Pierre Langlais is one of the main feathers of TV series journalism in France. He has just released an enlightening book on the creation of the best series of the small screen and draws up, for the evening edition, an inventory of the serial production. The journalist of Télérama is not very tender with the giant Netflix: according to him, the platform offers more quantity than quality.
Journalist specializing in TV series for the magazine Telerama, Pierre Langlais posted Create a series, published by Armand Colin. A book in which he collected the confidences of sixteen writers of successful series, in France, the United States and Europe. We took the opportunity to discuss the phenomenon of television series with him. The hype Netflix, the place of mini-series, cardboard WandaVision , the “golden age” of series, French production… there is no shortage of subjects.
Is Netflix Really The Best That Happened To Serial Creation?
Netflix has made some really good shows, like The Crown. But it is the trees that hide a forest of formatted products without any interest. In the 2000s, the “golden age” of series, there were few productions, but they were all great. Today, there is a permanent vomiting of mediocre proposals, from which occasionally superb series emerge. I’m afraid viewers will get indigestion, forget what a good show is.
Don’t you seem like a huge Netflix fan?
Netflix is an elephant in a porcelain store, which shakes up all lines. It will take years to see the consequences. In the meantime, what I see is a lot of noise, for little quality. She has no editorial line, does anything and everything, from the super series of authors to formatted things without interest written by robots plugged into the algorithm. [qui recommande des programmes aux utilisateurs de la plateforme, NdlR].
The algorithm which, however, makes the success of Netflix?
It is essential to continue to be curious, to go and see other platforms, other channels. A world where Netflix would enjoy a virtual monopoly, that would annoy me because, for me, the series is an art of diversity. We have to sort it out and that’s why criticism is essential today. When I hear people say: “I trust the Netflix algorithm”, I am very worried. The success of Lady’s game is fascinating: it is a positive consequence of Netflix and its recommendations, because it is not a series made for such a hit.
For quality, should we bet on mini-series instead?
They shouldn’t overwhelm everything. You need series that last several seasons, that’s it, serial pleasure, the soap opera side. Glad to have known a time when watching 7 or 8 seasons was normal. What a joy to have seen Lost, or How I Met Your Mother, every week, without binge-watching [l’action de regarder de nombreux épisodes d’une série à la suite, NdlR]. I am happy that the daily series of TF1, France 2 and France 3 are working. Or the ones that are not soap opera, like NCIS, even if it is not from the “big” series.
The format of a series is not a priority?
The key word is “plurality”! Stories, tones, formats… The TV series is the art of plurality. I’m glad to see the formats explode, with 30-minute dramas and 1.5-hour comedies. Under no circumstances should one format overwrite the others, that would be serious.
What do you think is the latest serial masterpiece?
The Leftovers , obviously. Rectify, too. Normal people, last year, how strong is it! There are fewer masterpieces than before, but more great series.
What do you think of WandaVision , about which we talked a lot at the start of 2021?
It is successful, but, as The Mandalorian , extremely mastered. Industrialization and know-how are such that the great mistake is less and less possible. WandaVision, it’s mastered, everything is calculated, hyper-referenced… It’s a cut-and-paste of billions of things already done, applied to the Marvel universe. I never leave it thinking to myself that it is an author’s work.
Are you “a lonely former geek”, as series enthusiasts are defined in your book? Create a series ?
I am a geek, period! If that means having an Alf soft toy in my office, next to posters of Treme and of The Leftovers, so yes. I think people of my generation are all geeks. I’m also lonely, but I can share my love of the playoffs with a lot of people around me. This book, I know it’s a bit “cucul la praline” to say that, it’s a gesture of love because they play such a role in my life, professional and personal. I live thanks to them, economically, but they also helped me a lot, supported me. There are millions of us who owe our lives to these stories that we watched, which allowed us to hold our heads high or to assert our identity. This book is a declaration of love for the creators of series.
Watching series of very varied qualities, all day long … Is there no wear and tear, weariness?
Yes, there are days when you get tired, when you tell yourself that there is nothing good to watch at the moment. It’s like a tired athlete who lacks the desire to go to train. There are days that are more difficult than others, but that doesn’t change my love for the playoffs. I keep looking for works that can move me.
Isn’t it easy to create a series in France?
You have to have a lot of courage. Once they have work, the writers don’t complain either, but there is a real need for recognition, contractual and financial.
We are not about to see a The Wire French-style ?
Let’s not be defeatist, there are good things in France. Rather, there are still spaces to be created. I won’t be surprised that Arte makes a Treme French-style ; that Canal make a The Shield French-style. One word comes up often in my book: “fear”. The financial stakes are getting so huge that it is stressful for everyone. But fear is never a good counselor. This book is about successful authors, from the top of the iceberg, but we must not forget that alongside, thousands of other writers are gathered. These successes were born from the risk-taking of the broadcasters, and it was a hit. We have to make the channels understand to stop being afraid, to trust viewers, their intelligence, their desire to discover new stories.
It is often said that the “golden age” of the playoffs is over. How old are we now?
About ten years ago, I thought that we had passed in the “age of nuggets”: you have to take a sieve and skim hundreds of series to find those worthy of appearing in “the golden age. “. I think this metaphor is still valid today. You have to look far to find nuggets like Rectify, Pose, stroll on cable channels, sometimes Korean, Italian … The production is so large that you have to keep your eyes wide open to capture in this constant stream of formatted television series, type “Excel”. Beware of algorithms, be curious to look elsewhere.
Two years after the end of Game Of Thrones , is it possible for a series to become such a cultural phenomenon?
The Crown, for example, at its level. In France, The Legends Office. Game Of Thrones was something exceptional, but I will not be surprised if we come across such a phenomenon, which happens once every ten years. I do not despair.