The Weinstein Co today announced itself as a player in the European TV arena with news it would act as production partner on the BBC’s War And Peace event series. The project is the latest to join the trend of large-scale co-productions with European elements and established U.S. pedigrees that arguably kicked off with Tom Fontana’s Borgia. TWC’s move is an even clearer signal that lines are blurring in the scripted TV world. To name just a few of the big-scale projects in the current bent is a laundry list of who’s who on the landscape: Crossing Lines from Ed Bernero and Studiocanal-owned Tandem Communications; Tandem and Lionsgate TV’s Sex, Lies And Handwriting; Daniel Cerone’s Canadian crime import Motive; HBO Asia’s Serangoon Road; Gaumont International TV’s King David from Wolfgang Petersen, Monsieur De Paris from Tony Gilroy and Barbarella with Nicolas Winding Refn; and Fox International Channels’ adaptation of Keshet’s Shkufim with Peter Landesman writing. Meanwhile, Core Media also has a scripted production venture with veteran Canadian producer Noreen Halpern’s Halfire Entertainment banner and a 3-for-1 agreement with NBC which banks on co-productions. Some of the above already had a presence at April’s MipTV market and some are more recent. But for sure, all are being talked about here at Mipcom.
The proliferation of outlets — from traditional networks to cable and Netflix — has made content much more important, says Tandem’s Rola Bauer. “It’s allowed people behind and in front of the camera more freedom.” And straight-to-series, as many of these production are, is especially attractive for showrunners who don’t have to go through a pilot stage and don’t have too many parties pulling in different directions. They also often get a back-end, upping the attractiveness factor.
The trend is not going away as companies are more fiercely watching the international market. Katie O’Connell CEO of Gaumont International TV says, “TV is global and we look at doing it in a way that has an experience in the U.S., but also outside.” She feels one of the big things that’s happening is “the emergence of independent studios in the TV space, taking some of the disciplines of what works in indie film… We’re patient about what we’re packaging and putting together so that when we go to the market, we have a seat at the table.”
Gaumont TV worked with Netflix on this year’s Hemlock Grove, the Eli Roth series that was its second original. Last year, Kevin Spacey was at Mipcom to debut the first episode of Netflix’s first original series — and game-changer — House Of Cards. He later sent shockwaves through the TV business when, in his Edinburgh TV Festival speech, he lamented the lack of “balls” on the part of network execs who wouldn’t take a risk on something like House Of Cards. He also blasted the excess of pilot season.
Christophe Riandée, Vice CEO of French studio Gaumont and Vice Chairman of Gaumont International TV, says he thinks people are “a little bit fed up with the tons of money spent in the U.S. And also, broadcasters across the world are fed up with output deals. They have to buy things they don’t want to. They want to have access to very big-budget, high-level TV series without being obliged.” He adds that broadcasters, especially in Europe, want to get in on the ground level. They “want to find a way to invest and to be part of international production at the beginning — not to buy them at the end, like a supermarket.”
But it’s important to know who’s in the driver’s seat. The concept of a showrunner is relatively new in Europe, but allows for a “co-production which feels like one complete product, not a mix,” says Jens Richter, chief of Red Arrow International, which is packaging serial killer series The 100 Code from Crash Oscar winner Bobby Moresco. It’s being financed out of Europe with the first broadcasters on board. The mix Richter refers to is evocative of the dreaded Europudding phenomenon of a few years ago, when projects were built around access to subsidy financing rather than necessarily putting story first. Riandée says, “You don’t shoot in a country just because of tax break unless you’re doing a shitty production.” He adds, “good ideas are one thing; transforming a good idea into a good TV series” is something else.