A Charming French Touch in TV “Infotainment”

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.

Yann Barthes, the charming presenter of the “Quotidien.”

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

Waiting in the first of many lines at the TV studio.

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 set of the French TV show, “Quotidien.”

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

Garance Marillinier, the star of the French cannibal film “Grave” (“Raw in English).

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.

Francois Fillon Turns the Tables in the French Presidential Election

With only seven weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, no one is talking policy.  Everyone is talking “Fillon” instead.  And all the conversations and predictions are about whether this candidate should stay or go.  Three days ago, 100 political chiefs deserted him.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.
Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.

Yesterday, the Plan B candidate, Alain Juppe, officially proclaimed he would not run.  So today, Francois Fillon is back – and it looks like he’s going to stay.  His strategy is just to keep standing and let the others come and go as they please.  That seems to be working for him.  Is it working for France?  Only time and votes will tell.

Fillon hosted a rally on March 4th in Paris to insist publicly that he is still the Presidential hopeful.  The Fillon team said there were 200,000 people in attendance.  Now, that’s the French version of fake news since Trocadero, where the rally was held, can only hold 45,000 people, according to the French police. Polls show that more than 70% of French voters want Fillon to withdraw his candidacy.  They want him to resign; name a replacement and ride off into the sunset of a possible indictment that is facing him.  But, just like the Elton John song, he’s still standing.  Here’s how all this unprecedented mess started.

Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.
Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.

Back in November, 2016, Francois Fillon won the first-ever Republican party primary with a healthy score of 44%.Things were looking good for him and the party in general. Since this was the first time for a primary, no one thought about what happens if the candidate gets into a legal scandal before the election.  As it stands, the only exit for acandidate would be a resignation letter.  However, Mr. Fillon is adamant that he is in for the long-haul.  The scandal  he is now in is being called “PenelopeGate.”  He is supposedly about to be charged with creating fictitious employment for his wife Penelope (to the tune of almost a million euros, pretty much the same amount in dollars).  The suspicious employment he gave to two of his children while they were law students is also on the judge’s table.

So, for the French right party, the Republican Party, Francois Fillon is a candidate who might (or might not) be indicted on March 15th when he is summoned to court.  The far-right populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has also been summoned for financial dealings concerning two members of her staff but she has “solved” her problem by saying she simply won’t go.  On the left side of the government, Francois Hollande, the current president, bowed out of the Socialist primary.  He chose not to run for the “good of the party” since all polls were saying he was sure to lose.  The Socialists had their scandal just before the last election in 2012 but theirs was a sexual one.  Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the left front-runner for president, was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York back in May 2011. He subsequently spent a night in Rikers prison and settled the civil case out of court for an undisclosed amount. The accompanying disgrace ended his chances of running for president and that’s when Francois Hollande came into the picture.  He was Plan B for the Socialists in 2012.

Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..
Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..

 

The French media like to compare their presidential candidates to Trump.  Up to now, they were consistently doing this only for Marine Le Pen.  She is France’s Populist candidate on the far-right. She is consistently anti-immigration; anti-European and anti-Muslim. However, this week, the media has started to compare Francois Fillon to Donald Trump since he attacked the judicial system which he feels is attacking him (something equivalent to Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judges” who stopped his Executive travel ban order).  Mr. Fillon also staged his public “feel-good” rally in Trump fashion and urged his supporters to “resist,” to “fight this strange combat” along with him.

 

Francois Fillon's latest Motto.
Francois Fillon’s latest Motto.

After Fillon’s anti-justice system declaration, his spokesperson resigned; his campaign manager bailed and many elected officials said that Fillon had “crossed the line.”  They all point to the fact that Fillon initially said he would pull out of the presidential race if there were to be a formal investigation.  There is a formal investigation and Fillon is still running.  France is on political hold.  The only thing is sure at this point is that Fillon is the candidate for the conservation Republican party.  He has managed to “divide and conquer” his party — just by running in place.

PenelopeGate – A New Feminine Twist on French Political Scandal

There’s another political scandal blazing in France and this time it doesn’t involve the President taking a ride on a Vespa and paying a nocturnal visit to his girlfriend. It still concerns a woman though, but a woman who has done, and openly admits to doing, nothing. No problem in that, in and of itself, except that she was allegedly paid 831,400 Euros (about $894,000) for that “nothing.” Now that’s a problem.

Francois Fillon, the Presidential candidate for the French Republican party, and the frontrunner, is suddenly

Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.
Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.

embroiled in a situation that is wreaking havoc on his party and the whole country.  Mr. Fillon is accused of falsely employing his wife, Penelope Fillon, as a Parliamentary assistant over several years and paying her an enormous sum of money – from public funds.  There is nothing illegal about employing family members in the French political system (nepotism is welcome here).  What the voters are upset about is that it seems there is no proof that she actually worked in the Parliament.  There is no trace of a badge, no pay slips, no one remembers seeing her working in the wings of the Parliament building.  Adding to this is the alleged salary of 84,000 Euros (about $90,000) that Mr. Fillon paid to two of his adult children for their legal advice.  Again, hiring family members as lawyers is not illegal, however, his children were not yet qualified lawyers when they were paid.  They were still students.

