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MIPCOM 2012: FX Drama ‘The Americans’ Wows Audiences

The new spy drama, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, left attendees enthralled by the fast-paced, well-acted and beautifully scored episode of 75 minutes.

The Americans — as in a new drama series for cabler FX Stateside — turned the once staid, “suit”-saturated Mipcom TV trade show into a mini Cannes Film Festival moment Monday night.

The pilot episode had enough sex, action, intrigue and sophisticated production values to make attendees think they were watching some European art film – except that this one was, despite the twists, mostly understandable.

The Grand Auditorium in the Cannes Palais was an SRO affair as TV buyers and other attendees sat seemingly enthralled by the fast-paced, well-acted and beautifully scored episode, which came in at 75 minutes or so. The stars too – Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys — were ushered out afterwards, just as at festival screenings.

“We’re not handing out a Palme d’Or tonight, but we are here to celebrate the very best in world television,” Reed Midem TV topper Laurine Garaude told the assembled before the screening.

Mark Kaner, the president of Twentieth Century Fox TV Distribution and the seller of the series abroad, also took the stage, calling the event “a first” and thanking those responsible for the production. Among them, top Hollywood scribes Graham Yost and Joe Weisberg as well as Fox TV Studios president David Madden and FX Productions EVP Eric Schrier. The series will be shot in New York and premier on FX next spring. What was shone was still something of a rough cut, Kaner told the audience. Its marketing slogan on the Croisette is “All is fair in love and cold war.”

Set in 1981, at the beginning of the Reagan era, the series focuses on a sleeper cell of KGB agents, specifically the husband and wife team of Russell and Rhys, whose loyalties are tested and whose own moral compasses go awry in different ways during the series. Per the Fox execs, the series will include as backdrop the attempt on Reagan’s life but essentially it will focus on the relationship between the principals, including their extracurricular sexual affairs.

“It’s really a series about trust – in marriage, children, government and country. The only period element one has to be aware of is that the Russians are the bad guys. It’s authentic to the period, in a different way from, say, Mad Men in that it’s authentic without being over the top in attention to period detail,” Madden said during the Q&A afterwards.

He and Schrier also said the pilot was the most costly that had ever been done for an FX drama, especially the opening action sequence.

For her part, Russell, whose previous role in Felicity hardly suggested she’d be up for martial arts training, said she was attracted to “the well-written script” because of how it delineated the relationship between the two principals, in that though officially married the two spies do not know each other’s past and they are supposed to be first and foremost “wedded’ to their cause.

In some territories The Americans will be included in Fox’s ongoing output deals with key broadcasters but in others, including the U.K., it will be available on the open market.

In another screening room in the vast Cannes Palais Monday, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey introduced their first collaborative effort: a docudrama called The Bible for the History Channel. That epic is being sold by History’s parent A&E Networks internationally either as a 5×120 minute series or as a 10×60 minutes package.

And not to be outdone, Russia’s Central Partnership is on the Riviera with TV rights available to its feature film 18*12 (CQ), which focuses on intrigue during the Napoleonic wars, including the emperor’s dalliance with the Polish countess Valevskaya.