MIPCOM: Why the World Loves 'Orange Is the New Black'

Kevin Beggs, chairman of Lionsgate Television Group

"People around the world like to laugh at us," says Lionsgate TV boss Kevin Beggs about the global success of Netflix's women's prison drama

There was a time when such cutting-edge fare as Nurse Jackie, Nashville and Orange Is the New Black would have been considered a tough sell internationally.

But, according to Kevin Beggs, chairman of Lionsgate Television Group, which produces all those shows, as well as AMC's Mad Men, the world has changed.

Orange Is the New Black is the most successful show on Netflix's new channels in continental Europe, evidence that groundbreaking U.S. drama can also go global. Beggs put the international success down to showrunner Jenji Kohan.

“We were confident about Orange because of Jenji,” he explained. “She did Weeds for us, and that was a success internationally. Her taste and her comedic and dramatic sensibilities seem to work around the world.”

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Beggs said Orange's international appeal was similar to that of Weeds. Both, he said, were sardonic looks at very American issues: in Weeds it's the war on drugs, and in Orange, America's huge prison system.

"People around the world like to laugh at us," said Beggs, speaking at a keynote address Wednesday at the international television market in MIPCOM in Cannes. For Lionsgate, he said, the international market is crucial.

“For us, it's huge,” Beggs said. “We have to recover a sizable deficit on the shows we produce and we have to recover that on the international markets. We have to have a feel on how [a show] works internationally… there are certain shows we can't get behind because the international market can't get behind them.”

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Beggs said that, compared to Mad Men, which has never been a real international hit, Orange Is the New Black started strong, something he partly attributed to the growth of on-demand services like Netflix, which allow viewers to easily watch and rewatch their favorite series.

“The storytelling on Orange Is the New Black is very different," he explained. "She [Kohan] is taking a lot of digressions … but you can do that [on Netflix] because you know that people are going to go back and rewatch. It gives you a lot of freedom to tell stories in a more novelistic way. You don't have the advertising restrictions, where you are pushing to have a really dramatic ending to every scene before the commercial break to make sure the audience comes back.”

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The online transformation, Beggs said, means producers worldwide will have to change their instincts about what would hold an audience.

Speaking on Lionsgate's broader strategy, Beggs said the company was aggressively expanding into Asia, getting its programming onto online and mobile services in China and pushing into the Indian market and looking to team with European production companies to do original series.

“We are talking to everyone,” he said. “We would love to find the perfect show to commission or co-commission for a French, U.K. or German pay-TV network.”

Lionsgate is already active in acquiring foreign formats to adapt for the U.S., recently licensing Jo Nesbo's crime novel Headhunters to develop as a television series for HBO.

At MIPCOM, Lionsgate unveiled its newest series, The Royals, a commission for E! Television. The drama, focusing on a very dysfunctional British royal family, stars Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley and Alexandra Park.

Twitter: @sroxborough