NBCU, RTL, TF1 Form Pact to Produce U.S. Procedural Shows for Global Market

CANNES — NBCUniversal Intl. Television Production, German broadcast network Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and French commercial broadcaster TF1 have formed a co-production pact to produce original U.S.-style TV procedural dramas for the international market.

The deal, which was unveiled Monday at television market MipTV in Cannes, is thought to be the first time that European broadcasters have partnered with a major U.S. media company for a deal of this nature.

The pact is designed to produce up to three new dramas over two years. JoAnn Alfano, NBCU-ITVP’s exec VP of scripted programming, and her team in Los Angeles, will oversee the development and production of the projects, which will be written, shot and cast in North America. Each season will comprise between 12 and 14 episodes, with production set to begin in spring 2016 for a fall/winter delivery.

A creative board has been set up to steer the projects, and has the power to greenlight. The board will be led by Alfano, and will include Joerg Graf, RTL’s exec VP productions and international acquisitions; Bernd Reichart, CEO of RTL’s Vox Television; two executives from TF1; and Michael Edelstein, president of NBCU-ITVP.

Procedural dramas, such as “CSI,” “House” or “Law & Order,” are episodic and self-contained. They tend to work better than serialized dramas for free-to-air broadcasters, like RTL and TF1, because they allow the networks to schedule programs with greater freedom. Episodes can be stacked and aired out of sequence.

In recent years, new procedural dramas have become scarce in the international market-place, and some of the older ones have ceased production. The deal between NBCU, RTL and TF1 will establish a pipeline of new shows.

The pact came out of discussions in recent years between Edelstein and his free-to-air partners, leading him to see the potential in a production pact.

Speaking to Variety at MipTV in Cannes, Edelstein explained how the pieces fell into place: “Last year was this ‘aha!’ light-bulb moment that we have it in our corporate DNA to do this. Both JoAnn and I have done this (produce procedurals) personally as producers or executives, and it just became clear that this was something we could take on.”

The decision to make the new procedurals U.S. in nature was driven in large part by RTL’s and TF1’s needs.

Edelstein said: “What they want is a show that feels like ‘CSI,’ or ‘Law & Order,’ or ‘House,’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy.'”

He added: “(European free-to-air broadcasters) have tried to commission these shows themselves, but they have realized that these European procedurals are not playing as well as the U.S. procedurals, so what they have asked us to do is deliver U.S. shows. That’s really an innovative move and provides them with certainty over a pipeline of U.S.-style procedural dramas as well as giving them a meaningful financial participation.”

Unfortunately for international broadcasters, the supply of these type of U.S. shows has been steadily declining as serialized dramas have taken hold.

“It’s like the drought in California,” Edelstein said. “The water has been drying up for years and what the European broadcasters are concerned about — as many Angelenos are — is that one day you are going to turn on the tap (at the L.A. Screenings in May) and there’s not going to be anything there.”

RTL and TF1 will own the rights in their territories, Germany and France, respectively, and NBCUniversal will license the rights for the U.S. and the rest of the world on behalf of the partnership. Each partner will benefit from the shows’ commercial success in global markets.

In a statement, Graf said the deal built on RTL’s existing relationship with NBCU: “We have negotiated this new form of collaboration because we are both firmly convinced that now the time is right to take the next step — which means to develop and produce procedural drama shows with strong, proven partners particularly for the European free TV market. This will give Mediengruppe RTL not only the opportunity to produce tailor-made formats for our national markets in Europe, but also allows us to secure the entire scope of rights for these programs for all forms of distribution.”

Nonce Paolini, chairman and CEO of TF1, added: “Based on the sharing of skills between our teams, it will enable us to propose series that more closely target the expectations of French TV viewers. From a business perspective, the partnership will, in the medium term, increase the profitability of our programs and allow TF1 to benefit from exclusive operating rights in France as well as from the financial impact of their distribution worldwide.”

Benoit Louvet, chairman of TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and chairman of TF1 Films Production, added: “This type of agreement marks the first time a U.S. studio has struck a deal with European broadcasters without going through a U.S. network. TF1, along with RTL, will be involved in the creative process and will get a share of international sales revenue.”

Photo (left to right): Fabrice Bailly, TF1’s program director; Sophie Leveaux, TF1’s director of artistic acquisitions, Joerg Graf, RTL’s exec VP productions and international acquisitions, Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUniversal Intl. Television Production, Benoit Louvet, executive VP at TF1, and JoAnn Alfano, NBCU-ITVP’s exec VP of scripted programming.

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