Newen Connect, the distribution branch of Newen, the Paris-based international production and distribution company owned by French’s biggest TV network, the TF1 Group, has boarded a bevy of upscale international drama series, including “Lost Luggage,” “Memento Mori,” Christian” and “Agent K.” The Paris-based company will help finance and sell internationally these shows.
“Since creating Newen Connect in October, we have ramped up our teams, hired Leona Connell [a former exec at Sky Vision and NBC Universal] as EVP of Newen Connect, and got a larger presence in the U.K. as well as Canada to increase our input in the English-language drama landscape, and beyond,” said Rodolphe Buet, a former senior executive at Studiocanal and chief distribution officer at Newen.
The recently-rebranded division, which comprises more than 20 executives located in Paris, London, Montreal, New York and Buenos Aires, is increasingly looking to team up ambitious third-party producers on premium drama projects at an early stage, said Buet.
“In addition to working with Newen’s producers, our goal is to collaborate with talented producers who are developing high-profile content with strong production values and talents attached,” pointed out the veteran executive, who added that producers benefited from being able to finance the development of their shows before pitching to platforms or networks because they were in a better position to retain some rights and control the creative process.
Out of the several international series joining Newen Connect’s pipeline, only one is produced by an in-house production banner — “Lost Luggage,” which is made by Belgian outfit De Mensen for Belgian public broadcaster VRT and the Franco-German network Arte.
De Mensen is owned by Newen, along with Telfrance, Capa, 17 Juin Média and Blue Spirit in France, Tuvalu and Pupkin in the Netherlands, Nimbus in Denmark, De Mensen in Belgium and Reel One in Canada.
“Lost Luggage” was inspired by the aftermath of the March 2016 attacks at the airport of Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The six-part shows follows Samira Laroussa, a fictional Belgian-Moroccan policewoman (played by Lara Chedraoui, a rock singer) who has been encharged with returning all baggage and personal belongings that were left behind in the departure hall that day. Through her journey, Laroussa crosses paths with families whose lives have been forever altered, and people coping with their own troubled pasts. Buet said the series’ narrative structure reminded him of the one seen in “Six Feet Under.”
“Lost Luggage” was created by the Belgian actress Tiny Bertels (“Highway of Love”, “Hotel Beau Séjour”), in collaboration with Nathalie Basteyns, the director of “Hotel Beau Séjour.” Writers are Tiny Bertels, Charles De Weerdt (“In Flanders Field”) and Mathias Claeys (“Homegrown”).
“Memento Mori,” produced by Spanish banner Izen, is an adaptation of Cesar Pérez Gellida’s bestseller which has been translated into many languages. The series will revolve around a detective who partners with a linguist to solve a series of murders committed by a serial killer who leaves wordplay in an unknown language to provoke and manipulate authorities. Buet said Newen Connect will be working hand-in-hand with the producers to attach some local stars.
In Italy, Newen Connect is joining forces with Lucky Red and Sky Italia on “Christian,” a series created by Enrico Audedino (“Padre Nostro”) and headlined by Edoardo Pesce (“Dogman”). Buet described the series, which is set in Rome’s criminal underworld, as a “‘Gomorra’ meets ‘The Young Pope.'”
In the U.K., meanwhile, the company has come on board to co-develop and sell “Agent K,” a contemporary cyber thriller created and penned by Matthew Hall (“Keeping Faith”) and produced by Ecosse Film. The series will turn on an ordinary mum who becomes a skilled double agent for the U.K Government’s intelligence and a cyber security agency where she has a temporary job.
Back in France, Newen Connect has added high-profile projects such as female-powered period drama “Les Combattantes,” the crime thriller “Syndrome E,” based on Franck Thilliez’s bestseller, and Ziad Doueri’s psychological spy thriller “Coeurs Noirs.”
“Syndrome E,” which will start shooting in May, follows a detective who has to overcome the tragic death of his loved ones to dismantle a trafficking network of orphans who are used for medical experiments. The series is produced by Escazal with a popular French cast including Vincent Elbaz and Jennifer Decker.
“Cœurs noirs” is produced by Mandarin, the well-established banner behind Netflix’s hit show “Lupin.” Penned by Doueri, the series will explore the tormented lives of agents of the French special forces who return home after having worked undercover in Irak for some time. The series will explore some of the same themes as Eric Rochant’s spy thriller “The Bureau,” Buet pointed out. “Coeurs noirs” will be a multi-layered series looking at how special forces agents cope with their families, their colleagues and superiors within the army once they’re back home, and how they deal with people they bonded with during their undercover missions.
At MipTV, Newen Connect is selling high-end European series including Danish undercover cop show “White Sands,” written by A.J. Kazinski; “Dough,” a female-drive Swedish crime comedy series written by Levan Akin, Matthias J. Skoglund and Sara Bergmark Elfgren; and “L’opera” (pictured), a drama set at the world-renowned Paris Opera and following a young Black dancer on a journey to carve out a place for herself within the ultra-competitive institution. “L’opera” is headlined by a prestigious French cast including Ariane Labed, Raphael Personnaz and Suzy Bemba.
In spite of the pandemic, Newen Connect is rolling off a strong year marked by the ratings success of its drama series “The Promise,” a French thriller series penned by Anne Landois, the creator of the international Emmy award-winning show “Spiral;” and “Where It All Begins,” a daily drama series airing on TF1, set at a prestigious culinary school. “The Promise,” for instance, was a smash hit on TF1 with each of the eight episodes garnering an audience of 7 million, on top of more than one million views on catch-up services. “Those huge numbers prove that French producers can create TV franchises on traditional TV networks, tap into mainstream audiences and generate a solid international interest,” said Buet. “There is a real appetite and demand for strong local drama series.”
Newen Connect is also repping “HIP,” a police show with Audrey Fleurot (“The Bonfire of Destiny”), which will premiere on TF1. The anticipated show has already pre-sold to Italy, Spain and Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Canada.
Buet said all streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney Plus, as well as HBO Max, along with traditional TV groups, are now “increasingly interested in quality local productions from all over Europe, as long as they bring something distinctive from U.S. shows, and are rooted in our European DNA.”