When French pay TV broadcaster Canal+ launched on November 4, 1984, it was designed to be an outlet for major sports events and premium US movies and series.
However, 25 years later, the Vivendi-owned network is becoming known for its raft of high quality, big budget drama series.
The broadcaster is keen to become the “French HBO” after enjoying recent success with miniseries including XIII: The Conspiracy, the Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer-fronted action thriller based on the French graphic novel and Engrenages (aka Spiral), the Son et Luminaire-produced cop drama.
Rodolphe Belmer, Canal Plus chief operating officer and former executive VP, content, says that company is keen to compete with American series and create French and European productions that can successfully be exported abroad. “It’s been several years since Canal Plus launched into original productions and now we want to go one step to beyond and develop very specific programming that is world class,” he adds.
The charge is being lead by Fabrice de la Patelliere, director of original fiction. De la Patelliere is making a lot of noise with a number of big budget dramas.
Braquo is an 8x52mins police drama directed by French auteur Oliver Marchal (36, MR73), his first project for television, and produced by Capa Drama. The series, which stars Leon’s Jean Hugues Anglade as part of a crazy cop team that works in Paris’ lawless enclaves, recorded an audience share of over 20% when it launched last month, a huge number for a pay series.
Meanwhile, the €30 million period drama The Borgias was launched at MIPCOM and is being written by Oz showrunner Tom Fontana and exec produced by former HBO chief Chris Albrecht. It is expected to launch next year alongside series including 13x1hour drama series The Oligarchs, written by Mafiosa‘s Pierre Leccia, Tetra Media-produced political drama Berlucci and €15 million Film en Stock-produced Illich: The Story of Carlos, which is a three part TV movie directed by Olivier Assayas about the Venezuelan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal.
Despite being a pay TV broadcaster, Canal Plus was the first network to sign up to new terms this year governing the amount of content that it commissions from local independent producers. The company has agreed to spend at least 3.4% of its turnover on domestic productions, a move that made it popular amongst the country’s creative community.
The company has also moved into original comedy with series including La Generale d’Images-produced Hard, a comedy set in the porn industry, and Chic Films-produced sitcom Nos Enfants Cheris competing with American comedies such as Desperate Housewives and Weeds.
The other notable shift in recent years has been the exportability of Canal+ content. No longer just producing programming only for its domestic audience, it has seen series such as Spiral sold to international broadcasters including Britain’s the BBC and Australia’s SBS, while Braquo was one of distributor Zodiak Entertainment’s most sought after shows in Cannes. The Borgias, for example, is to be produced in English with an international cast, a sign of Canal Plus’ willingness to appeal to the rest of the world as well as its 5.3 million subscribers.