Up until a few short years ago, French scripted dramas offered terrestrial viewers and international buyers the same steady promise: Be they criminal investigators or 17th-century dukes, rarely would a series’ cast skew too young.
“Traditional French broadcasters served a somewhat older set of viewers,” says Series Mania artistic director Frederic Lavigne. “And they oriented their programming toward that public. The characters were more or less the age of the audience.”
But for the occasional historical re-creation, most scripted offerings — stemming from both pay TV and free-to-air broadcasters — tended to fall into more procedural models. Indeed, if viewed from afar, France might have seemed home to more middle-age inspectors than any other demographic.
“Under the traditional model, [public] broadcasters couldn’t take as many risks because they were targeting so many million viewers per night,” Lavigne says. Public broadcasters including France Television “are still very limited. They cannot broadcast anything too audacious or outré [during primetime] and can only air more challenging subjects on a limited number of nights.”
That tide began to turn when France Television launched online platform Slash in 2018. As it built a roster of original programming, the platform would offer new talent, restrained budgets and unlimited freedom to craft scripted offerings that could speak to Gen Z experiences and keep those viewers from straying too far.
With recent Slash productions such as “Sisters” — a musical that channels adolescent angst through hip-hop and dance — and “About Sasha” — a drama about an intersex youth struggling with questions of identity — making waves at this most recent edition of Series Mania, one could say the artistic bet paid off. Another Gallic buzz title from this year’s Series Mania: The Arte/Netflix musical docudrama “Le Monde de Demain,” which centers on a group of adolescents in 1980s Paris.
For France TV’s distribution arm, this new slate of series has had an even more marked effect on the business front, with a number of YA-skewing series opening doors previously out of reach.
Certain broadcasters in Germany and Latin America “rarely look for crime dramas,” says Julia Schulte, senior VP, international sales, at France TV distribution. “Those markets have many similar titles already. But our digital shows reflect a degree of diversity that doesn’t quite exist in other territories.”
Among the first batch of Slash series brought to market, the cyber-bullying thriller “Stalk” and the acerbic comedy “Derby Girl” — a feminist and queer-positive show about a disgraced former figure skater who finds a second shot in a roller derby league —soon found homes with institutional broadcasters including HBO Latin America, Sony Channel in Germany and Italy’s RaiPlay.
“These series were even more exposed internationally than in France,” says Schulte. “We were able to sell them to linear and pay TV broadcasters, which went beyond how they were positioned at home.
“It created a positive feedback loop,” Schulte continues. “Somehow the international sales proved there could be an audience wider than the initial target — and our linear broadcasters took note.”
Indeed, following a flurry of international sales, “Stalk” would go on to be broadcast on one of France Televisions linear broadcast networks, while “Derby Girl” scored enough pre-sales from HBO Latin America, Scandinavia’s Beta and Germany’s ZDF among others to finance a second season, which France TV will launch at this year’s Mip TV.
And in a landscape that has proven particularly receptive to youth-focused remakes including “Euphoria” and “Skam” — not to mention France Television’s own landmark success story “Call My Agent!” — this influx of diverse and formally inventive YA series could also point to another potential revenue stream for the local industry.
“There will definitely be some remake opportunities,” Schulte says. “The remake markets are growing and opening up opportunities for any sort of drama — especially in these cases. You can quite easily imagine an adaptation of a show like ‘Derby Girl’ in other markets.”
“We have already closed some very interesting option agreements and are still in discussion on others,” she adds. “Whenever you can come up with something new it adds higher value to the format. We expect some real opportunities here.”