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European Pubcaster Alliance Revs Up With New Dramas ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’ ‘Mirage’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The Alliance, the new partnership formed by leading European pubcasters to counter the growing power of Netflix and other players, is revving up with two new international dramas, “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Mirage.”

The Alliance was formed last year by France Televisions, Germany’s ZDF and Italy’s Rai. The partners unveiled their two new ambitious shows Wednesday at Series Mania in Lille, France.

For France Televisions in particular, the series are part of a wider move into high-end international drama that also includes French series like “Germinal,” based on Emile Zola’s classic novel, and the adaptation of Guillaume Musso’s bestseller, “La jeune fille et la nuit,” both of which France Televisions is developing outside of the Alliance.

The French pubcaster’s push has been spearheaded by Nathalie Biancolli, an industry veteran who helped created SND, the commercial division of M6 network, and worked at TF1 during her 30-year career in the media. Biancolli joined the public broadcaster in 2017 to head international drama and acquisitions.

“Around the World in 80 Days” is a historic adventure series based on Jules Verne’s classic novel. Slated to start shooting this fall, the series will follow English gentleman Phileas Fogg and his butler Passepartout, played by the French actor Ahmed Sylla, as they travel around the world in 80 days, accompanied by the ambitious journalist Abigail Fix.

The series is being co-developed by France Televisions, ZDF, and Rai, together with Australia’s Seven West Media. Slim Film + Television and Federation Entertainment are co-producing the show in association with 247 Films.

The series is also being developed by Slim’s Simon Crawford Collins and is being run by Ashley Pharoah (“Life on Mars”), with a writing team including Caleb Ranson (“Child of Mine”), Debbie O’Malley (“Humans”), Peter McKenna (“Red Rock”), Stephen Greenhorn (“Doctor Who”) and the trio Claire Downs, Ian Jarvis and Stuart Lane (“In the Long Run”).

“We are very pleased to have not only created this Alliance but to have made it operational very quickly, as the shootings we are announcing today show, as well as the many developments that are now under way,” said Takis Candilis, the deputy managing director of broadcasting and programs at France Télévisions.

Norbert Himmler, CCO of ZDF said the Alliance is “combining the strengths of three public broadcasters in order to jointly produce internationally competitive series.” The ZDF exec said the series are “ranging from high-end productions to innovative series projects for younger target groups.”

Eleonora Andreatta, head of drama at RAI said the “goal (the Alliance) was to create a European alternative to the new global players.”

The previously announced “Mirage” is a six-episode spy thriller series with a love triangle, starring Marie-Josée Croze (“Jack Ryan”), Clive Standen (“Vikings”), Hannes Jaenicke (“Code Name: Eternity”), Shawn Doyle (“House of Cards”), and Gregory Fitoussi (“Spiral”). Set in Abu Dhabi, the thriller tells the story of a security expert for nuclear power systems who is targeted by mysterious secret agents.

With a budget of about $2 million per episode, “Mirage” is being produced by France’s Lincoln TV and Connect3 Media Inc., the Cineflix Media-owned production company. Created and written by Franck Philippon (“No Limit”), Bénédicte Charles (“La Légiste”) and Olivier Pouponneau (“Surveillance”), the show has been greenlit and is the Alliance’s first series. Louis Choquette (“Versailles”) will direct. The series will start shooting in Abu Dhabi and Morocco next month and is slated for delivery in late 2019. Cineflix is handling international sales on “Mirage.”

France Televisions and Rai’s’ “Survivors” is a mystery series revolving around a sailboat that gets destroyed in a fierce storm and disappears. After a year, the wreck is recovered with seven survivors aboard, some of whom seem to be hiding a terrible secret. Produced by Fabienne Servan-Schreiber and Thomas Saignes at Paris-based Cinetevé and by Marco Poccioni and Marco Valsani at Italian shingle Rodeo Drive, the series will comprise 12 episodes and start filming in early 2020.

“We’re in a war for content – there are less and less attractive series projects up for sale because studios and platforms are increasingly producing their own content and keeping the rights,” Biancolli said. “France Televisions is adapting to this competitive market by coming on board projects at an earlier [stage] and teaming with other European broadcasters to combine resources and raise bigger budgets, either through the Alliance or via other partnerships.”

France Televisions is still investing in historical series that appeal to broader demographics, such as “Germinal,” “Josephine and Bonaparte,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” Biancolli said. But these historical drama series will be more modern, internationally driven and cinematic than the pubcaster’s previous period dramas, she said.

“Germinal” is being represented in international markets by Banijay Rights. Julien Lilti, the writer of Canal Plus hit series “Hippocrate,” is on board to pen “Germinal.”  The series is currently in development at France Televisions, but Biancolli said ZDF and/or Rai might join the project at a later stage.

On series developed through the Alliance, there will be two of the three broadcasters as co-producing/commissioning partners, with the third one designated as a pre-buyer.

Another highlight on the Alliance’s roster is “Leonardo,” a biographical series written by Franck Spotnitz and Steve Thompson about the Italian artist and inventor which RAI and Lux Vide are producing with France Televisions and ZDF. “Leonardo” will start shooting later this year.

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