Saturday, 3 December 2011


In spite of the spectacular flop of its last attempt three years ago, French private channel TF1 still wants its feuilleton quotidien. But for now only pubcaster France 3 knows how to turn lead into gold with Plus belle la vie, launched in 2004.

Laurent Storch, chairman of TF1 Production - also in charge of TF1 Films Production, as well as drama and youth programmes for TF1, has announced the filming of two pilots for a possible feuilleton français quotidien (a daily French serial). This one should be "comedic and societal" and aired in what is called in France "access prime time" (1). The genre is generally synonym of daily soap but while soap operas are culturally despised in France, le "feuilleton quotidien" remains one of the French television's wildest dreams. Why? Because of Plus belle la vie (dubbed PBLV), the local equivalent of Corrie or EastEnders.

Launched in 2004 by France 3 at the most strategic 8.20pm slot, right versus these institutions that are the 8pm news sessions of TF1 and France 2, PBLV began with lacklustre ratings. Nevertheless, France 3 believed in its investment and after hard retooling the feuilleton became one of the most watched programmes of the country, and raised appetites. Then TF1 bought Sat.1’s Verliebt in Berlin (2005-2007), the German adaptation of Columbian global phenom format Yo soy Betty la fea. And France made a triumph to the romance between Lisa Plenske and David Seidel, which became the N°1 guilty pleasure of 2007.

Public channel France 2 and TF1’s rival M6 tried to launch their own daily soaps in 2008. But Cinq soeurs and Pas de secrets entre nous, from the same production company (Marathon, producer of St Tropez), failed to attract viewers. TF1 answered with one of the most ambitious gambles of the history of French television, Seconde chance: 2700 m2 of sets at the Bry sur Marne studio facilities with 450 professionals rotating on this one site (150 alternating on the sets), 15 writers working there for a 22 minute format shot in HD, a title song performed by a former candidate of the Gallic Fame Academy, a viral marketing campaign, catchy promos and a 28 million euro budget.

TF1 cautiously tested 10 episodes with panels before ordering 180 episodes to Alma Productions, their subsidiary then behind crime drama RIS (adapted from an Italian format) and the French Law & Order Criminal Intent but also L’Hôpital, so bad it won a Gérard (the French Razzies). Seconde chance started in september 2008 and six months later ratings still didn't meet the expectations raised by costs and logistics. Axed in april 2009, it rejoined campy gems like Riviera (1991, a costly USA-France venture), Foreign Affairs (1992, a co-production between The Netherlands, Canada and... Argentina!), Secrets (1992) or Eldorado (1992-1993). However, one month before Seconde chance's demise, M6 boldly came back in the game with Paris 16ème, produced by CALT Production (Caméra Café).

CALT's effort had an estimated budget of 17 million euros, 9 sets created by a team of 70 crew members, 26 writers, 7 directors and 180 shooting days for an initial deal of 80 episodes filmed simultaneously by two production units. But Paris 16ème didn't last beyond the 80th episode, like Seconde Chance it was filled with clichés and terrible lines, and both aped American hits like Ugly Betty or Gossip Girl.

(1) From around 6pm to 8pm. (In French)

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