Not only does Sherlock get love on both sides of the Channel, in France they think it’s so good they show it twice, so that younger and older viewers can get their fix…
The BBC detective drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch is one of French TV’s most popular British imports, exceeding ratings for many homegrown shows and delighting audiences on two of France’s major channels.
Sherlock airs first on France 4, the equivalent of BBC3, which targets young adults. A year later it gets a second outing on France 2, France Télévisions’ answer to BBC1, which caters for an older audience – and both groups love it.
“One of the biggest shows, that works very well, is Sherlock,” reveals Francesca Dandolo, overseas buyer for the French channels. “We’ve bought Sherlock for France 4 and France 2… Sherlock has nice figures on France 4 – it gets about 1.2 million – and when it’s broadcast on France 2 it gets 3 million.
“It covers two generations. The younger generation and those in their early 50s both appreciate it in France.”
When it comes to British shows, it seems that crime dramas in general play well across the Channel. Other successful exports to France include Midsomer Murders, Endeavour and Broadchurch, which recently drew a record audience for France 2, doubling average figures for some homegrown dramas on the channel.
“The audience rates were amazing,” says Dandolo. “We had a 7 million audience when we showed the first three episodes of Broadchurch – France Télévisions’ was ahead of [commercial channel] TF1. Those were amazing figures. French fiction, when it’s originally produced in France, has an average audience of roughly 3.5 million to 4 million.”
So what is it that our Gallic cousins love so much about British drama? Dandolo says the appeal of Broadchurch to French audiences is just the same as it was for British viewers.
“Broadchurch appealed because the story is so strong, it tackles everyday people, people who have the same lives as the viewers, and that kind of accident [like the death of schoolboy Danny Latimer] can shock a community that’s really close-knit.
“We weren’t talking about the aristocracy of Downton Abbey, we were talking about you and me and daily life.”
Meanwhile, it’s the less gritty side of Britain the French enjoy when it comes to shows like Midsomer Murders and Endeavour. “They’re sleuth stories with an English environment and a little bit of quirky humour, which play well with the French audience,” says Dandolo. “The French have a love affair with the English – the lovely countryside, amusing habits, so when that’s transmitted in that kind of sleuth series it works really well.”
Nevertheless, there’s one aspect of British TV that French audiences haven’t yet embraced – our accents.
“We have a historic tradition to dub our shows into French,” says Dandolo. Which, of course, means they don’t get to hear Benedict Cumberbatch’s dulcet tones.
Those French Sherlock fans don’t know what they’re missing…