Laetitia and Something to Hide are two true crime programs – French series adapted from real-life events covered by the press, which were both huge audience successes in 2020/2021 for France 2. Catherine Bernard, Deputy Chief Executive of France tv distribution, discusses the reasons behind these successes and the international buzz created.
TV France International: 2020/2021 has been a successful year for you so far. With Laetitia and Something to Hide, France Télévisions has had major audience successes dealing with particularly delicate subjects – murder, rape, false accusations of pedophilia. What do you think created this success?
Catherine Bernard: Something to Hide (4×52′), produced by Thalie Images, attracted an average of 4.5 million viewers last October on France 2. Laetitia (6×45′), produced by CPB Films and L’Ile Clavel, attracted almost the same with an average of 3.5 million viewers a few weeks earlier.
These difficult events made an impression in France and are part of our collective history. Today, real-life events covered in the press are the subject of renewed interest, through fiction.
Viewers the world over are torn between curiosity and fear. They want to dive into the minds of murderers and explore the most disturbing criminal cases in the world. The true crime genre is the biggest success of the last few years. It hasn’t stopped winning over ever greater numbers of viewers. People want to understand how such horrible things happen. Fiction helps them reflect upon societal subjects in a way that goes beyond news coverage.
TV France International: Both series are France Télévisions co-productions, both based on real-life events. How and why did you choose these extremely serious topics?
Catherine Bernard: We are very proud to have been able to acquire these two works of fiction and also very proud of our partnerships with Thalie Images, CPB Films and L’Ile Clavel.
Adapting this kind of content is, of course, an ambitious undertaking. Creating fiction based on real-life crimes has to be done with subtlety. These projects interested us because of their excellent scripts that handled events in a way that goes beyond the facts we know about to look at the personal, psychological and sociological aspects of each case. When you work on programs with such serious subjects, you have to respect the truth of course, but the facts also need to be presented delicately and with finesse. These two fictions portrayed great emotion but with restraint. They are both accurate and moving.
Let’s not forget that in Something to Hide, we see Daniel Auteuil on the small screen for the first time. And that Laëtitia is based on Ivan Jablonka’s investigation, Laetitia or the End of Men, Éditions du Seuil) which won the Medici Prize and the World Literary Prize in 2016. Also, the fact that it was directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2002 for Murder on a Sunday Morning. It was also the first French series selected for the Sundance Film Festival this year. Both series, beyond the heavy topics they cover, are projects of an extremely high quality in terms of cinematography.
We are very pleased to promote French fiction know-how on an international stage.
TV France International: Crimes often shock a nation, but they rarely make an impact across borders. How do you approach the international market with these true crime stories?
Catherine Bernard: Ever since Who Killed Little Gregory? was released on Netflix, we have seen that true crime stories can generate interest among international viewers. Particularly when the subject is handled in a way that makes it more universal, when it explores the psychology and socio-cultural situations of the people involved, and when the writing creates suspense and introspection. These things take the story beyond a country’s collective history to become, when adapted well, of interest to an international public.
TV France International: Laetitia was presented as a flagship program in 2020 for the France Télévisions group, and it has been a huge success in France. It was presented at Sundance 2020 – what has its international journey been like since then?
Catherine Bernard: The series was very well received at Sundance and the public was very moved by Laetitia and by the presence of Jean-Xavier De Lestrade. It has already been sold to the Russian platform Global Series Network. We are currently in contact with a North-American broadcaster who is showing strong interest, and we are in talks with public and private TV broadcasters in Europe.
TV France International: Something to Hide features Daniel Auteuil in his first TV role. The adaptation of this tragic story is of the highest quality. You launched the series at the last MIPCOM. What feedback have you had from buyers?
Catherine Bernard: Buyers are very interested – both public and private TV broadcasters in Europe, and also subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) platforms. We launched the series at the last MIPCOM, and we are currently waiting for feedback from screenings.
TV France International: Any other announcements or hits lined up for us?
Catherine Bernard: Despite the current context, we are trying to stay present everywhere, and we know that renewing and modernizing our content is vital. In fact, that is what we are starting to do with our fiction line-up and our digital-created series by France Télévisions – shows like Stalk (Silex Films – 10×23’), Parliament (Cinétévé – 10×26’) and Derby Girl (Noon Kabo Productions – 10×22′). We are very proud of the recent acquisition of Girlsquad (Kelija Productions – 10×22’). It is a teen drama set in a very female and feminist post-#Metoo world. Filming recently wrapped up in Hossegor, Soustons and Vieux-Boucau (France). It will be available exclusively via france.tv/slash.
We also have the series Bright Minds (JLA Productions – 8×52’ + 1×90’) and Criminal Games, New Agatha Christie Collection (Escazal Films – 27×90’) that continue their international success. There’s also season 4 of Call My Agent! (Mon Voisin Productions / Mother Production – 6×52’) which has already sold throughout the world.