Around TVWriter™ French television has pretty much meant only one thing: “Hey, didn’t Larry Brody have a series on a French network at the beginning of the century?”
The answer to that question, of course, was “Yeppers! It was called DIABOLIK and was on the M6 Network.” (You probably thought M6 was another Brit Intelligence Agency, right?)
Now, however, there’s more to French TV than ever before. OMG! They’re going international?!
by Bruce Crumley
It may have produced François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer and Louis Malle but on the small screen France has historically proved rather less illustrious. Its television industry was long equated with uninspired fiction, examining national obsessions or knock-offs of mediocre American programmes.
But, rather like the thick smoke that once choked the nation’s cafes, the noxious reputation of French TV production has largely dispersed. Driven by slick and successful series such as Les Revenants (The Returned), Engrenages (Spiral) andLes Hommes de l’Ombre (Spin), hip French programmes are attracting large international audiences – and creating an export surge.
“It’s part of a global trend that treats TV series more like mini-movies,” says Mathieu Béjot, executive director of TV France International, which helps promote the nation’s audiovisual output abroad. “The higher quality of writing, production and casting and greater diversity of topics involved in that, plays to France’s strong cinematic tradition.
“TV audiences everywhere have also become more open to foreign fiction when it’s compelling and authentic. A programme like Engrenages is great drama but it’s also so French you can almost smell the Gauloises.”
France is following US pay channels like HBO and Showtime – and more recently Netflix – in committing huge budgets to cinematic programming, such as The Wire or Homeland. In the UK this has helped produce international successes including Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Broadchurch.
In France the paid-for channel Canal Plus led the way in the mid-2000s by investing in new original series to supplement the fading allure of its football and cinema programming. The result, among other successes, was Spiral, which became an international hit….