Buoyed by a voracious global market, hampered by pandemic era challenges but hungry all the same, French TV exports reached record highs in 2021, racking up €375.9 million ($404 million) in worldwide sales.
While an uptick in foreign pre-buys (which fueled those high watermark figures, themselves up 6% from the previous, record-setting year) helped benefit multi-season series like “Call My Agent!,” “Derby Girl” and “High Intelligence Potential,” those three comedic series share another quality irresistible to international buyers.
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“[There’s a] lightness combined with authenticity,” explained Emmanuelle Dessureault, who oversees acquisitions for public broadcaster Radio-Canada.
“French content often has a light touch, which does not take away from the depth of the subjects addressed, or the stories told. The main characters are lively and full of gusto, while the subject matter can be frank without taking itself too seriously. That’s what distinguishes French content; that’s what makes it interesting.”
Speaking at a daylong conference, held as part of the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, the Quebecois acquisitions exec exchanged views with screenwriter Anne Rambach (of the police series “Spiral” and “Candice Renoir”), distributor Marie-Laure Hebrard, and Telidja Klai, content manager for Flemish broadcaster VRT Ketnet.
For her part, Klai praised French series’ “very characteristic humor,” which allowed the programs to tackle rather heavy subject while keeping that light tone, while Dessureault joked that French police inspectors seemed looser than their English or Scandinavian counterparts, and less tormented to boot.
Building on that thought, Film & Picture president Marie-Laure Hebrard pointed toward police shows like “Candice Renoir” and the “Murders in … ” series, citing those two long-running programs as effective and targeted counter-propositions to the Scandi Noir brand.
“[Market interest] tipped toward the French, because we could offer police shows with characters just as interesting but a lot lighter, a lot more entertaining, and with the occasional comic beat,” Hebrard explained. “These pioneering shows gave the international public a sunnier experience while [opening a new lane for French scripted drama.]”
Among the most successful series to claim that lane is “High Intelligence Potential,” a comedy about a cleaning lady with three kids and an IQ of 160 who rather begrudgingly joins the police force. Since first broadcast in April 2021, the TF1 series has racked up more 100 international sales and won over 175 global viewers, with an American remake, commissioned by ABC and showrun by Drew Goddard, set to begin shooting next month.
When looking to bank on that success and develop the next global hit, screenwriter Anne Rambach harkened back to her time on “Candice Renoir,” a seaside procedural that ran for 10 seasons. “The durability of any big successes is always due to the teams that stayed on from season to season,” Rambach explained. “Whereas in France, we don’t have that same culture of keeping the same teams in place. People change and move to other projects from one season to the next. Keeping those teams would be key in terms of writing and development.”
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