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Series Mania’s Rise Reflects Buoyancy of Scripted TV

Series Mania’s Rise Reflects Buoyancy of Scripted TV
Courtesy of Mika Cotellon/Netflix

It may only be six months since 2021’s pandemic-delayed edition of Series Mania took place, but the annual Lille, France-based drama festival returns once again but this time in its traditional slot of March 18-25.

It’s been “challenging” for the Series Mania team to pull together 2022’s program so soon after last year’s event, says general director Laurence Herszberg.

However, it hasn’t been hard to attract projects to the festival. In a reflection of both Series Mania’s growing stature and the buoyant state of the scripted TV market, the event had 331 submissions from 46 different countries to the competition program. She says Series Mania, which was created in Paris in 2010 and moved to Lille in 2018, is very different from a giant TV sales market, which she reckons the industry is shifting away from. Rather it’s a place where scriptwriters, producers and platforms can build relationships and make connections, and discover scripted projects, often at the start of their life.

Being selected for competition slots at Series Mania, adds Herszberg, is valuable for shows that want to “stand out from the crowd of projects” on the international TV market.

Surveying the selection — including international competition, French competition and international panorama competition — Herszberg picks out a number of key trends. French dramas are increasingly tackling social and political issues, she says, and feature more diverse talent in front of and behind the camera.

The “change” in French drama, says Herszberg, explains why Series Mania is bookended by two local series. “Standing Up,” a Netflix comedy from “Call My Agent” creator and showrunner Fanny Herrero opens the festival, while “Oussekine,” a Disney Plus drama about the 1986 killing by a policeman of a young Algerian student, will close the event.

Politics is a big theme of the nine-strong international competition too, which features eight world premieres. A highlight is the world premiere of HBO’s Baltimore-set police drama “We Own This City,” from “The Wire’s” executive producer David Simon and producer George Pelecanos.

Another world premiere, “Soldiers,” for French pay-TV network OCS, tells the story of the 5,000 soldiers, mostly French, deployed in Mali to contain ISIS.

Other anticipated dramas in international competition include darkly comic HBO and Sky drama “The Baby,” about women who are reluctant to have children, and Epix’s “Billy the Kid,” written by “Vikings” and “The Tudors” creator Michael Hirst.

Elsewhere, the Series Mania Forum (March 22-24) is designed to help industry execs discover new projects and talent, and has at its heart the Co-Pro Pitching Sessions, which presents 16 projects in development (selected from 330 applications from 56 countries) in search of international co-production partners and funding.

More than a hundred projects have been pitched through this program since its creation in 2013, including two main competition winners at last year’s Series Mania: “Blackport” and “The Last Socialist Artefact.” Series Mania Forum director Francesco Capurro says the quality of projects submitted has risen significantly, singling out European shows in particular. Notably, the Co-Pro Pitching Sessions have attracted projects from established producers such as Italy’s Fandango, which is behind buzzy project “The Impossible She,” about the first woman to be selected for Formula One, and France’s the Oligarchs Prods.

(TOP), who is behind Alex Berger-produced “The Bureau,” is pitching futuristic project “Hormones.” Another project of note is Spain’s “Detective Touré,” based on books by John Arretxe and produced by Tornasol and DeAPlaneta. It follows Touré, an African immigrant in the Basque region of Spain, who uses his gifts of wit and deduction to become the best detective in the city.

The high standard of projects at the Co-Pro Pitching Sessions is a sign of how competitive the scripted market is, says Capurro.

Adds Herszberg: “It’s a very competitive market. Everyone needs series. But on the other hand, everybody is writing series.”