat candidate Francois Bayrou to co-present an edition of its nightly “Grand Journal.”

Even the youth-skewed M6 has launched a political show for Sunday evenings.

Sadly for the webs, viewers’ taste isn’t likely to translate into an ad coin windfall.

“Advertisers don’t want their brands to be associated with a particular candidate, so they avoid political shows,” Namias says.

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