I usually stay away from French television programs entirely but one show I love to watch is called “Quotidien,” which means “daily.” And, as you might have guessed, it’s a French, modified version of America’s The Daily Show. It is presented by Yann Barthès, a charming, classy 40-something Frenchman who excels in the business of conversation. “Quotidien” is a relatively new show on prime-time TV but Yann is not new to television.
From 2011-2016, he was the impertinent, controversial presenter of “Le Petit Journal,” a satirical news program on Canal Plus. Due to internal differences, he ultimately left that network and, along with Laurent Bon, co-founded a production company called Bangumi. (“Bangumi” is the Japanese word for TV program.) The pressure was on for him to succeed in this daily venture and, so far, he has done quite well. I recently had the opportunity to be part of the live studio audience of “Quotidien” and I jumped at the chance to see how French TV works. It was interesting, amusing…and oh, so French.
First of all, the formalities for entry into the studio were even more stringent than a visit to the Prefecture of Paris when applying for French citizenship. Before you could step foot in the building, you had to sign a disclaimer in which you promised to give up your passport or identity card, cell phone and handbag to the Bangumi production
company for the time you were in the studio. You also gave permission to the company to make a copy of your passport. You agreed to actively participate in the “Quotidien” (meaning applauding when they tell you to); not get paid for it and, especially important, you agreed to behave. Any sign of trouble and you were out the door, facing a possible civil lawsuit.
French administrative inefficiency began in earnest as you waited in line to give up your passport to one person (the one who was most likely photocopying it during the show.) Then, there was another line to surrender all your earthly belongings and cell phone to another person who was stocking them in the coat room. That’s right, one person only was taking care of about 120 people who would be part of the audience – how efficient is that? Then there was the metal detector passage. And, finally, you could “hurry up and wait” in the downstairs, sectioned-off lobby. At least there were restrooms available, a coffee machine and a couple of benches for a lucky few who got there first.
After about a thirty-minute wait in the brouhaha of anticipation, we were finally shuttled in to the real television studio and placed on the rock-hard, grandstand seats. We had a coach, a friendly-enough guy with a hat who explained how to laugh and when to applaud. We practiced clapping with him and then he went around reprimanding the gum chewers. It was a relaxed, summer-camp ambiance – until I heard a camera man yell at an apprentice for not having anything on hand to clean his camera lens.
The young man was 17 at the most and ran off the set embarrassed as hell as his mentor loudly complained about how “stupid” the kid was. Ah, the joys of the French teaching approach of shaming students. Even outside of the classroom.
When Yann Barthès came on the set, everyone applauded spontaneously (although we had been told before only to applaud on cue). You could see he was well-liked by this group of viewers and by the other 1.2 million fans who were watching him on TMC (Tele Monte Carlo). He was pleasant, natural and professional.
Once the program got off the ground, he was at ease and in charge of all the topics and guests. It was an eclectic program too, that included interviews with young National Front voters (France’s far-right party led by Marine Le Pen); a conversation with Melania Trump’s make-up artist; conversations with an actress and director of the movie “Grave” based on cannibalism; a talk with a Canadian stand-up comic, Sugar Sammy and a report on the “Salon du
Bébé.” Yann supposedly has carte blanche on the content of the program “Quotidien” and he uses it to blend a cocktail of news, comedy, culture and human interest stories. He is serious when he needs to be but knows that a little bit of light-hearted “Infotainment” can go a long way in the TV business. I appreciated the fact that, unlike other talk show hosts, Yann doesn’t come across as the Star. The star of the “Quotidien” is its unique mix of news and humor – a breath of fresh air in French TV programming.
When the show ended, French administrative inefficiency reared its ugly head just as strongly as it had in the beginning. The staff shuffled us all back into the hall where we waited for up to an hour to get back our phones, bags and passports. There were several other team members standing around looking important, but only one person to return the bags and another person to return the passports. Happy to say, though, that there was a little bonus for us on the way out. We all got a “Quotidien” sticker for good behavior. The Prefecture of Paris would never do that.