Glass of wine in hand and happy to talk about his nerves in parliament and even his bushy eyebrows, the Francois Fillon who featured on French television screens last month was entirely new. The right-wing presidential candidate, now a favourite for next year’s election, chatted, laughed and looked occasionally misty-eyed during the November 6 broadcast of Ambition Intime (Intimate Ambition). “I’ve always wanted to keep my private life separate from my public life,” Fillon confided before allowing presenter Karine Le Marchand to delve into his hobbies, family and career. The show is a new - and scandalous, for some critics - format for political interviews in France that sees politicians spend time chatting intimately to the often flirtatious Le Marchand. And after Fillon’s surge from outsider to winner of the nomination for the Republicans party last weekend, its impact on the fortunes of a man previously seen as rather boring is under scrutiny. Fillon’s verdict was clear on whether the appearance had helped him emerge as the unexpected winner of the first round of the Republicans primary days after the show aired. “Undoubtedly. If we judge it by the number of reactions, it was massive,” Fillon, 62, told Le Parisien newspaper. “Viewers discovered that I had passions other than politics.” During the show, Fillon revealed that he sometimes cooked sausages and pasta for dinner but later said he regretted the remark as it did not make his cooking look very good. The former prime minister’s success is down to a variety of reasons that go far beyond a simple tete-a-tete with Le Marchand, including his conservative platform and assured performances in four TV debates. Francois Hollande confirms he will not seek re-election in France’s presidential race next year But there is no doubting the reach of the show, fronted by the 48-year-old former model who was previously best known for a series about lonely farmers looking for love and a now-ended relationship with former French football star Lilian Thuram. An average of around three million people tuned in for the first two editions on the private M6 channel. She is planning to do more ahead of a Socialist party primary in January and elections in April and May. Le Marchand has made no attempt to disguise trying to make cynical voters see politicians differently - like them - with her informal interview style and very personal questions. Each chat takes places on a sofa, with wine, and the interviewee is surrounded by personal objects that Le Marchard collects from friends and family during her research. “There’s nothing wrong with humanising them a bit, to allow them to leave the caricatures behind,” she has said. From bling to bust: the broken dreams of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s divisive ex-president She also argues that understanding a presidential candidate’s personal life, their loves and losses, is vital to assess what sort of a leader they would be. “She has started a new style that appeals to young people and women,” the head of M6 Group, Nicolas de Tavernost, said in October. But critics are not convinced, with some particularly unimpressed by the soft music that accompanies the talking and Le Marchand’s often innuendo-laden chat. Satirist Anne Roumanoff joked that seeing her interview a politician was like “watching a couple who had met on Tinder”, referring to the speed-dating mobile phone app. Others think the danger is more profound: that serving soft questions to experienced politicians allows them to manipulate voters. There have been tears, lots of them. Right-wing candidate Bruno Le Maire sobbed while discussing his wife, while leftist maverick Arnaud Montebourg choked up about the premature birth of his daughter. But the most controversial cry of all was by far-right populist Marine Le Pen , whose surge in the polls has worried France’s establishment following Donald Trump’s success in the United States. France’s anti-elite standard-bearer wept while recalling how her mother had walked out on her and her father Jean-Marie, a former paratrooper committed to defending the “white world”. “We are in the world of emotion here and the idea is that the person who sheds tears will win more votes in the end,” Virginie Spies, a media specialist, said. In a country known for its intellectuals and which traditionally respects politicians’ private lives, others are also aghast at what looks like a schmaltzy foreign import. “We mock American politics but we are in the process of wanting to copy it,” sniffed French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault after the first programme aired. “I haven’t been invited, but even if I had been, I wouldn’t go,” said the Socialist party minister.