French TV Benefits From Strong Local Shows, International Co-Productions

Overseas sales of French programs have increased by 30% in three years

France has always considered itself to be a mecca of world cinema, while tending to disdain its homegrown television fiction. But that has changed as the country forges a reputation for edgy miniseries. In fact, on the business side, international TV fiction sales rose 30% between 2011 and 2013.

The main driver of the change is not international coin, but the need to maintain domestic auds. “French viewers are used to watching U.S. shows,” says Laetitia Recayte, CEO at Newen Distribution. “French TV fiction has to draw closer to U.S. models. Canal Plus paved the way, with shows like ‘Spiral,’ but now all French broadcasters are following suit.”

Successful genres include noirish crime dramas and mystery thrillers. One example is Haut et Court’s supernatural thriller “The Returned,” which whetted Blighty appetites for similar fare.

Newen is now repping mystery thriller “Witnesses,” from network France 2, and already has bids from the U.K.’s three main broadcasters.

“The U.K. used to be an impossible territory, but now all networks are competing for a French show,” Recayte says.

Ambitious international co-prods mixing U.S. and French showrunners is the other route to international success. One example: the $34 million French-Canadian co-production “Versailles,” penned by Simon Mirren (“Without a Trace”) and David Wolstencroft (“Spooks”).

But results for some French-backed English-language international co-productions have also been deceptive. TF1’s Jean Reno starrer “Jo” underperformed in France after being ravaged by French critics and its second season was cancelled. EuropaCorp’s French-American series “Taxi Brooklyn,” had low ratings on TF1 in April-May and trended downward on NBC in the U.S.

“International co-productions are rarer phenomena with unpredictable results,” says TV France Intl. exec director Mathieu Bejot. “The main trend is for more French-language local drama.”

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