Television. In Marseille, will the life of the series continue more beautifully?

Rumors were already circulating, but it was a cry of anger that made the affair public. On March 27, during the meeting of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in Marseille, for the presidential campaign, the actress Sophie de La Rochefoucauld, who has interpreted Caroline Evenot since 2009 in « Plus belle la vie », denounced the coming stop of the series, which turns 18 in August.

« Emblematic » for public service and the influence of the city, it « addresses important social issues »: homosexuality, the dangers of an extreme right-wing town hall, the dangers of shale gas extraction… « Stopping ‘Plus belle la vie’, a jewel of popular culture, is like closing a factory or a company with accounting calculations always taking precedence over the human, » pleaded the actress.

A longevity record

The following May 5, France Télévisions formalized the end of the adventure with a press release and an announcement in front of the production staff, on set 1000 of the Belle de Mai studios, which notably house the fame (but fictitious) Place du Mistral. The 2022 season will be the last. « ‘Plus belle la vie’ will thus conclude its long journey on the air in November 2022. » Launched on August 30, 2004, the soap opera broke all longevity records, joining the pantheon of « Fires of love » and others telenovelas.

The start was however difficult: the first weeks, the series only gathered 7.1% of audience shares. Telfrance series (1), from which France 3 had ordered 130 episodes, is making changes after two months. Audiences are rising, to exceed 20% market share and reach 10 million viewers in 2010. Unfortunately, these figures have eroded, down to 2.7 million viewers and 11.7% viewership. hearing. For France Télévisions, that is no longer enough. But can we speak of “accounting calculations”, of “profitability”?

“There is never a single reason why we stop a program”, pleads Anne Holmes, the new director of programs for France Télévisions. She explains this decision by the drop in audience but also by “the structure of the public (which) has changed: at one time, we had a lot of young people, who deserted a bit. (…) There are 4 daily soap operas on television, you have to make choices. “She admits a difficulty” after eighteen years to renew our narrative arcs around the characters. It is better to stop as long as we still have an audience.

Towards a “new creative pact”

Stopping the soap opera would affect « 800 to 1,200 » people per day, actors and technicians (cameramen, make-up artists, costume designers, etc.), according to Christophe Porro, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Radio Broadcasting, Television and Audiovisual CGT: “a godsend for the employment pool in the sector”. Deputy PCF to the mayor of Marseille in charge of culture, Jean-Marc Coppola approves: « The particularity of ‘Plus belle la vie’ is to be shot five days a week, which ensures a certain stability for the actors, to the technicians, to the intermittents du spectacle. On the other side of the coin, “many have worked exclusively on ‘Plus belle la vie’ and, for them, everything stops”.

« Plus belle la vie » represents approximately 40% of the activity of the sector, and, to maintain this dynamic as the second region for filming fiction in France, « we must create something structuring so that (the technicians) continue to live and work in Marseille,” explains Jean-Marc Coppola.

By proposing a “new creative pact” backed by the “France 2030” plan, France Télévisions intends to perpetuate this industry. “Going to shoot in Marseille is good, but we don’t want to land with our technicians, we would like to rely on the local technical fabric. However, there is a lot of filming, for the platforms in particular, so we will be short of technicians. Our goal is to train them. Marseille is a city where people like to shoot, it is up to us to promote the development of this fabric. »

The group therefore boasts of its current productions: « There is always ‘the Trainee’, a series filmed in Marseille for six years », recalls Anne Holmes. And in addition to “Candice Renoir”, repatriated from Sète to Marseille, “several filmings are planned for the year 2023: “La Rue des condemnés”, “le Chat”, “la Peste”, and even perhaps “Marianne”, which is filmed in Toulon, from which we could repatriate season 2. Rather than filming a single long series, we will multiply the filming formats in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. We are recreating an ecosystem.

On the staff side, we deplore the lack of support measures. “France Télévisions is committed to continuing, not in terms of jobs but of budget (30 million euros – editor’s note)”, underlines Christophe Porro. “The management says to maintain 500 days of filming, but that does not mean anything, it depends on the size of the team. Even if “Candice Renoir” comes to Marseille (with production moving from Newen to La Fabrique, a subsidiary of France Télévisions – Editor’s note), not sure that will be enough to maintain the activity… ”

What about the Belle de Mai studios?

As for the Belle de Mai, how will the studios be operated in the future? Hard to say. “The big absentee from this meeting of staff (of May 5 – Editor’s note) was the company Newen (parent company of the company Telfrance, which produces “Plus belle la vie”), both owner of the rights to the soap opera and responsible for the operation of the Belle de Mai studios. We contacted Telfrance, with no response from them.

We cannot imagine “More beautiful life” without Marseille. But Marseille without « More beautiful life »? The soap opera is « a real showcase », with its emblematic decorations, enthuses the cultural assistant: it’s « Heritage Days five evenings a week »! This postcard, according to the president of the metropolitan Aix-Marseille-Provence CCI, Jean-Luc Chauvin, “helped put the city, Provence, forward in France and abroad. Many tourists who come to visit Marseille ask where the Mistral district is, where the bar is. This therefore has repercussions in terms of tourism and it affects, beyond the film industry, the entire economy”. The president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Renaud Muselier, recalls that 1 euro invested in a series would bring 17 to the local economy.

The city, France Télévisions and Telfrance had to discuss the future again in recent weeks. But for the moment, the public audiovisual group does not budge: the filming of the series will stop in September. Can the decision be reviewed? Marc Barbault, production manager who has regularly collaborated on the soap opera, believes in it. Even if the screenwriters are working on end arches, he told AFP, « there is always a way to unravel the final loop », he assures. This would not be the first turnaround to be credited to « Plus belle la vie ».


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