Head of fiction programming at Canal Plus since 2002, Fabrice de la Patelliere has been a driving force behind the French pay TV’s channel’s push into ambitious French and English-language drama series, notably “Versailles,” whose third season world premiered at Canneseries on Wednesday, opening the new TV festival.
The French TV maven spoke to Variety about the making of “Versailles” and how the show fits into the editorial line of Canal Plus’ Creation Originale label, He also discussed upcoming projects and new challenges sparked by the high-end drama series boom.
What were the challenges in creating this third season of “Versailles” and why did you decide to make it the final season?
From the start, “Versailles'” producer Claude Chelli had spoken to us about making three seasons. The series was meant to chronicle the coming of age and rise to power of Louis XIV and show how he built Versailles to corral his nobles, asserting his absolute power. At the end of the third season, Louis XIV has achieved absolute power, he’s 46 or 47 years old, so we reached the end of the narrative arc that we had envisioned for this series.
As far as the process, it was a wildy ambitious journey to set up the writing, production, casting, costumes, etc. We had hundreds of technicians working on the show. This last season was written by Andrew Bampfield and Tim Loane who took over from David Wolstencroft and Simon Mirren, the creators and showrunners of the series. They did a remarkable job at transitioning harmoniously, with the crucial help and guidance of the producers, Chelli and Aude Albano from Capa Drama.
The series garnered some buzz on social media — did you take into account the feedback the series was getting during Season 1 and 2 when you started developing Season 3?
It’s true that “Versailles” got a lot of buzz on social media, more than most of our series, because it appeals to younger people. We noticed that many reactions from viewers coincided with ours. It was informative to read what people said. We also do studies during and after the airing of our shows to see what works and what doesn’t. This last season has a bit less violence than the previous ones, for instance, and we think we reached the right balance.
How does this show fit into the editorial line of the “Creation Originale” label?
“Versailles” was a great fit for our editorial line and it was a success in terms of boosting our brand. It’s a youthful, sexy and glamorous show which has allowed us to reach younger audiences and more female viewers. It provides an alternative to the more contemporary, dark-edged series like “Baron Noir,””Spiral” or “The Bureau.” We want and need to have a rich and attractive offer to appeal to different kinds of subscribers.
How have your mandate and creative ambitions evolved in the last several years which have been marked by the boom of high-end drama series and launch of Netflix in France?
Our editorial line is still focused on delivering ambitious, edgy shows. We haven’t been asked to make more mainstream series. The rising competition is forcing us to be even more innovative and one of our priorities is to attract younger viewers with our French shows. We’re facing global giants who have enormous resources. So the best way for us to thrive is to boast series that are culturally grounded in France and in Europe to attract audiences in France and beyond.
We’re also going to ramp up our volume of original series. Today, we do about six originals per year. We aim to raise that to an annual 8 in two years time. These will include two English-language series a year.
How do you think the launch of Studiocanal’s new in-house French production banner will change the way you work? Does it mean you’ll work less with independent producers in France?
It’s very interesting for us to have access to projects initiated and produced in-house but we absolutely want to maintain relationships with independent producers. I will keep my position as head of fiction programming at Canal Plus’s Creation Originale division and we will be collaborating with this new in-house production unit as we’ve been doing with other Studiocanal production companies outside France, notably RED and Tandem. It’s increasingly important for us to own rights to series we commission and distribute — that’s how global players like Netflix and Amazon operate.
Can you mention a series you’re currently co-developing at Canal Plus?
We’re co-developing, with Tetra Media Fiction and Fabien Nury (the popular comic book artist of “The Death of Stalin”), a cop series set in the early 1900s in Paris.