Canal Plus dives in Gallic talent pool

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PARIS -- French pay TV network Canal Plus, fresh off its merger with rival operator TPS, announced its lineup for the 2007-08 season at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.

Network executive vp Rodolphe Belmer stressed the importance of "original creation and new talents" in the coming year, with a special emphasis on French fiction and innovative programming.

The company is experimenting with the 26-minute format for "Nos enfants cheris," a vaudeville comedy about thirtysomethings having midlife crises. And two new 52-minute series are on tap for the pay TV channel next season: "Scalpe," a "financial thriller" that takes place at Paris' stock exchange, and "La commune," a realistic, violent look at life in a French suburb.

Canal Plus also said it plans to devote its Monday night primetime to original series.

"Local fiction works better than American fiction. We air American shows because they're less expensive," Belmer said in an interview. Canal Plus will continue to air such popular U.S. series as "Desperate Housewives," "24," "Cold Case," "Weeds" and "The Shield."

HBO's "Big Love" will be the only new U.S. series on the fall schedule, though the CIA miniseries "The Company" will appear in September.

Disney movies will be more ubiquitous on the group's channels in the wake of a VOD deal the Gallic network inked with Disney-ABC International Television earlier this summer. Under the agreement, Canal Plus gained the rights to VOD distribution for Disney's recently released films and catalog titles.

Documentaries also will be in the spotlight: Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke," and the homegrown "Suck My Geek," an in-depth look at nerdiness throughout the globe, will make their way to French air.

The network will add new channel Canal Plus Family to its current subscription offer and Canal Plus Bouquet in October; it has plans to launch by year's end a "catch TV" service for a la carte access to its programs.

The group also is surfing the high-definition wave with the launch of a new decoder with Internet access and will announce the details of the launch of its new and improved Web site next week.

"We want to be both the owners and the broadcasters of our shows," said company president Bertrand Meheut at the gala event at the Chatelet Theater.

"We want to produce programs by and for Canal Plus. French fictional production is a way to have totally exclusive programming and also a way to create an identity for the network," Belmer said of plans to spend more than €30 million ($41.15 million) on in-house series this year.
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