Reporting from Cannes

The annual Mip-TV market, and its sister Mipcom, keep getting more interesting as star power grows and what’s on offer takes on an increasingly global feel. At October’s Mipcom, Kevin Spacey was in Cannes to support Netflix’s House Of Cards; Jane Campion presented BBC/Sundance Channel series Top Of The Lake; Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys were here for The Americans and even Harvey Weinstein turned up in support of The Weinstein Co.’s push into international TV sales. Mip-TV, which kicks off in earnest on Monday, will draw such speakers as BBC controller Ben Stephenson, eOne’s Darren Throop, Da Vinci’s Demons creator David S. Goyer, CSI franchise creator Anthony Zuiker, Homeland exec producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff, Endemol’s Tim Hincks and Discovery chief David Zaslav. Shine America CEO Rich Ross is also in town.

At these international markets, there’s an increasingly habitual fight between the big ticket drama and the reality format business. Both are lucrative in an expanding and fragmented market. But while certain companies are chasing the critical mass of the next Big Brother, others are finding it’s good to be in the scripted drama business, making deals that give them – and the shows – the most flexibility.

High-profile dramas that will be showcased here in Cannes this week include Da Vinci’s Demons which was picked up straight to series by Starz in October and premieres there on April 12. The BBC Worldwide co-production will roll out in 120 countries courtesy of Fox International Channels. (Starz is also in Cannes with the first episode of The White Queen which will premiere with star Max Irons in attendance.)

The straight-to-series deal is part of a growing trend that sees companies seek direct orders in the U.S. for a license fee, relying on international sales. Jens Richter of Red Arrow International, which sold cooking competition show The Taste to ABC, says that when it comes to drama, “For an indie, it only works if it goes straight to series. You can’t go through a pilot… and then take the risk.” Red Arrow also handles the Norway-set Lilyhammer with Steven Van Zandt which is a partnership with Netflix and is currently shooting its second season. “Everybody profits, you spread risk on various shoulders and go straight into production.” There’s also an upside for talent. They can take a backend position that’s worth “real money from day one.”

Other scripted dramas with a presence here include Helmock Grove from Gaumont International Television which debuts on Netflix later this month. Eli Roth directed the first episode of the Gothic horror series, and although there’s no official screening in Cannes, Roth will be on hand with stars Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgård for a talk about the show. In another digital deal, Beta Films’ Spanish production, Grand Hotel, just sold to Hulu for the U.S. and has already aired on the UK’s Sky with a local Italian format to be produced by Italy’s Catteleya.

Thandie Newton will present eOne’s Rogue which just debuted in the U.S. via DirecTV in another straight to series deal. And Endemol and AMC Studios have Low Winter Sun screening with star Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) in town. AMC handed a 10-episode series order to the pilot from Chris Mundy back in December.

Edward Allen Bernero (Criminal Minds, Third Watch) is here to talk about crime series Crossing Lines from German producer Tandem Communications which NBC picked up in March. That show taps into the charter of the International Criminal Court to investigate serialized cross-border crimes and to hunt down global criminals. It stars William Fichtner, Donald Sutherland, Marc Lavoine, Gabriella Pession, Tom Wlaschiha, Moon Dailly and Richard Flood.

Cross-border is an interesting facet of the current state of international scripted series. The UK’s Sky Atlantic and France’s Canal Plus are backing The Tunnel, an adaptation of Scandinavian series The Bridge – which FX is also doing in a separate U.S. adaptation. The Tunnel is billed as the first-ever bilingual broadcast series for the UK and France and stars Harry Potter’s Clemence Poésy and Game Of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane. Then there’s Jo, a Paris-set police drama from Emmy-winning showrunner René Balcer and starring French icon Jean Reno along with Jill Hennessy. That series, despite its Parisian setting and French lead actor, is in English. And while mixing up territories and talent can aid in accessing subsidies in Europe, producers would be wise to avoid what is colloquially known as “Europudding.” This largely-derided phenomenon has in the past seen co-productions made with multi-national casts mixed together to garner attractive financing, but end in disjointed results with actors of various nationalities speaking in a muddle to one another.

On the non-scripted side, broadcasters “anywhere in the world are looking for the big, big primetime entertainment formats” that will have social media buzzing, an exec says. “Everybody is looking for the next big format” à la Big Brother or The X Factor. One exec cautions, however, that while those are “very smart” formats, they’re weaker in some territories (in the UK, for example, X Factor took a huge ratings hit last year), and the effort to keep up the brands increases, so budgets rise and there’s a need for more talent, which is costly to mainstream broadcasters.

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