Half a century after the BBC police series Maigret, a new English-speaking, French detective is set to appear on British screens next year.
Like its predecessor, the series, to be named Le Grand, will have French detectives, working in Paris, who chat in English. Unlike the BBC series, though, the backers, producers and actors of the new series will be mostly French. Le Grand will be filmed in English, and then dubbed into French and other languages, in an effort to crack the international market for a TV cop series.
The producers hope to tap into an increasingly popular marketplace for overseas television. In recent years, British viewers have developed a taste for foreign crime series, including France's Spiral and Denmark's The Killing.
French TV programmes have never been hugely popular abroad. Even in France, American police series are more popular than local productions. However, the involvement of two international stars, the actor Jean Reno and the Canadian-born producer René Balcer, is intended to seduce the global market.
The concept was created by Balcer, who has worked on big-name US cop programmes, including Law and Order. According to the official blurb, the series is about "an implacable, meticulous, elite cop who stops at nothing to solve mysterious murder cases".
Its hero is the tough Joachim "Jo" Legrand. The detective, nicknamed "Le Grand" (the big man), will be played by Jean Reno, who says: "He's not like cops I've played before. You can see both strength and humanity in him."
Reno, 63, has worked in French, English, Japanese, Spanish and Italian. His Hollywood successes include The Da Vinci Code and Mission: Impossible. Reno began his career in French cinema, starring in both French and English films directed by Luc Besson. This will be the actor's first lead role in a television series. He told Le Figaro that he "never would have accepted a [TV] series if it wasn't as truly international as this one."
But Reno says he likes the series format, because characters can be built up over the episodes. One of the sub-plots will be the detective's efforts to make amends with his estranged daughter. "Everything he has done wrong will gradually rise to the surface," Reno said.
Filming will begin in Paris this summer. The first three episodes will be set near Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Pigalle, the home of the Moulin Rouge.
After the success of other foreign detective series, the pitch for Le Grand was received enthusiastically at the MIPTV international media market in Cannes last month. Several British TV channels are said to have expressed interest.