Laurence Herszberg

The defining feature of French series is their abundance

The Séries Mania festival is scheduled to take place from 20 to 28 March. Due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 health crisis, the festival is being replaced by a digital platform dedicated to series professionals, Séries Mania Digital Forum, open from 25 March to 7 April. Laurence Herszberg, Director General of the festival, gives us an overview of French creativity and its evolution at a time when broadcasting platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney are shaking things up in the industry.

Updated on 26/03/2020

5 min

Laurence Herszberg
Laurence Herszberg, director general of the Séries Mania Festival
© DR

The landscape of French series has changed considerably within a few decades. What is your perspective on this evolution?

The first observation is obvious: in France as elsewhere, the series has become the major art in the audiovisual sector. From platforms to private channels to public service, everyone has started producing them. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that in the 1960s French television already had a large serial work including comedies, fantasies and teen series. The big difference with nowadays is that today's audience is exposed to a much wider variety of genres. If the ambition of French fiction is to reach all audiences, it should therefore vary its themes and types. This is what it is increasingly doing.


What do you think has transformed French series?

Production methods have changed very significantly. In the last century, the 90-minute format was the norm for French series. Now, like the rest of the world channels have moved to 52-minute episodes, allowing new seasons to be delivered much faster. Le Bureau des légendes (The Bureau) on Canal + or Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!) on France Télévisions, which can produce new episodes as quickly as the Americans can, every year or every 18 months, are good examples.


What does France's series offering currently look like?

We have a wide offering, each series having its own specific characteristics. The OCS channel plays an important role in innovation with many 26-minute series such as Irresponsable (Irresponsible) and Lazy Company. France Télévisions had good intuition in positioning itself on digital formats with its “Slash” platform. It immediately found a young audience thanks to series such as Skam and Mental. France is also attentive to major international trends. For the past year or two, we have witnessed the return of the historical series, an area where TF1 has made its mark with Le Bazar de la charité (The Bonfire of Destiny), a massive audience success, which was purchased and subsequently broadcast by Netflix.

There is no French series, each work has its own DNA and each broadcaster must understand what its audience is, but also how it must sometimes seduce it.

In an international context dominated by large platforms, what is the place of French series?

On this point too, a transformation has taken place recently. The operators of these broadcast networks have clearly understood that the market for series has taken on a global dimension in which writers break free from the codes of American fiction. In Europe, for example, “local” series are now more important than series from the United States. For the platforms, the challenge is therefore to produce strong and unique local stories, because they will travel and be original for foreign viewers. Very Danish series like Borgen, or very Spanish series like Casa de papel, have thus won over a large audience far from their base. For France there are opportunities to be seized, as Netflix and Amazon produce many local series and can generate a creative appeal that benefits the industry.


Which French series have had the most success?

One of France's first international success stories has been Les Revenants (The Returned), created by Fabrice Gobert for Canal + in 2012, and whose Season 1 has travelled very well. The Engrenages series was also a great success, particularly with an English adaptation on BBC4 entitled Spiral. Today, the best-known examples are Le Bureau des légendes and Dix pour cent. Alongside these works created for distribution abroad, there are series produced for the local market whose trajectory has opportunistically turned towards an international audience. Again I am thinking of Bazar de la Charité, created by and for the TF1 channel, but whose acquisition by Netflix has widened the broadcasting window.


Can we talk about a signature, a French “stamp” when it comes to series?

I don't think we can reduce French series to a handful of identifiable aesthetic codes. On the contrary, there is an abundance of genres, approaches and tones that is fascinating to analyse. We are a long way from the time when a region such as Scandinavia could be exclusively identified with a genre, the “Nordic noir”. This year, the French series spectrum ranges from costume dramas like La Garçonne (The Flapper) to social-rooted detective series like Dérapages (Inhuman Resources), to Moah, a prehistoric UFO series set in a cannabalistic tribe. For me, there is no French series, each work has its own DNA and each broadcaster must understand what its audience is, but also how it must sometimes seduce it.


Does the Séries Mania festival have a role to play in showcasing this French creativity?

Séries Mania is both a public and professional springboard. Our role is primarily to highlight and select in order to offer viewers the best of series, in the world and in France. We are also a meeting place for professionals who can discover local production in the two French and international competitions. At Séries Mania, all the professionals in the sector have their eyes on Lille. This global event is therefore a real “soft power” tool for our industry.

The Institut français and the project

16 audiovisual attachés were supposed to take part in the Séries Mania professional forum as part of the “Help the series sector in its international development” training session, organised by the Institut français in Paris and Lille from March 23 to March 27. 40 members of the French cultural network abroad benefit from an access to Séries Mania Digital Forum from March 25 to April, 7.


The Séries Mania Festival was also supposed to be supported by the Institut français in partnership with the Hauts-de-France Region with the invitation of professionals from Latin America (Mexico, Argentina, Brazil). The Institut français partners with local authorities to develop international artistic exchanges. Find out more about project assistance programmes in partnership with local authorities 

L'institut français, LAB