Staying the Course – French broadcasters continue to pack skeds with exclusives

Canal J pursues international first-run rights
September 1, 2006

Canal J pursues international first-run rights

Getting the worldwide debut for a series has always been a top priority for director of programming Pierre Belaisch. And this season, Canal J looked to international co-pros to secure those coveted exclusives. Genie in the House is a live-action sitcom about a fourth-century wizard who gets released from a magical lamp into the modern-day world that he just doesn’t understand. Belaisch says the show echoes the humor found in series such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sister Sister. Set to launch this month, the show will also bowed on co-pro partner Nickelodeon UK in May.

Another exclusive series, airing in December, will give Canal J’s six- to 14-year-old viewers a backstage pass to the upcoming Luc Besson animated film Arthur and the Minimoys. The movie features the voice talents of Mia Farrow, David Bowie and Madonna and is budgeted at approximately US$80 million. Canal J will create 40, four-to-five minute shorts about the making of the movie that aim to teach viewers about animation techniques, special effects and stunts. ‘It will help with the promotion of the movie, but it’s not considered advertising,’ Belaisch says. Canal J secured the deal with Besson’s prodco Europa Corp. to create the series.

Of course, Canal J’s budget isn’t limitless, so not everything on the cablenet can be a first run. One of the new acquisitions for the new season include the second series of Space Goofs from Paris, France’s Xilam. Going to daily strip, Belaisch says the new eps have a wackier, kid-targeted sensibility than the first incarnation. More French series on the sked include Alphanim’s Zombie Hotel and the action-comedy Dragon Hunters from Futurikon.

Tiji embraces its girl skew

Canal J’s sister preschool net Tiji is also working to increase its co-pro slate without the aid of a French terrestrial on board. Tiji partnered with Paris, France’s Cyber-Groupe Animation to convert Ozie Boo’s two-minute, dialogue-free shorts into a 26 x seven-minute series with talking penguins. ‘Whenever we can, we try to do it alone, but we could have never been able to afford 26, 30-minute episodes in CGI,’ Belaisch says. Another French exclusive comes to the net via Montreal, Canada’s Spectra Animation; its 2-D series Toopy and Binoo revolves around the adventures of a chatty mouse and quiet kitten.

On the acquisition front, Tiji picked up hi-def The Boblins from England’s Inspire GLG. However, this format purchase shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the net is converting to HD anytime soon. ‘It’s more about the beautiful colors and stories,’ says Belaisch. ‘But we may try to order more HD, we’ll see.’

More episodes of DIC’s Strawberry Shortcake have also been ordered. Belaisch admits the channel skews more girl than boy, as Strawberry is being paired up with Dora the Explorer and Three Little Witches.

Filles TV stays on track

Speaking of girls, tween and teen cablenet Filles TV continues to pick up steam since its 2004 launch. Clearly, the formula isn’t broke, so why try and fix it? For the fall, the network’s bringing back new seasons of several standbys including Girls in Love (Granada), Instant Star (Alliance Atlantis) and Blue Water High and Sleepover Club (Southern Star). New episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation are set for a Filles TV launch in April 2007.

Belaisch hinted the net will sign a deal for a new live-action teen series this month, but he couldn’t go into details at press time. In the meantime, the channel will bring an older American series to its airwaves. Clueless, based on the 1998 film, will make its French debut this month.

Gulli launches in France

French kids continue to be well served on the TV front with the launch of another channel, DTT’s Gulli. The channel bowed last November. Lagardère (the controllers of Canal J, Tiji and Filles TV) has a 66% stake, while terrestrial France Télévisions owns the remaining 34%, giving Gulli the unique standing of being both a private and public network.

Since the channel’s remit is to air children’s programs featuring animal life, adventure and magic, it’s no surprise Gulli picked up natural history-adventure shows Serious Jungle, Serious Arctic and Serious Desert from the BBC. Head of acquisitions Julia Tenret says the reality series have kids actively facing eco-challenges and participating in humanitarian relief plans, but they also highlight team spirit and self accomplishment. In fact, Tenret and her staff are on the lookout for more half-hour and hour-long documentary-style series that take a kid’s-eye view of the environment, space and nutrition.

