MIPTV: NBCUniversal to Produce U.S. Procedurals With German, French Partners

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUniversal International Television Production

Germany's RTL and France's TF1 will co-finance and co-produce U.S. series, focusing on crime and medical shows.

NBCUniversal International Television Production has struck a groundbreaking deal with German and French TV networks to develop, finance and produce U.S. procedurals directly for international TV.

Under the deal, German free-TV network RTL and France's TF1 will partner with NBCUni's global TV production arm to develop U.S. series. The initial plan sees the financing of two development cycles with a target of producing three series over the next two years.

RTL, TF1 and NBCUni International Television Production will each contribute a third of the financing for each of the series made under the agreement and will share equally in global revenues generated by the shows. RTL and TF1 will hold all rights for their respective territories, while NBCUniversal will license the shows in the rest of the world, including North America.

The trio is looking to produce procedurals in the vein of C.S.I. and House – the kind of serialized TV series that are widely popular internationally. In a radical break from the business model of previous studio-backed series, the group will greenlight projects without having a U.S. network on board. The model will bypass pilots and do straight-to-series orders of between 12 and 14 episodes per season for greenlit shows.

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUni International Television Production, said the partnership, announced at international television market MIPTV on Monday, looks to bridge the growing gap between audience demands in the U.S. and internationally. Procedural shows, with case-of-the-week-style plots that are wrapped up each episode, have become rarer in the U.S. with the rise of serialized shows such as The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey, which have overarching storylines across multiple episodes.

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But procedurals are still dominant internationally, particularly on the big free-to-air networks in Europe. Global demand for case-of-the-week series is one reason for the commissioning of shows such as CSI:Cyber and NCIS: New Orleans, new spin-offs of long-running procedural franchises.

Speaking to THR, Edelstein said international broadcasters had been complaining for the past few years that fewer and fewer procedurals were getting made.

"I compare it to the California drought – every year you're worried it's going to dry up," Edelstein said. "This deal will give our partners a secure pipeline of shows for their schedules that they will have control over."

Control is one of the key elements of the deal for TF1 and RTL. As co-owners of the new series, they will have exclusive rights across all platforms in their home territories, something that could prove essential as big on-demand players like Netflix and Amazon extend their reach internationally and compete with over-the-air networks.

"It will give [us] not only the opportunity to produce tailor-made formats for our national markets in Europe but also allows us to secure the entire scope of rights for these programs for all forms of distribution," said RTL production/acquisitions executive Joerg Graf.

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JoAnn Alfano, executive vp of scripted programming at NBCUni International Television Production, will oversee the day-to-day creative for series developed under the deal. All shows will be written, shot and cast in North America. Production is targeting a spring 2016 start for fall/winter delivery.

"There is an incredible talent pool of procedural writers and producers in the U.S.," Alfano said. "For some time now, they have had few outlets for their ideas. We look forward to working with the wealth of talent that exists in the U.S. and developing the next generation of procedural drama hits."

Europe is playing an increasingly important role in the U.S. series business. French production companies Gaumont and EuropaCorp have active U.S. arms, producing series including NBC's Hannibal and Taxi Brooklyn (Gaumont and EuropaCorp, respectively), while French network M6 teamed with TNT and Canada's Movie Network on the reboot of action film series Transporter. Paris-based StudioCanal is rolling out several English-language series at MIPTV this week, including the procedural Crossing Lines, a European-style Criminal Minds, which just started its third season.

NBCUni's deal, however, goes further in producing U.S.-based series directly for the international market. It also is the first in which European networks and a U.S. studio will co-create and co-own original U.S. series.

“The money RTL and TF1 are putting up for this is substantial, together its the equivalent of what a U.S. sale would be,” said Edelstein. “It only makes sense for them to participate in the upside. It's a experiment, but if the model works, all the partners want to continue with it."

Twitter: @sroxborough