The year is ending well for French drama phenomenon Call My Agent! with adaptations in the works over the world, including a remake in the UK. The Emmy-winning series is also preparing a film to continue the riveting stories of everyone’s favorite talent agents and their (not always) trusty assistants. France tv distribution’s Julia Schulte, Michel Feller of Mon Voisin Productions and Aurélien Larger of Mother Production give us the lowdown on what the future holds for this worldwide success.
International stars say Call My Agent! as French fiction is adapted worldwide
UniFrance: What a great end to 2021 for Call My Agent! internationally!
Julia Schulte (France tv distribution): The end of the year has indeed been exceptional for Call My Agent! which has emerged as one of the most popular French series in the world. We were singled out at the Emmys, selected by the New York Times, and then there was the Rose d’Or Award. The potential of Call My Agent! is now recognised internationally more than ever before! At France tv distribution, we are proud to have contributed to its success.
Michel Feller (Mon Voisin Productions): What more could we want? The most impressive thing is that there were more than 40 countries represented at the International Emmy Awards, and they all knew and loved the series!
Aurélien Larger (Mother Production): What’s really lovely is that, in a way, this puts the cherry on the cake of our success with the public, which really spiked during season 4 and the global lockdown. Netflix viewers started looking at series other than their usual choices and, thanks to that, they discovered content from other countries, which really gave Call My Agent! a boost. The series’ universality and accessibility started at a national level and went global. All the awards the series has won are valuable only because they were preceded by success with the general public – and now an international public. We don’t work for prizes, we work for the viewers – even if winning awards is always very nice!
Unifrance: In addition to winning all these awards, the series is now being adapted for other countries…
Aurélien Larger: Yes. We are proud of that and particularly pleased that the English version, produced by Headline Pictures and Bron Studios and adapted by John Morton, is about to be released. It’s a very high quality remake with its own English personality and a unique tone. Like the original, it has fabulous dialogue, authenticity (British this time) and endearing characters. That’s what we are looking for: emotion and entertainment. This is the first time that we’ve been involved as co-producers in a remake of Call My Agent! The series will be available on Amazon UK, AMC Sundance in the USA, and also in other countries on Amazon.
Julia Schulte: Producers the world over now recognise the strength of the show’s concept and, following on from Quebec, Turkey, Great Britain and India, adaptations are in development in – among others – Italy and the Middle East. We have signed options in around 20 countries in total.
Michel Feller: Absolutely. Several remarks have already been produced (French-speaking Canada, UK, Turkey, India); others are soon to begin production (South Korea, Italy, Indonesia) or are in development (Greece, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, the Middle East, and the ex-Yugoslavia region). We are also in talks with China, Scandinavia, the Benelux countries, Latin America – I’m sure I’m forgetting some others!
Unifrance: How do you explain the show’s success?
Julia Schulte: Call My Agent! is both very French and also very international in its style and certain aspects of the production. Other countries like the French style, the idea of Paris, its fashion, and the chic Parisian way of life. But at the same time, the producers created a very contemporary series, with a modern and universal feel as well as the kind of themes and humour that translate well. The concept allows for the integration of local stars and celebrities, while adapting the show’s strong narrative arcs, which offers local producers great potential.
Aurélien Larger: I think it is a very French series, very Parisian and glamorous. It is also a series that sits within the French tradition of arts films, which are key in our culture compared to the American cinema industry – or English-speaking cinema generally. The quality of the writing also played a pivotal role in the series’ success. We used narrative tools inspired by English-speaking styles but applied them to typically French characters in a very French world. We use a style known as dramedy: we did all we could to ensure the series had both emotion and humour. I think it makes the public feel good, which explains the huge fan base delighted both with our characters and the actors that play them.
Michel Feller: The mix of a glamorous, original universe, the quality and universality of the characters, a quality direction and a clever mix of comedy and emotion undoubtably explained this success. As a broadcaster, Netflix made a huge contribution to the show’s international reach, even if they only made a minority contribution financially (10% of the series costs). A lot of young people who had turned away from public service channels returned thanks to a series they discovered on Netflix.
Unifrance: The show’s original target audience seems to have grown.
Michel Feller: We had a fan base in France that was already quite big, but it’s mainly our fan base in the rest of the world that is even bigger.
Julia Schulte: Yes, today the series appeals to a wide viewership, in parts thanks to an almost global broadcast on Netflix. On the one hand, it appeals to a traditional public – people who know the stars that participated in Call My Agent!; on the other hand, it attracts a younger public who enjoy its slightly offbeat style, as well as its openness and modern feel – which is in large part created by the series’ actors.
Aurélien Larger: At the start, we targeted the French public. Working with France 2, our objective was to consolidate a large primetime viewership and then to enlarge that, adding younger viewers. That helped us in the writing phase as it forced us to stay accessible and prevented too many private jokes. We wanted human and universal emotion. Then, little by little, after the series went online on Netflix, we started to move beyond our borders and saw that, contrary to what is often said, comedy can indeed cross cultural barriers.
Finally, during lockdown, and with successive releases of new seasons, we moved beyond a “converted” viewership (that is to say, viewers who were already interested in foreign-language series) to a wider public. We didn’t imagine when we were writing that we would go from the traditional France 2 viewers to achieve worldwide popularity.
Unifrance: How did your collaboration with France Télévisions work when developing the series?
Michel Feller: Wonderfully! Creation of the series was supported by Fanny Rondeau at France Télévisions, although she is no longer at France Télévisions!
Aurélien Larger: We were really lucky because the team at France 2 always brought us back to authenticity without cynicism, eliminating in-jokes, but never interfering editorially. For example, no-one ever asked to include a crime! At every stage, we were given their full trust, which was very precious, and we were supported from start to finish on each season, with all the inevitable changes and curve-balls we had to deal with over those eight years! And I hope that will continue…
Unifrance : Even if it no longer really needs to be introduced, how do you present this series to the international market? What are its assets?
Michel Feller: We don’t have to introduce it anymore, fortunately. It’s worth remembering that the series is broadcasted in French with subtitles in the US. We even met viewers who confirmed that they had started to learn French by watching the series…
Unifrance: Will international recognition impact the format of productions to come? There is talk of a film as well as a fifth season…
Michel Feller: We are better known throughout the world than in France. At Mon Voisin Productions and Mother Production, we are working on developing a 90-minute drama (currently without a partner) written by Nicolas Mercier, who wrote the first two episodes of season 1 of Call My Agent! along with the last episode of season 4. Nothing has been decided yet regarding the possibility of a fifth season, but we know it will only go ahead if we are sure to be able to offer the public in France and across the world something that meets their expectations and matches the quality of previous seasons. For three years now, Mon Voisin Productions has enjoyed the support of the Mediawan group, which allows us to think big moving forward.
Aurélien Larger: Yes, we are currently writing a film. It’s a special that will follow the adventures of the agents and their assistants after ASK closes down. We hope to produce it with France Télévisions, and perhaps other partners. The acting team is very keen to work together again!
The show’s international success has influenced the writing in that the film opens in New York. We think the French public will be delighted to see Andrea in Manhattan. We are going to play on the fact that New York fascinates the French in the same way that Paris appeals to Americans. Nothing has been finalized in terms of the stars that will participate. We want to create a real story which, as always in Call My Agent!, mixes professional and personal storylines, and enables the stars to illuminate the lives of our recurring characters. Once again, we are looking to create emotion. Making a special is also a way of thanking the public for making the show a success: it’s a way of continuing the adventure, maintaining our bond with the public, and imagining what might happen next.