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Studiocanal Bows Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘The Child in Time,’ SF-Viaplay’s ‘The Lawyer,’ Sells to BBC Four ‘Below the Surface’ (EXCLUSIVE)

U.K. deal part of a spike in Studiocanal international sales

Studiocanal Bows Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Child in
Courtesy of Studiocanal

CANNES  — Bringing to Mipcom Benedict Cumberbatch’s “The Child in Time” as it launches “The Lawyer,” from “The Bridge” scribe Hans Rosenfeldt, Studiocanal announced on Sunday that it has the licensed SAM Productions thriller “Below the Surface” to BBC Four.

The sale is just part, however, of a spike in licensing deals at Studiocanal, seen here on both “Below the Surface” and “Ride Upon the Storm,” two of the three earliest shows created by Søren Sveistrup (“The Killing”) Adam Price (“Borgen”) and Meta Louise Foldager (“A Royal Affair”) at SAM Productions, a company they set up with Studiocanal in 2014, with Studiocanal, an affiliate of Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, taking a 25% equity stake in SAM.

Added to “The Lawyer” and “The Child in Time,” they show that Studiocanal is still growing as a TV company both in new partnerships and in reaping the first benefits from vigorous investment in a network of high-profile production companies spread over Europe in the last five years. Many of Studiocanal’s shows and confirmed deals at Mipcom are the first fruit of those investments.

A propulsive hostage action thriller from Kasper Barfoed (“Dicte”) set in central Copenhagen, “Below the Surface,” produced by SAM for Discovery Networks Denmark’s Kanal 5, was also an early attempt by SAM Productions to show that it could make a more mainstream show which brought economic benefit in Denmark not only to SAM but also to its broadcaster.

A sleek taut thriller which lasts over eight days of stand-off, one day per episode, “Below the Surface” has, however also broken out to impressive initial international sales, being acquired by more than 70 territories to date. Broadcaster buyers also take in MNet in Africa, Poland’s NC +, Belgium’s VRT Belgium and SBS Australia.

The series has also sold to Finland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden and Norway and Poland. It kicks off with a scene of his brutal torture in a Middle East chamber.

“‘Below The Surface’ is an exciting and thought-provoking thriller which ratchets up the tension until you are literally on the edge of your seat,” said Sue Deeks, head of BBC Program Acquisition.

“We are delighted to license ‘Below The Surface’ to yet another international broadcaster.  The subject matter in this absorbing drama is so relevant to the world we all live in today and we are sure each tense and action-filled episode will resonate with BBC Four viewers,” added Francoise Guyonnet, Studiocanal executive managing director, TV Series.

Presented by Studiocanal and Viaplay, the ambitious Nordic VOD platform for which it is a flagship production, “The Lawyer” bows today on the Riviera as one of Mipcom World Premiere Screenings. It is also the first series to emerge from Studiocanal’s development partnership with SF Studios, owned by the Bonnier Group, one of Scandinavia’s two biggest domestic distributors and, like Viaplay, an ambitious international producer (“Borg Vs. McEnroe”).

Made for the BBC in partnership with Pinewood TV, “The Child in Time” is the first TV commission at Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sunny March TV, in which Studiocanal took a minority stake in 2016. Studiocanal has waited for the completion of “The Child in Time” – Stephen Butchard adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel directed by Julian Farino and co-starring Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Campbell Moore and Saskia Reeves – to initiate its sales campaign at Mipcom. Co-produced by Masterpiece on PBS, it is already garnering “a lot” of sales interest, said Guyonnet.

If Studiocanal is beginning to cash in on key creative talent investments, it is also doing so at a market level significantly up on returns in just recent years.

World premiering at Paris’ Series Mania in April, and bowing Sept. 24 in DR’s key Sunday primetime slot, “Ride Upon the Storm, ”which is produced by DR Drama, Arte France and Sam Le Français and showrun by Adam Price, has sold to 87 territories to date, said Guyonnet.

These include a deal with Arte for both France and Germany, Telefonica’s Movistar + for Spain, and TVNZ for New Zealand, in TVNZ’s first buy of a foreign-language drama, Guyonnet noted. MNET has acquired rights to Africa, RTVS to Slovakia.

That’s also a deals spike, said Guyonnet. “We are now selling 70-or-80 territories on series when, a few years back, the figure was maybe 40-to-50.”

Reasons cut several ways, she argued. From its milestone move of acquiring Rola Bauer’s Tandem Productions in December 2011, the first of seven TV roduction companies in Europe which include Nicola Shindler’s Red Production Company in Manchester, and Bambu Producciones in Madrid, “Studiocanal is now recognized on the international market as one of the most important European content providers. That happened in movies; now it’s a reality in series.”

She added: “Studiocanal has one of the best slates on the market. “We are one of the only companies which can offer at the same time high-quality, event drama from Denmark, U.K-, Poland, Italy, Germany and France.”

Also, and “an external factor,” foreign-language series, including European series, are exercising a strong appeal on the global market.”

That appeal is, moreover, broadening in geographic reach. “We are now reaching more and more territories including Africa, Asia and all continents,” Guyonnet said.

Foreign-language series may also simply be raising the bar, becoming more involved and involving, in part since increasingly character driven.

Billed as Nordic Noir, “The Lawyer” is an “addictive thriller” about a defense attorney who discovers the identity of the man who killed his parents via a car bomb. Once scrupulously ethical – he rejects horse-trading nil compensation for a client’s incarceration for avoiding the cost of facing an appeal – he crosses multiple red lines to see justice served.

The show asks how far we should go to get justice,” said Guyonnet, But it’s also about “an observantly drawn relationship between a brother and sister,” she added.

In the figure of the lawyer, the series also talks about deep hurt, how he goes into law out of a visceral sense of injustice in his own life, and, in constructing a confident, persuasive public persona as a defense attorney in order to deny to himself just how hurt he really is by his parents’ murder. And as soon as series talk about human emotions, which know no borders.

Studiocanal is also seeking to drive deeper into specific demos. One huge one is women’s audiences, via Studiocanal’s other new show at Mipcom, “Paris Etc.”

A Paris-set 12 part feel good series, following five different heroines’, who are 20 to 60 years old, “Paris Etc.” is  “very local, very Paris but also very recognizable for women who live in cities all around the world,” Guyonnet said.

She added: “It’s about the very life, love, children, work and everything that a woman has to face in her daily life and has a very funny comedic tone.”

In a further sign of success, Studiocanal will be bringing onto the market second seasons of “Ride Upon the Storm,” Polish ratings buster “The Teach,” hit scathing political farce “Baron Noir” and the RAI-2-sourced “La Porta Rossa.”

“This is just a beginning,” said Guyonnet. “Studiocanal only initiated TV production five years ago,” she added, saying that it still has to source series from some of its partners such as Urban Myth and Guilty Party. This year, Studiocanal will handle the international distribution of 13 series, whether new series or new seasons. Its aim, however, is to raise that to 20 in 2018, which Guyonnet sees as “completely realistic.”