FNE at DISCOP Budapest 2011: Czech Republic

By Irena Zemanová

    PRAGUE: The Czech television market has always been defined by one overriding characteristic: the loyalty of Czech audiences to original domestic production, especially long-running TV series cast with popular local actors. In the ratings, original Czech series consistently beat even global smash hits, such as Sex and the City, Friends, House or The Office. All three of the main TV stations - public broadcaster Czech Television (www.ceskatelevize ) and commercial channels TV Nova (www.nova.cz, a member of the Central European Media Enterprises group of stations) and TV Prima (www.iprima.cz, part of the Modern Time Group, MTG) - produce their own series, sometimes in coproduction with their traditional partner, Slovakia. The popularity of all things local has evolved into domestic remakes of international hits, and even contemporary remakes of old communist era favourites. Now Czechs are waiting to see if their domestic productions can translate into international sales.

    Viewer loyalty is the reason for the longevity of two of the most popular programmes on market leader TV Nova (www.nova.cz) -- the daily soap Ulice (The Street) and twice-weekly Ordinace v růžové zahradě (Rose Garden Doctor's Clinic), broadcast for over six years. Both shows include dozens of very famous and respected Czech actors. Even during times of crisis and despite the enlargement of the TV market with a wide range of a new digital TV channels, they still draw high ratings (1 million adults, or 10% of the entire population, watch Ulice daily, and Ordinace draws over 2 million viewers to its Tuesday and Thursday prime-time broadcasts). None of the reality shows, including SuperStar, can match those ratings in the Czech Republic.

    No wonder that TV Markíza (www.markiza.sk), TV Nova's Slovak sister in the CME family (www.cetv-net.com) family of stations, licenced Ordinace and made its own adaptation with a Slovak cast and Slovak locations, but under the original title.

    "The Czech TV audience is very loyal to domestic productions from the communist era, when respected screenwriters wrote long running shows like Nemocnice na kraji města (Hospital it the Suburbs) in the late 1970´s, cast with the most popular actors of that time. The entire nation watched those shows on the former Czechoslovak Television (CST), and all loved them. Especially domestic criminal and medical TV series were smash hits. Nothing has changed in this situation, regaredless of the advent of the digital era," says Daniel Köppl, television expert and editor-in-chief of Marketing & Media (www.mam.cz) weekly magazine, covering TV trends, sales and acquisitions.

    In fact, some of the best known hits from the Communist era are still so popular that several have gotten remakes, modern spin-offs, or contemporary sequels. Czech Television has already produced two new seasons of Hospital in the Suburbs, cast with the same actors as the original series and retitled Hospital in the Suburbs: 25 Years Later and Hospital in the Suburbs: New Careers. Czech TV is now in production with another remake, this time a sequel of the 1971 hit show, Such a Normal Family, for broadcast later in 2011. The six-episode sequel is directed by Dušan Klein and coproduced by Miloslav Šmídmajer and his company Bio Illusion (www.bioillusion.cz), with the collaboration of original screenplay writer Fan Vavřincová. "It was clear that we had to cast all the living actors who played the original characters in order to suceed," Šmídmajer said.

    Czech stations are also adapting foreign productions, such as the South American hit Ugly Betty at TV Prima, which bought the rights to remake the show with a Czech cast and setting. The adaptation, Ugly Cathy, sets an unattractive girl in a luxury company job, where she turns into a beauty.

    "Ugly Cathy was a very popular show two years ago at TV Prima, which is why we are reprising it at the moment," says Marek Singer, general director of TV Prima. He thinks Ugly Cathy will draw attention to their newly launched "romantic" TV channel Prima Love (www.primalove.cz), which programmes both Czech and foreign TV series, including Gossip Girl and Lipstick Jungle.

    Crime is another popular genre for original Czech production, and it's even reaping dividends beyond local broadcasts. TV Nova recently produced the 16-part series Expozitura (Branch Office), based on a true criminal case called "The Berdych Gang Case" with a screenplay written by two investigative reporters who covered the story, Janek Kroupa and Josef Klíma. In April, the licence and the format of Expozitura were sold for adaptation in the Americas. "Under the new American title Organised Crime Unit, our show is the first original Czech series sold to the USA," Michaela Fričová of Nova's production department said. American distribution companies Resonant TV (www.resonant.tv ) and Fluent Media Group (www.fluentmediagroup.com), which develop scripted formats for the international TV market, bought the licence and copyright for adaptation from CME´s MediaPro Distribution Company (www.mediaprodistribution.com).

    "We are very optimistic about this show. We believe that such a unique screenplay and convincing characters has huge potential to become a true TV hit in the USA," Gonzalo Cilley, president to Resonant TV company, told Czech Mediafax agency.

    With the Czech and Slovak markets nearly identical in many aspects, with viewers able to understand both languages, it's easy to see why Czechs and Slovaks coproduce a wide scale of TV programmes together, especially entertainment and talent shows such as Czechoslovak SuperStar, based on the global Superstar franchise licenced by Freemantle Media. CME´s TV Nova and Slovak counterpart TV Markíza coproduce the show, now in its second season with an equal number of Czech and Slovak finalists, as well as judges and hosts. "Czechoslovak Superstar is a very successful idea, which we find just amazing - and very useful both for us and our audience, who understand both Czech and Slovak," said Alex Ruzek, head of programming at TV Nova.

    In 2010, Czech station TV Prima and Slovakia's TV Joj (www.joj.sk ) coproduced another Czech-Slovak show licensed from the British "Got Talent" franchise. Meanwhile, TV Nova created its own talent format, based on the Got Talent idea, called Talentmania, again in coproduction with TV Markiza. Both Czech and Slovaks have their own Dancing with the Stars licences, called Let´s Dance on TV Markíza and StarDance on Czech TV. However those shows are produced separately, although both the Czech and Slovak programmes use both Czech and Slovak stars.

    Czech and Slovak stations also collaborate on numerous TV series as well as full-length films, often casting Czech and Slovak actors together. Most recently, the Czecho-Slovak crime coproduction series Kriminálka Staré město (Criminal Investigation Police: Old Town), produced by Czech TV and Slovakia's public broadcaster STV (www.stv.sk ), was set primarily in Bratislava´s Old Town with a mixed Czech and Slovak actors in the roles of criminal investigators working together both in Bratislava and in Prague.