TV Producers in The Netherlands Move to Fill the Programming Gap for Europe

EXIT "Golden Girls," enter "The Flemish Casserole"?

As more international television production takes place, European shows may wind up displacing some popular American series. And Holland, although not yet the front-runner, is becoming an important player in this fast-growing entertainment realm.

Officially initiated last October, the European Community's "television without frontiers" directive mandates that all EC countries open their borders to programming from other countries and reserve a majority of air time for European-produced fare. Three Dutch independent television producers, JE Entertainment, John de Mol Productions, and IDTV, have aggressively moved to supply that need.

Now 25 years old and The Netherland's largest theater producer and independent television production company, JE Entertainment competes in almost every arena, producing stage productions from Broadway and London's West End, as well as Dutch comedy revues. With production offices in England, Germany, Luxembourg, and Italy, JE plans to turn out about 15 television co-productions a year. Its strength comes in part from its dominant position domestically: JE produces popular game shows such as "The Surprise Show," "Ron's Honeymoon Quiz," and the Dutch version of "Wheel of Fortune."

About 10 years ago, JE's president Joop van den Ende located his company's activities in Aalsmeer, converting a huge indoor flower market into Europe's biggest production site. The gigantic complex, just 40 minutes from Amsterdam, includes seven sound stages, as well as half a dozen prebuilt specialty sets, such as a casino, a tavern, and a nightclub, plus editing rooms, rehearsal halls, prop and set storage, conference rooms, and offices.

JE churns out 600 hours of television each year, much of it exported to other EC countries. Among its current projects are a German version of the popular local sitcom "The Two of Us" and a pilot of the popular Thames TV hit series "The Bill."

Almost equaling that output is De Mol, which began as a music programming company in the early '80s but now produces dramas, comedies, game and quiz shows. The firm has opened an office in Belgium and recently joined the Independent Producers Group, a collective of Canadian and European producers.

One De Mol show called "Love Letters" pits three engaged couples against each other, vying for the grand prize: a lavish on-air wedding ceremony. The 90-minute program has been sold to Germany and is being readied for export to other EC countries.

Also among De Mol's popular lineup is "The Flemish Casserole," a sitcom built around a homosexual couple who run a stylish restaurant. The men are assisted by a naive niece and an eternal student. Although the subject matter would be considered provocative for American television, the company is preparing the show for export to other European countries.

De Mol has recently begun offering its successful domestic formats to other European markets. The crossword-puzzle-style "Crosswits," the celebrity gossip game show "I Hope You're Bluffing," and the sports-oriented "Pro Fan" are being readied for duplication or licensing in other EC countries.

IDTV has launched operations in Brussels, Rome, Hamburg, and Los Angeles. The American subsidiary expects to concentrate on game shows in joint ventures with US game-show producer Ralph Andrews.

As the amount of air time available to European-made programs increases, both JE and De Mol plan to move more resources into the area of films-for-television. The Dutch companies are counting on their facilities, their willingness to construct co-financing deals, and the talent of their employees to carve out a niche in the world-entertainment market.

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