Before the investigative French newspaper “Canard Enchainé” broke the story, Francois Fillon was the morally irreproachable man of the hour.  He won the Republican primary by a landslide.  He had been the Prime Minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and was the perfect candidate from the right to replace the Socialist President, Francois Hollande.

Fillon family at their French chateau.
Fillon family at their French chateau.

His solid, Catholic family was picture-perfect – married for 37 years to the same woman, Penelope, who is of Welsh origin.  They are both in their early 60’s and have five children.  They live in an honest-to-goodness chateau in the Sarthes region of France.  In the rare television or newspaper interviews that Penelope has given, she has always talked about how she was just an ordinary housewife bringing up her children and letting Francois handle the political stuff.  In October 2016, she was quoted as saying, “Up until now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband.”  Unfortunately, she is very involved now, and may be the reason that her husband’s political life might soon be over.

So, what’s happening now in French political circles?  Well, it’s one ill-timed, right-sided mess.  The first round of the presidential election is April 23rd.  Mr. Fillon and his family are being questioned this week.  They could be exonerated of all suspicion or the affair could continue to criminal court, and if that happens, Mr. Fillon could not run for President.  This is not the first time a politician is accused of mis-use of public funds – far from it.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.

The problem is the timing.  If Mr. Fillon were President, the government would have to wait until his term was over to take him to Court to settle this accusation.  However, he is only a candidate.  But, he is the only candidate that many French people think could have easily won the Presidential race…that is, until the doors of “PenelopeGate” opened.

Recent polls say that 6 out of 10 voters want Francois Fillon to resign as presidential candidate. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux who lost to Mr. Fillon in the primary, has already stated he refuses to be the “Plan B.” The party would have to come up with someone else – but they are running out of time. Meanwhile, this instability definitely helps the other runners.  The ones who are currently left standing are Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU, Trump-loving representative of the National Front party; Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister under President Hollande, who is running as an independent; the Socialist rebel and ex-minister of Education, Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perpetual candidate from the hard-left.

Mr. Fillon's campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.
Mr. Fillon’s campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.

Francois Fillon is on the road campaigning this weekend; claiming this whole deal is a witch hunt, a set-up by his political enemies.  He is asking his supporters to just look at his program but, when they do that, they see he wants to cut 500,000 civil service jobs, which does not look good next to the allegations of paying his wife close to a million euros for allegedly not working at all.

It seems that, at this point, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Fillon mis-used public funds – the damage is already done.  The entire Republican party is in disarray and the Presidential election is around the corner.  How they will get out of this sticky situation is anyone’s guess.  Maybe there’s another woman hanging around on the left who can generate another political scandal.  That seems to be business-as-usual in French (and other) political circles.

Parisians Join US Women’s March the Day after Trump Inauguration

There is usually a honeymoon period after a US presidential election, a time when the new guy can do no wrong; when Americans are happy with their choice and they allow him to get on with the business of governing the country.  However, the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, will have to be content with the honeymoons he has already experienced with his three wives. The unprecedented mass “Women’s March” protests

Women's March took place in more than 60 cities globally.
Women’s March took place in more than 60 cities globally.

held all over the world the day after his inauguration made it perfectly clear that the new woman in his life, the female American electorate, will be watching him very closely.  No honeymoon in sight for the new President. (In fact, his third wife, Melania, has already left Washington DC to return to New York to take care of her “Mom” duties.)

For a man who has tweeted his way into the Presidency, it seems only fitting that the Women’s March Movement started with a social media facebook invitation.  Teresa Shook, a retired attorney and resident of Hawaii, invited forty of her friends to a March on Washington with one little click.  Twenty-four hours later, that one click turned into a group with thousands of names.

The DC crowd itself was estimated at about 500,000 participants; over 700,000 people participated in Los Angeles (the biggest turn-out).  More than 5 million women activists around the world, including 7,000 women in Paris, used the morning after the inauguration to come together and “send a bold message to the new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

A sea of pink as thousands of women sported "pussyhats".
A sea of pink as thousands of women sported “pussyhats”.

If you saw any of the Women’s March photos, you most likely noticed a sea of pink hats bobbing on the horizon.  Those hats come from the Los Angeles based “Pussyhat Project,” where knitters first began crafting little pink caps with cat ears as an angry rebuttal to Trump’s 2005 offensive remarks about grabbing women’s genitalia.  Many of the celebrities who attended and performed at the Marches wore a pussyhat as a symbol of protection of women’s rights.  Here is a non-exhaustive list of the stars in attendance:  Helen Mirren, Gillian Anderson, Jane Fonda, Charlize Theron, Cher, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Fran Drescher, Felicity Huffman, Amy Poelher, Madonna, Ashley Judd, Michael Moore and Scarlett Johansson.  When you consider that celebrities were conspicuously absent from the Presidential Inauguration ceremony and celebration, you have an idea of how divided the USA has become.

