The comedy, whose fourth series hits Netflix this week, shows France’s TV can match its film
Fast approaching 50 and fed up after two exhausting decades at Artmedia, the top talent agency in Paris, Dominique Besnehard decided, one day in 2005, that he would quite like to turn his hand to producing something of his own.
“At the time,” Besnehard told Le Monde, “Desperate Housewives was all over the telly, a huge success. I just thought, with a couple of colleagues, we could maybe make a series a bit like that, but about the job we do for a living.”
Call My Agent, whose fourth series starts on Netflix this week, is now a huge hit – and has, along with Spiral and The Bureau, two other acclaimed series, fully and perhaps finally disproved the dictum that France is as bad at TV drama as it is good at cinema.
“France is really benefiting from a global trend in TV series towards strong, original, local stories, anchored in their territory and free of American and British norms,” said Laurence Herszberg, director of the international Series Mania festival.
The show, she said, was so big because it was “set in a milieu we don’t know well but would like to; because the agents are sympathetic and passionate and people like them even more than the guest stars; because it’s very French – it’s in Paris, it has office love affairs … And because it’s on Netflix.”
Call My Agent, whose French title is Dix pour Cent (for the 10% fee French agents charge actors), draws between 3 and 4 million viewers on public broadcaster France 2 and is available around the world on the streaming service.
Successful remakes are now airing in French-speaking Canada and Turkey, with more in development in India, China, Vietnam and the UK, where the series will be produced by the team behind the popular BBC mockumentaries 2012 and W1A.
Versions are also being negotiated from Germany and Italy to South Korea, according to France 2. “It is,” Thibault de Montalembert, one of the French show’s stars, said recently, “one of those rare French series that foreigners love.”
It is not hard to see why. The premise is simple but fertile: a talent agency in Paris, ASK, coping with the imaginary caprices of an impressive coterie of A-listers, who each play a believable version of themselves, mostly for just one episode.
Jean Dujardin, best known for 2011 silent movie The Artist, appeared in the show to be hysterically unable to shake off his previous role as a survivalist army deserter, while Juliette Binoche went catastrophically off piste at the Cannes film festival.
Isabelle Huppert was seen as a workaholic shooting two films at once, while Monica Bellucci was dying for a date with anyone who wasn’t famous. In the new series, Charlotte Gainsbourg is stuck with an unwanted part and Sandrine Kiberlain gives everything up to try standup.
Series four also features Dix pour Cent’s biggest non-French star to date, Sigourney Weaver, who told Variety last year that she had said yes to the show “without even reading the script – the first and last time I’ve done that in my life.”