CANNES – Spanish actor-top model Jon Kortajarena, who made his acting debut in Colin Firth-starrer “A Single Man” — and was last seen in Madonna music videos “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Girl Gone Wild” – is toplining “La Verdad” (“Truth”), the new thriller-drama from Plano a Plano, Spain’s highest-rating indie TV production house, set to broadcast on network Mediaset Espana’s Telecinco, Spain’s most-watched TV channel. Casting reps Kortajarena’s first star turn.
Meanwhile, as over the 2014-15 season, two Plano a Plano series, thriller drama “El Principe” and culture-clash romcom “Down Below,” both mid-season returns, rank as 2016’s top-rating dramas in Spain. Their sterling primetime performances come as Plano a Plano advances on its first high-end international co-production, “Salazar,” distributed by Eccho Rights and now with a pilot script, and has launched in Spain “Crime Times,” a 1960s-set crime thriller set at a newspaper as Spain’s press won (highly limited) press freedoms in the last decade of Francisco Franco’s arcane dictatorship.
As all over the world, free-to-air broadcast series have to sit aside the best in the world, appealing to audiences that increasingly can chose between free-to-air, playback (which now accounts for 10%-20% of drama auds), pay-TV — whose subs at Spain’s top paybox service, Movistar Plus, reached 3.67 million yearend 2015 — and Netflix, launched in Spain in October.
“A few years ago, people didn’t watch many TV imports. Now younger audiences are looking for the latest from the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Spain’s audiovisual culture has grown exponentially and is much more demanding,” said Cesar Benitez, Plano a Plano co-founder.
That creates a central paradox: “Spanish series are much more competitive than years ago, export much more, are more accepted, but are still made with the same resources,” he added.
Facing off in a brutally competitive environment, U.S. series can depend for their signature singularity on their stars. In Spain, celebrities — such as Jon Kortajarena, Spain’s best-known male model — give series a much-needed marketing hook. But, as much of the independent international TV world, in order to drive audiences and acquire some neo-cable edge, Spain TV industry has to depend largely on creative ambition.
Exhibit A: “El Principe”: Set in Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta, now in its second season and final block of eight episodes, “El Principe” centers on an undercover cop attempting to close a Jihadist recruiting cell.
Exhibit B: “Truth.” “Domestic Noir,” per “Truth” showrunner and Plano a Plano co-founder Aitor Gabilondo, it centers on a 17-year-old girl (Elena Rivera, “Remember When”) who reveals herself to be the daughter of a well-heeled family who disappeared without trace more than a decade before. Her claims look false, and she refuses to talk to anyone save a rookie cop (Kortajarena), though the family, surprisingly, welcomes her back. Put in charge of the case, charming but green, the police officer begins to peel away layer after layer of lie, subterfuge and equivocation in a case which lifts the lid on a supposedly upright family.
Made for Mediaset España, suspense drama “Truth” is currently lensing its fourth and fifth segment of two seasons of eight episodes, shot in a row, and will shoot entirely on location in the strikingly beautiful Santander coastal town of North Spain, said Benitez.
Benitez said a series has to be more on-the-nose, “highly passionate, with a lot of adrenaline” and, added Gabilondo, “more Latin.” There is interest from France in remake rights, Benitez added.
Other trends are also coursing through Spain’s TV production sector, Gabilondo observed.
“Spanish series are becoming more realistic. Intuitively, we’re looking to shoot everything on locations, even comedies. And it is more important how stories are told: the aesthetics, the look, the visual impact.”
For Benitez, “’Truth’ has a highly ‘cinematic’ tone, if a TV rhythm.” That can be seen in “shot set-ups, the use of light and its growing erotic charge,” he added.
Set against the witch-hunt fever that struck France and Spain beginning in 1608, sparking the most famous of Inquisition trials against self-confessed witches in Spain’s Zugarramurdi, “Salazar” centers on a young Inquisitor who falls in love with one of the accused. His subsequent actions changed Inquisition law for centuries, abolishing the crime of witchcraft and invalidating confessions made under torture, making Salazar a remarkably progressive figure. Produced with France’s MakingProd, “Salazar” now has a bible. Producers’ aim is to shoot starting in late May 2017 in Navarre, Benitez said. Cast will mix Spanish and French actors, added Maria Cervera, Plano a Plano head of international. The writers will also be Spanish and French; Gabilondo is showrunning together with Carmen Abarca.
Sold at MipTV by TVE and Plano a Plano, and with Olga Salvador and Francisco Romero as showrunners, “El Caso” (“Crime Times”) a humor-laced crime thriller, punched 2.53 million viewers and a 13.2% share in its March 15 bow on pubcaster channel TVE, 2.15 million eyeballs and 12.5% for its second, May 22 seg. Ratings are above La 1 channel average of 10.2% for February.
Unspooling in 1966, “Crime Times” is set at El Caso, Spain’s crime-murder-muckraking tabloid, which served to expose corruption in dictator Francisco Franco’s otherwise unaccountable regime.
Remarkable for its extensive period sets, “El Caso” is leavened by the light feminist grace note of a rookie femme journo (Veronica Sanchez), a preppy university graduate who’s studied abroad, is into contempo ’60s fashion and one step ahead of her long-in-the-tooth male colleague (a chain-smoking Fernando Guillen-Cuervo, also series’ co-creator) and two steps ahead of the clodplodding coppers, including one decidedly nasty Francoist old-guard inspector. She also has frequent run-ins with her father, who’s high up in Franco’s government.
“The tone is something like ‘Bones’ or ‘Criminal Minds,’ because of its quirky characters, though of course it’s period and featuring reporters investigating crimes, which means they don’t have to always follow the letter of the law. It’s a portrait of the two Spains: one that doesn’t want to change and the other, a younger generation in search of more freedoms,” said Cervera.
Set in a world of “political repression, censorship, sexual revolution and new social achievements, ‘Crime Times’ takes us to a time without technology largely distinguished by music, fashion and the real characters that made an impact on that era,” she added.