But it’s not all science and factual for the fledgling net. A long slate of live-action series is on deck, including Olsen twins’ vehicles So Little Time and Two of a Kind, U.S. classic Saved by the Bell, and season two of Gilmore Girls gets the nod for its family-viewing evening block. On the toon side, series such as Pokémon, Spaced Out (Alphanim) and the first season of Space Goofs should get the younger members of Guilli’s target demo giggling.

Nick France ramps up Junior block

Nickelodeon also brought a new channel to French airwaves this past year, and head of programming Caroline Boré Djoud says it’s reaching a gender-neutral audience right now. A slate of Nick shows such as Avatar and Fairly OddParents is ready to roll out in the coming months. Non-Nick fare is also part of the mix. Cookie Jar and Warner Bros.’ Johnny Test, Darcy’s Wildlife (Granada) and Class of the Titans from Nelvana have slots in Nick France’s fall sked. In the coming months Boré Djoud is keeping an eye out for comedy-oriented programs with a touch of action for kids six to 10 to complement the current offering.

Meanwhile, the Nick Junior block gets beefed up this month, moving from four to seven days a week. Go Diego, Go!, Granada’s Pocoyo and Cookie Jar’s DoodleBops will share airtime, and of the three, Boré Djoud is most excited by Pocoyo. Its original and simple look shows great potential, she says.

Piwi looks east for autumn

Three years after TPS launched its Piwi preschool channel, the network is finally ready to debut its first original co-production with sisternet Teletoon. Panshel, produced by Angouleme, France’s Production & Partners Multimedia is a CGI toon based on a popular Japanese license, Panshel the flying panda. Although the concept was created in the East, the stories were written in France. The series focuses on a winged panda protagonist who is eager to grow up so he can fly like an adult.

Francois Deplanck, managing director at Piwi, says Panshel is an example of how the preschool net is searching out new cultures for innovative ideas. (It dipped its toe in the water last year with the broadcast of Tao Shu from Singapore’s Peach Blossom.)

Also on the acquisitions front, Piwi picked up Neptuno’s Dougie in Disguise following its first run on France 5. And for spring 2007, the net has first window rights for Mila, a short-form series produced by France’s Planet Nemo that depicts unusual fairy tales from around the world.

Teletoon sets its sights on dethroning Canal J Much like its preschool sisternet Piwi, Teletoon is also looking to Japan for program inspiration. The network geared at seven to 12 year olds has picked up TV Tokyo’s Sergeant Keroro, an anime series about an extraterrestrial frog who sets out to invade Earth only to end up as a household pet. Deplanck is anticipating some serious co-viewing opportunities for this series based on TV Tokyo viewing trends. He says it originally debuted in the Saturday morning block in Japan, but was moved to 6 p.m. because parents were tuning in for the laughs.

Although Keroro will likely skew to a boy audience, Deplanck is convinced girls will tune in for the show’s humor and to watch the sisters in the family torment the alien frog in hilarious ways. After all, he says, shows aren’t so gender specific anymore – boys, for example, are watching the femme-powered Tokyo Mew Mew that’s returning for a second series.

Last year’s debut of live-actioner The Crazy Records drew in enough viewers to merit a follow-up series. Launching during a two-hour block this season, an interstitial spinoff will feature a whole new group trying to break ridiculous world records. This time around, the net culled the ideas from suggestions made by the kid-viewers of the previous incarnation.

Action-adventure and education make up Eureka!

Deplanck admits Eureka!’s tween-oriented educational mandate is difficult to program, but he thinks the channel might be onto something this fall with the second edition of its very own action-adventure reality series. Objective: Adventure is filmed in Canada and stars 12 teenagers from French-speaking territories (including Belgium, Switzerland, France and Canada) working together and discovering the ecosphere. Original partners Eureka! and Switzerland’s TSR welcomed Canada’s French VRAK network and Belgium’s AB3 into the co-pro fold for the second outing.

