Natpe Europe: European Drama Steps Up

French zombie series "The Returned."
French zombie series "The Returned."
 Canal Plus, Photographer: Rob Payne

The golden age of television drama has finally reached Europe, with an explosion of home-grown series competing with U.S. imports across the continent.

High-end drama such as Italian mafia thriller Gomorrah, French zombie series The Returned and pan-European procedural Crossing Lines are the product of cross-border co-productions which are seeing local European stories reach a broader, often global audience.

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At the Natpe Europe television market in Prague, some of continent's biggest players in TV drama came together with  the market's first international co-production summit,to examine the driving force behind Europe's drama boom.

While European co-productions are nothing new, past co-pros have been largely the result of financial deals with U.S. studios looking to defer their production budgets while retaining complete creative control.

“They always loved to see our money, but when we asked to influence the show, it was always very, very difficult,” said Thomas von Hennet, Vice President International Co-Production at German broadcast giant ProSiebenSat.1.

Things have changed. The success of European-made series on the international market has created a demand for series with a continental flavor.

“There's a strong need, especially in Europe, for the kinds of stories the US Studios are delivering anymore,” said Rola Bauer, president and partner at Munich-based Tandem Communications and a veteran of international co-pros.

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Tandem, which is part of French media giant StudioCanal, produces Crossing Lines starring William Fichtner and Donald Sutherland and will begin shooting the 1 hour drama series Spotless in London next month. Co-produced with Britain's Rosetta Media, Spotless was co-created by Ed McCardie (Shameless) and Corinne Marrinan (CSI), the series stars Marc-Andre Grondin (C.R.A.Z.Y) and Denis Menochet (Inglourious Basterds).  Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) will direct the first two episodes. The series is described as a dark and funny drama about a man who runs a crime scene cleaning business whose life is turned upside down when his outlaw brother arrives, entangling them both in the world of organized crime.

The European drama boom has been largely focused in Western Europe but producers in the East are also upping their game. Tomas Krejci, executive producer of Prague-based Milk & Honey Pictures has traditionally worked as a local service provider for big international shows. “But that businesses is disappearing because the big shows are going further East, to Bucharest (in Romania) or Sofia (Bulgaria) where the workers are even cheaper,” he said. “We can't just supply the muscles anymore, today we have to create value by developing shows ourselves.”

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For its first original drama production, Milk & Honey is developing a 26x1 hour fictional biopic, Leo Popper, loosely based on the life of the father of famed Czech writer and journalist Ota Pavel. Czech TV is on board as the anchor broadcaster for the project, which Milk & Honey are currently shopping to international networks and co-production partners.

Frank Spotnitz, a showrunner and executive producer on The X Files who has set up shop in Europe to produce high-end TV, said the opportunities to produce European-based shows with US networks have never been better.

“There are all these new channels that want original programming and, to quote a line I know well, they want to believe,” said Spotnitz. “They can't afford to pay $1 million an episode for a show so they want to believe in your (European-made) show.”

But Matthew Stillman, managing director of Czech-based Stillking Films, a co-producer on ABC's European-shot Missing as well as Crossing Lines, stressed that the boom in European series will only be maintained if local creatives step up.

“Producing in Europe isn't about running the numbers anymore, it's all about the creative content.”

Added Bauer: “If were aren't focusing on the story, creating a local story that transcends boundaries, then we're never going to make it.”

Email: scott.roxborough@thr.com

Twitter: @sroxborough

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