How the Monte Carlo TV Fest Is Refocusing on Star Power

Simon Varsano/Sony Pictures Television Networks
'Absentia'

Matt Bomer and Kelsey Grammer are among the talent making the trip to Monaco, where small-screen glitz is a stone's throw from Cannes.

Cannes may have the Palais, but Monaco has a palace. It's where the Monte Carlo Television Festival's honorary president, Prince Albert II, hosts guests each year, rolling out the red carpet for the celebrities who descend on the city in June for five days of celebrating the small screen. 

After an attempt to transform itself into a MIPTV-style market three years ago by introducing industry panel discussions, Monte Carlo organizers have this year decided to get back to basics with a more traditional, fan-oriented event boasting plenty of star power. As part of its refocus on content, for the first time the fest will offer a world premiere when it screens Sony TV's new FBI drama, Absentia, its first fully developed and funded international show. Stars Stana Katic and Patrick Heusinger will also be on hand. Amazon's The Last Tycoon also will make its series debut (the pilot is available for streaming), with stars Kelsey Grammer and Matt Bomer making the trip to Monaco.

So while dealmaking might be a thing of the past, Hollywood still sees the Monte Carlo fest as a key, post-LA Screenings launchpad for event series in Europe. "It's an important platform for us," Sony Pictures Television Networks programming and production executive vp Marie Jacobson tells THR. "Our coming-out party was really LA Screenings, and we look at Monte Carlo as the perfect fan and press event in Western Europe, and the timing's great." 

"It provides an opportunity for buyers in Western Europe to hear the buzz and feel the fandom," says Jacobson. "The festival is really great in terms of getting the message out there as well as have our cast have one-on-one time with press."

The premieres are big gets for Monte Carlo, as Europe's longest-running TV festival is facing increasing competition from an onslaught of international TV events: Look no further than Twin Peaks and Top of the Lake recently premiering in Cannes, or the small-screen sidebars popping up on the fest circuit from Berlin to Toronto.

"Monte Carlo is not a market," says festival general manager Laurent Puons. "It's a unique and ideal platform for the studios to promote and communicate their shows and talent. It's not that we cannot do business at the festival — there is a lot of networking and we organize a lot of parties. It's a good place to do business in a more comfortable environment."

The promotional nature of Monte Carlo always has created an eclectic mix, with veteran TV stars such as Lee Majors appearing alongside more contemporary talent. This year is no different: In addition to a range of current stars, the fest will host everyone from Helen Mirren, who'll receive a lifetime achievement honor (the crime series Prime Suspect made her a household name and earned her four Emmy nominations), to the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful, still Europe's most popular soap.

While it can feel like a bit of a throwback to another era when American TV dominated, the festival also is adapting as the European broadcasting landscape changes. In the series drama category, Showtime's Billions will compete against a range of international programs, including Sweden's police procedural Midnight Sun and the Belgian murder mystery The Break.

Nevertheless, in light of the event's renewed commitment to give the fans what they want, it's American stars who still fill the seats. Says Puons: "About three years ago, I could see a shift that European productions were starting to reach a really high level of production values. But regarding the balance in terms of popularity and in terms of image, the American talents are still the most popular."

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MONACO BY NIGHT: DRINKS, DINNER AND DEPARDIEU

Le Grill
After a two-year absence, the famed Le Grill reopened in May on the eighth floor of the Hotel de Paris following an extensive renovation. The rooftop restaurant now boasts retractable ceilings and an expansive outdoor terrace with views over the Mediterranean. Chef Franck Cerutti has taken inspiration from just across the border in Italy, with locally caught seasonal seafood at the core, while sommelier Patrice Frank will help select the perfect pairing from a cellar of 7,000 French and Italian wines. Try the “homestyle” cassareccia vongole and calamari pasta and the San Remo shrimp and spelt salad.
Place du Casino, 377 98 06 30 00

Rampoldi
The art deco Monegasque landmark reopened in time for its 70th birthday in December. Revived after a four-year closure by 30-year-old Italian chef Antonio Salvatore, the restaurant founded in 1946 received a face-lift and new seasonal menu featuring Italian truffles and San Remo shrimp. Don’t miss the seared scallops with porcini mushrooms, cauliflower puree and caviar. There’s a music lounge and cigar bar downstairs, but, alas, it’s members only. You can ask Prince Albert II — who stores his smokes in a monogrammed, remote-controlled drawer there — for an invite.
3 Avenue des Spelugues, 377 93 30 70 65

Gerard Depardieu Sings Barbara
With acting, eating, drinking and being newly Russian already on his résumé, Oscar nominee Gerard Depardieu has added singer. He’s “rewritten” 14 songs from the late French crooner Barbara, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship after co-starring with her onstage in the legendary play-concert Lily Passion in 1986. Depardieu received strong reviews when he sang the selection of reworked material in Paris in February. For anyone still in the neighborhood after the fest, Depardieu will perform the songs once more at Monaco’s legendary Opera Garnier.
Opera Garnier, Place du Casino on July 26 and 27. Tickets are $249. 377 98 06 28 00 

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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