But you might wonder why French women (and men)Getty.A-demonstrator-carries-a-sign-reading-Pcame out in support of this American demonstration.  I mean, what happens in the USA stays in the USA, right?  Wrong!  Quite a few women who were interviewed at the Paris March stated that the subject of women’s rights concerns the whole world.  The French have seen female reproductive rights put into jeopardy once again in Poland, Spain and Portugal when those neighboring countries elected conservative leaders. France will be electing a new President this spring and women are worried about the National Front Candidate,

Marine Le Pen, coming into power.  Mme Le Pen is an avid supporter of President Trump. At a recent, unprecedented meeting of Europe’s rightwing party leaders, she was quoted as saying, “His position on Europe is clear. He

National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.
National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.

does not support a system of the oppression of peoples.  2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am certain 2017 will be the year when the people of continental Europe wake up.”

It’s strange that the organizers of the Parisian Women’s March also alluded to Trump’s election as being a wake-up call for France.  We’ll just have to wait and see which side wakes up first.

The Americanization of French Presidential Campaigns

Oh no, it’s happening in Paris too.  Just when the US presidential campaign is almost over and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief; the French contest is starting and local TV is trying a new thing – producing political “shows a l’américaine”.  I saw one last week and couldn’t believe my eyes or ears.  It was a horrible harbinger, an omen of how bad the French presidential campaign just might become.

The name of the show is “Une Ambition Intime,” which translates to “A Private Ambition.”

This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.
This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.

The presenter is a beautiful, sexy lady named Karine Le Marchand, who usually hosts a popular reality show where she helps French farmers find love in the comfort of their own home.  (It’s called “L’Amour Est dans Le Pré” or “Love is in the Field”.)  She oversees the matchmaking of the contestants and interviews them in their country surroundings.  It’s a stretch to go from hosting a heartfelt, love-farm program to interviewing political candidates.  However, Karine does it while sitting on a couch and drinking wine.  She even makes the politicians cry and give up family secrets.  So, in the end, it’s not such a stretch.  And, in the end, it made me cry too – but for different reasons.

Karine Le Marchand is the producer of this show. Television rumor has it that she threatened to quit if the M6 channel, which broadcasts the program, didn’t give her the chance to host something else besides the Farmer takes a Wife.  The first airing of “Une Ambition Intime” received some bad reviews but the head of M6, Nicolas de Tavernost, defended Karine’s show saying that people would be surprised at the number of politicians who want a place on Madame Le Marchand’s sofa (that’s right; that’s what he said).  He added that he was proud of her.  Critics claimed that Karine doesn’t know anything about politics.  However, knowledge of French politics is irrelevant since, in “A Private Ambition,” Karine exposes the human side of the presidential candidates or, rather, lets them expose themselves.  A lot.

Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.
Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.

The objective of the program is to unveil another facet of the presidential candidate – one the audience would not see on a typical political program.  There is absolutely no discussion of current issues, social problems, the deficit, security or jobs.  Karine Le Marchand doesn’t grill the candidate as to what the basis of their political platform is and how he or she would accomplish their goals.  Instead, with sappy pop music in the background, (appropriately chosen by her 13-year-old daughter), Karine coyly asked the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, if she should call him “Nicolas” or “Mr. President”.

She cuddled up on the couch; poured him a glass of red wine and asked him about the ladies in his life.  He told her he had an “enormous track record” with women and she then asked if that was the only “enormous” thing he had.  She followed that with a pathetically fake giggle.

It got worse.  There were three more candidates to go.  The emotional highlight of Arnaud Montebourg’s interview was when he got all teary-eyed thinking of his premature baby.    The next candidate, Bruno Lemaire, shed tears when he talked about his wife (she’s fine, by the way).  Then Karine Le Marchand had a conversation in the garden this time (no couch) with Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate.  With Marine, she evoked favorite recipes and flowers and commiserated about how both Karine and Marine are single moms.  She offered wine again (white wine, this time) and they toasted to life.

Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get "cozy".
Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get “cozy”.

Madame Le Pen went on to talk about her difficult, if not impossible, relationship with her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who used to be the head of the National Front party.  She threw him out of the party a few months ago and they haven’t spoken since.  Marine said that was an extremely painful thing to do – second only to childbirth.  Wow.

That politicians have turned into entertainers in the United States is not a new phenomenon.  But this is new is for France and, personally speaking, I hope it stops right here.  However, “A Private Ambition” attracted 3.1 million viewers; that’s 14% of the Sunday evening market so it looks like it will probably continue.  The French are voluntarily lowering their standards of political campaigning and the candidates are letting them do it.  Why, oh why, did these potential presidents agree to do such a program?  They could have all nipped this trend in the bud by just saying no.

Let’s hope that one day we will all pick our presidents in the same way we choose a doctor.  For example, if you were going to have a knee operation, would you care about your surgeon’s romantic liaisons?  About his or her favorite recipes, gardening talents, musical preferences?

Let's talk about skills, not stories, please.
Let’s talk about skills, not stories, please.

No, there’s no time for silly small talk and, truthfully, you would just want a skilled professional with experience.  You would probably check out his team; the reputation of the clinic; his or her surgical success rate.  Let’s face it, we’re all human and we all have stories.  But, when it comes to deciding who will govern a country, there are some stories we just don’t need to hear.