Mip TV: Tandem, BBC, Cochran Team for Crusade Epic ‘Lionhearts’ (EXCLUSIVE)

TV drama portrays Richard the Lionheart’s legendary crusade confrontation with Muslim warlord Saladin

CANNES – Shaping up as one of the big event TV series to come out of Europe as it ramps up ever more ambitious TV fiction, Rola Bauer’s Germany-based Tandem Productions (“Pillars of the Earth”), a Studiocanal company, is said to be developing epic TV drama “Lionshearts: The Crusade,” linking with the BBC and “24’s” Robert Cochran.

Helmer of the 2008’s first “Taken,” which gave Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp its biggest movie franchise ever, France’s Pierre Morel (“Taken”) is believed to have committed to direct the first two episodes.

Producer and co-creator of Fox’s “24,” Cochran is attached to “Lionshearts,” which turns on the most famous crusade of all, the Third Crusade of 1191-92. English-language and almost certainly a big epic BBC primetime series,

“Lionhearts: The Crusade” looks a firm candidate for a U.S. deal of some sorts. As Tandem prexy Bauer pointed out last month, made over the last 15 years, all Tandem series have clinched U.S. sales. “Lionhearts: The Crusade” comes with the marketing punch, moreover, of a BBC broadcast.

Set in plural, buzz at Mip TV suggests drama’s title refers not only to the most celebrated crusader of all, English King Richard the Lionheart but also Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria. A great military leader, like Richard, it was Saladin defeated the Crusaders four year’s before Richard I’s arrival in the Holy Land. It was Saladin who stood between Richard and his life ambition of leading the conquest of Jerusalem.

Though most likely targeting far broader demos, “Lionhearts” plays to BBC’s brand reputation and audience for historical fiction, seen in its “The Hollow Crown” series of TV films featuring Shakespeare’s history plays, and “Wolf Hall,” which punched record ratings on BBC 2.

A Tandem spokesperson declined to comment on the series. Given its subject, however, Lionhearts” is in line with the kind of historical high-end dramas that have served Tandem so well, such as 2010’s “The Pillars of the Earth,” which ends in historical terms about 25 years before the Third Crusade, and the two-centuries later “World Without End,” the 2012 eight-part limited series. Both were Ken Follet adaptations co-produced with Scott Free TV.

Consolidating Tandem’s standing as one of continental Europe’s premier English-language TV drama producers, the historical series coincided with Studiocanal’s purchase of a majority stake in Tandem in 2012.

Reflecting Bauer’s custom of tying in key broadcast networks partners for co-development on dramas, “Lionhearts: The Crusade” is the first Tandem project to come to light after Studiocanal and Tandem announced in early March that Studiocanal would be launching a TV sales operation, headed by former Shine Intl. sales SVP Katrina Nylon. Move relieves Bauer of international distribution duties at Tandem, freeing her up to focus on development and production.

“We would like Tandem to produce even more and reinforce its development capacity on international TV series, Studiocanal chairman-CEO Olivier Courson said in March, underscoring Studiocanal and Tandem’s aim of ramping up their “number of really international TV productions.”

With Studiocanal, Tandem has moved into producing recurring one-hour dramas, such as Euro crime series “Crossing Lines,” now in its third season, which is exec produced by Bauer and “The X Filmes” scribe Frank Spotnitz, plus English-language crime drama “Spotless,” co-created for France’s feevee giant Canal Plus by Ed McCardie (the U.K. version of “Shameless”) and Corinne Marrinan (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”).

Actors Elisabeth Mitchell and Goran Visjnic, the new co-leads of “Crossing Lines,” will be at Mip TV Monday to present the series’ third season. This went into production late Feb. in Prague and will be ready for delivery last quarter 2015. The first Canal Plus Original Programming series to be produced by Tandem – and indeed Studiocanal – “Spotless” has bowed to critical praise on giant French paybox Canal Plus, Le Figaro calling it “a perfect blend of family drama and black comedy.”

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