In 2008, when Tandem’s Rola Bauer and Tim Halkin began financing “The Pillars of the Earth,” allying with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free, they stood nearly alone in Europe in making grand-scale English-language limited series.
Now Bauer and Halkin are in the vanguard of a global TV revolution at the Munich-based company.
The Canadian Bauer and U.S.-born Halkin met when he reported to her at ProSieben in Germany. In 1999, the pair founded Tandem. Bauer wanted to pursue her interest in creating content while Halkin is a marketing whiz. Having him as a business partner allowed her to raise her two children while still working, she has said.
In early 2012, Studiocanal, owned by Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, revealed it had bought a 51% share in Tandem. That deal helped the boutique company, which makes international programming usually with U.S. partners, move ahead.
Run by Halkin, Tandem Productions still makes its own series, including ABC Networks-aired “Take Two,” from “Castle” creators Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe, and big-scale period thriller “Shadowplay,” from Mans Marlind (“The Bridge,” “Midnight Sun”), which started shooting in April.
Since 2011, Tandem Communications, headed by Bauer, continued to service Tandem, structuring financing, distribution and marketing.
Yet from 2013 through 2016, Studiocanal also evolved dramatically, buying stakes in the U.K.’s RED Production Co., Guilty Party, Urban Myth Films and Sunny MarchTV, Denmark’s SAM and Spain’s Bambú.
“We want, more than ever, to develop local European content, because local programming is highly important, and to leverage such local content to make it more international,” says Studiocanal CEO Didier Lupfer.
In 2015, to achieve the latter, Studiocanal rebranded Tandem Communications as Studiocanal TV, with Bauer structuring overseas finance, often from U.S. companies, for Studiocanal — and to realize the full international potential of flagship Studiocanal projects.
The first full fruit of this decade-long Studiocanal TV build is now being seen in RED Production Co.’s “Years and Years,” Urban Myth’s “The War of the Worlds” and “The One” and, in a third-party partnership, Cattleya’s “ZeroZeroZero.”
What Tandem can bring to the table says much about the change sweeping the European TV business.
History has gone Tandem’s way. As a boutique company producing big series, Tandem has naturally embraced international co-production from the get-go.
Making “Pillars” and “World Without End,” Tandem proved “visionary forerunners” in international limited series co-productions “years before such pursuits became ubiquitous,” says Scott Free TV’s David Zucker, in a testimonial collected by Tandem for its 20th anniversary.
Now a whole sector’s piling into international co-production. TV ad markets are languishing. Production has spiraled as networks see the need to compete with the volume and scale of streaming platform and cable originals. France produced five dramas in 2017, 19 last year, according to Spain’s GECA. Nordic SVOD service Viaplay, for example, needs to release 40 original productions a year, NENT CEO Anders Jensen announced at a MipTV keynote moderated by Bauer. But how can companies achieve such volume? Co-production is one obvious answer.
Bauer “understands our needs as a producer and how to put us with the best broadcaster to make the show as strong as possible,” says RED’s Nicola Schindler.
In just a few of Bauer-aided deals at Studiocanal TV, she saw HBO sign on to produce with BBC and Canal Plus the series “Years and Years”; for “War of the Worlds,” she set up Urban Myth with Fox Networks Group; she helped “The One” become a Netflix original; and shaped “The Child in Time” for Benedict Cumberbatch’s SunnyMarch TV as a co-production with PinewoodTV for BBC One and PBS Masterpiece.
After Studiocanal TV came in with a hefty minimum guarantee on international, Bauer also helped structure Canal Plus-Sky Italia’s “ZeroZeroZero” as a co-production with Amazon and Sky U.K. and Deutschland.
“She’s got great ideas,” says Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer. “Her sweet spot is understanding content — true first-run product — that can work in more than one original market.”
That comes with Bauer and Halkin’s sense of home territories. Bauer moved to Paris in 1989 to head international business at Alliance, then at German network ProSieben, where she met Halkin.
Having been “brought up with American television as a child, you have that vernacular. As a native English- speaker, you understand the U.K. market, “ she says. “Living in France, then Germany, gives you an entry into all of those different cultures which makes you more respectful of their stories.”
The anniversary testimonials collected by Tandem underscore the caliber of contacts and high-level trust that Bauer and Halkin have built up over the years.
They need it. “International co-production is still not for the faint-hearted, [but] to rise to a challenge, cut through the noise with a different story,” realizing creators’ visions, Bauer says.
International co-production remains, as Feltheimer puts it, a “bespoke” business. One of Bauer’s arts is to know whom could very much benefit from producing with whom. “It was fun to arrange a deal between Urban Myth and Fox Networks Group on ‘War of the Worlds.’ They knew each other creatively and with a little persistence we found a way together, especially since FNG is a good partner editorially with Canal Plus,” she says.
“There’s a fine line between what is called a co-production and something on which someone has pre-bought territories,” says Fletheimer. “How much creative control do the various partners have together? Who takes the risk of completion? Who’s in charge of the actual production? It can be complicated and Rola and Tim are very capable and experienced in navigating those murky waters.”
As producers, moreover, “Rola and Tim are absolute advocates of the creatives they work with,” says “Take Two” showrunner-creator Terri Miller.
Rather than obedience to any sacrosanct European auteur principle, the empowerment of original voices is a totally pragmatic business model.
Unless talent, and its vision, is cared for, it will simply go elsewhere. Tandem certainly cares for talent. “I never hesitated before going with Tandem for ‘Shadowplay.’ Would work with them again in a heartbeat,” says Marlind.
Tandem also knows how to attract talent. On “Take Two,” it secured early distribution deals with Germany’s Vox and France 2, then brought the show to domestic where ABC network jumped in. That allowed showrunner-creators Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe to co-own the show.
“Coming out of the studio system, where the showrunner’s essentially an employee, working on an independent project with a studio where, however, we would all be partners was a very exciting idea to us,” Miller recalls.
Talent, moreover, attracts more talent, industry partners and audiences. It was Marlind’s large-scale, unyielding yet ultimately hopeful take on 1946 Berlin that has proved the core draw of “Shadowplay.”
Tandem Prods. looks set to announce a greenlight for new project “The Man Who Fell to Earth” with U.S. partners.
Headed by Françoise Guyonnet and feeding into the Studiocanal distribution and sales operation, overseen by Anna Marsh, Studiocanal TV is fast consolidating as one of the most powerful — and mostly women-run — TV content companies in Europe.
This May, Canal Plus Group announced it was acquiring European pay TV operator M7. With it, Studiocanal will have 20 million subscribers around the world. That number could grow if subscribers are offered original content.
“Studiocanal will continue to support the group’s international growth with quality content for a global audience,” says Lupfer.
“Under Bauer’s guidance, Studiocanal has set itself up to be the premier intersection between foreign and domestic content for a long time to come,” says producer-writer-director Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek Into Darkness”).
The best may yet be to come.