The cablenet will also launch a new block called Kool Age to introduce some interesting new ways to approach everyday subjects like technology and music. Using short-form, two- to three-minute clips, the block will include a segment called Kool Web designed to teach kids how to use the web. There’s also Super Zik, a 30-part series where teenage amateur musicians meet professionals from around the globe to learn the tricks of the trade and get some quick instrument lessons. ‘It’s not only about the instrument, but where the instrument comes from,’ Deplanck says, adding it’s difficult to find these types of informative programs geared to the tween set.

M6 goes for a staggered strategy

Rather than join the growing crowd of new and returning programming at the Fall TV gate, M6 is opting to pepper its schedule with new series over the course of several months. Head of children’s programming Natalie Altmann says this approach gives the network space to properly market new series rather than put them in head-to-head competition right off the bat.

The show Altmann is most excited about is a new version of Spiro. She says the series is based on a character many French people grew up with, and its new animated treatment received some build up over the summer in the consumer press.

Other shows scheduled in the coming months include the long-awaited co-pro Ugly Duckling & Me from A Films, Magma Films and Futurikon, and Moonscoop’s Fantastic Four – both set to launch at the beginning of next month. And just in time for Halloween, M6 will debut Rainbow’s Monster Allergy. Altmann thinks this series will stand out because it’s a serial comedy, with each episode focusing on the evolution of the characters. Finally, a six-minute program gearing up for an end-of-year bow is Bedtime Stories. Altmann has high hopes for this Les Armateurs project based on the credentials of its writers, who are both famous French comic book authors.

On the development slate, M6 is increasingly looking to comic books as source material. There are five series at various stages of development at the network. Tween-targeted, Angela Anaconda inspired Pop Secret will be the first out of the gate and the net’s preparing its market debut at MIPTV next April.

France 3 continues relaunch strategy

Just like M6, France 3 will debut new series nearly every month to get away from the September stampede. This is the first autumn schedule under Julien Borde, head of purchasing for the youth department. His plan to simplify the scheduling grid for his target six to 12 year old demo is now entering phase two. During phase one, started last October, Borde says the terrestrial’s main focus was on stripping traditional audience draws such as Titeuf and Scooby-Doo. The ratings bump of 2.5% for four to 10s, and a whopping 8% for the 11 to 14 year old set indicates the plan worked.

For September and beyond, Borde’s concentrating on entertaining viewers with action-adventure and comedy exclusives. He thinks Team Galaxy, the sci-fi comedy from Marathon, fits the bill and should appeal to both action-hungry boys and comedy-loving girls.

That said, live action is what’s ringing Borde’s bell the loudest for the new year. F3 has shied away from it in the past few years, but has realized ‘to be strong for our target, we need live action.’ This month The Suite Life of Zack and Cody sets the course for this new direction, and Borde says he plans on acquiring between two and three live-action sitcoms a year to build momentum.

As for co-productions, Borde’s looking at locally produced animated series. And France Télévisions’ recent announcement to add US$5.4 million to its network budgets will help with this initiative. Although it’s early days, Borde says the influx of cash will strengthen his network’s toon output, but he’s looking at programming across all genres to reach the most kid eyeballs. The network is also starting to make early plans for a non-linear presence, with a relaunched website set to bow in January 2007.

France 5 helps kids say ‘night, ‘night

Preschool-focused Zouzou on France 5 is taking on primetime this month by launching a new daily 7:55 p.m. slot called Bonsoir les Zouzous. Why would the net target such a competitive broadcasting hour? Celine Limorato, France 5′s head of children’s TV, anticipates parents will turn on the block before the kids go to bed, making viewing a nighttime ritual.

Limorato’s hedging her bets by stocking the sked with a handful of new exclusive co-productions. Grabouillon (with Paris-based Spirit Productions) is a comedy that teaches kids about boundaries, and Bali (with Planet Nemo) looks at a preschooler’s life growing up in the big city. There’s also a musical based on Bali in the works that plans to reach out organically to F5′s youngest viewers.

Limorato says the early morning Debout les Zouszous block also finds itself in a very competitive time slot, but she’s rising to the challenge. Debout’s four-to-10-year-old viewership numbers have shot up 26% on weekdays and an impressive 44% on weekends. She credits a more focused editorial plan (similar to what Borde laid out for sister net France 2) for the uptick.
This version has been edited to clarify information found in the printed edition. 10-17-06

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