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Gaumont sets U.S. series pilot-free

L.A.-based TV arm banks on high-end talent to launch skeins

In little more than a year since its launch, Gaumont Intl. Television, the Los Angeles-based TV production and distribution arm of the Gallic movie studio, has launched three major series, with more in development, and has shown a knack for attracting top talent.

“Hannibal,” which looks at the early relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and FBI criminal-profiler Will Graham, will air on NBC in the U.S., and is being co-produced by Sony’s AXN, which will show it across its international network. “Pushing Daisies” creator Bryan Fuller is the showrunner, with Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne and Mads Mikkelsen toplining.

Hemlock Grove,” a gothic mystery skein, is exec produced and directed by Eli Roth, and stars Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgard. Netflix has ordered the skein for its Stateside run. “Barbarella,” the TV-series take on the classic ’60s sci-fier, will be exec produced and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Canal Plus is partnering on the show.

Among the projects in development is miniseries “Madame Tussaud,” with “The Tudors” creator Michael Hirst attached.

A key factor in attracting such talent is the quality of the writing, says Gaumont Intl. TV chief exec Katie O’Connell, a former head of drama programming at NBC. But the fact that the company has been able to go straight to series on each project, dodging pilot season, also has helped secure stars.

By stepping up the pace of production, the exec producers were able to approach the projects as one would a feature film. “Eli Roth likes to call ‘Hemlock Grove’ his 13-hour independent film,” O’Connell says. “It has that energy to it.”

Although pleased with the progress the company has made, O’Connell isn’t aiming for sheer numbers. She sees the company as a boutique operation, producing projects that are made to order.

“We’ll never have a huge slate because each of these shows takes a lot of time to build, as they are hand-crafted,” O’Connell says.

With “Hemlock Grove,” which will be penned by Brian McGreevy, based on his novel, Roth aims to broaden his reach beyond the fanbase of his movies, such as “Hostel.” “The moments that are scary are going to be really scary,” O’Connell says, “but it is also a really interesting look at what happens in a small town when tragedy strikes.”

A similar approach is taken with “Hannibal,” which mixes the tone of Thomas Harris’ novels with an element delivered by Fuller that O’Connell says adds surprise and wit to an admittedly macabre subject.

Although genre elements are present in all three new series, other dramatic factors are of equal importance.

“What I look for in these shows is honesty and authenticity in character, and not being afraid to go to some of those complex, darker places,” O’Connell says. “The audience has to recognize something in those characters. If it is just dark for dark’s sake, I don’t think the audience can connect.”

O’Connell has brought onboard Marc Hirschfeld, who worked with her at NBC, as head of casting, an aspect she says is crucial to the series. In “Hannibal,” Mikkelsen plays Lecter, Dancy is Graham and Fishburne limns Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. In addition to the U.S., deals for the show have been inked with major buyers in German-language territories, Scandinavia, France and Canada. Martha De Laurentiis is an exec producer on both “Hannibal” and “Barbarella.”

But the way a show is presented also is related to its distribution platform. The pace and structure of “Hemlock Grove,” for instance, was influenced by the fact that it was commissioned by Netflix.

“If you think about how people consume television on Netflix, it is very addictive,” O’Connell says. “They have got all 13 episodes and they can keep on watching.”

This pattern of consumption is reinforced by the serialized nature of the drama. “It’s like a good book,” says O’Connell. “You want the end of the chapter to propel you into the next chapter.”

For Gaumont’s L.A.-based unit, the opening chapter looks promising. What: Gaumont Intl. TV’s pilot-free lineup.

The takeaway:

The French giant’s L.A.-based TV unit banks on high-end writers and talent to take its slate straight to series.

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