LONDON — Co-productions targeted at the international marketplace, rather than the local markets of the production partners, are stitched into the fabric of the global TV biz. Yet according to Tony Jordan, founder of U.K. shingle Red Planet Pictures, such Euro-pudding productions are programmed to fail.
“Distributors and financiers want to make shows for overseas markets, but creative people know that way of working is death,” he says. “You have to be careful not to start making drama by international committee.”
While Red Planet’s eight-part comic cop caper “Death in Paradise” — believed to be the first-ever collaboration between the BBC and French pubcaster France Televisions — at first blush would seem to be a candidate for such a co-production calamity, the mashup exploits the peculiarities of French and British culture, and has no pretensions of trying to do more than that.
The series, a Red Planet/Atlantique Prods. production in association with BBC Worldwide and Kudos Film and TV, is a twist on the classic xenophobic Brit abroad story: A travel-averse Brit detective, played by Ben Miller, is sent to an idyllic Caribbean island to solve a spate of murders with the help (and hindrance) of an ornery local cop (French actress Sara Martins).
“He hates the sea, hates the sun, hates people being happy,” Jordan says. “He never takes off his suit and tie.”
Culturally the Brits and the French inhabit different universes, so the idea of the two countries partnering on a TV series sounds like getting the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to agree on how to reinvigorate the world economy.
Jordan, who won his spurs writing almost 200 episodes of the BBC’s blue-collar sudser “EastEnders,” says in the case of “Death in Paradise,” the joint-production experience was “joyous.”
“This has been quite a big deal taking two major European public-service broadcasters and making a show together,” he says.
“Normally with a (co-production) you get money from another territory and the lead nation calls all the shots, but this is genuinely collaborative.”
Jordan says the show is a benchmark of sorts, since it airs more or less simultaneously on both major networks.
Still, Jordan concedes that putting together a show that appeals to two very different audiences did involve at least a degree of creative compromise.
“French humor is more physical than ours,” Jordan allows. “Ours is more subtle and lies more in the character and the subtext rather than the actual situation. Getting that balance right has been interesting. We didn’t want to overdue the physical comedy.”
At the same time, the show aims to differentiate itself from long-running U.K. cop shows “Taggart” and “Lewis,” the kind of police procedurals that BBC1 controller Danny Cohen recently said were already in plentiful supply on Brit airwaves. BBC1 will air “Death in Paradise” later this year.
“I think Danny said there were too many male-led copshows on BBC1,” Jordan says. “That doesn’t apply to our show, which is an ensemble piece (that’s) light in tone. It’s not(a) dour British detective in an alleyway pulling his collar up.”
“Death in Paradise” was created and written by first-time scripter Robert Thorogood, nurtured by Jordan after Thorogood won a writing competition run by Red Planet in cahoots with Kudos.
“It was a deliberate decision by me not to write any of the episodes,” Jordan says. “I didn’t want (the show) to be about me.”
Should “Death in Paradise” earn a second season, Jordan intends to pick up his pen and contribute at least one episode.
Meanwhile Red Planet is gearing up for its second Bible story, “Noah,” following last Christmas’ “The Nativity,” made in tandem with Canada’s CBC.
In development are two historical dramas. One is a five-part World War I story, with each hourlong episode recounting a year in the conflict told from the different perspectives of two boys, one British, the other German. The plan is to have the show ready in time for the centenary of the war’s outbreak in 1914.
The other hopes to take advantage of the fashion for English period drama set in the Middle Ages — this time the 12th century world of Henry II, in a show that aims to be veddy British.
“Don’t expect something like ‘The Tudors,’?” Jordan warns. “It will be people on horses with swords, but I am not interested in heaving bosoms. I don’t want it to be glossy, Hollywood medieval England, but something that feels real and very human in terms of the characters.”