RAI sends reality programs packing

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ROME -- Italian state broadcaster RAI made its plans to exit the reality television business official Tuesday.

The move had been speculated about for weeks and considered imminent ever since RAI president Cladio Petruccioli said as much last week. But on Tuesday, the three-network broadcaster said it will suspend reality programming beginning next year.

RAI said the move is part of its wider plan to broadcast more upscale programming, including a renewed emphasis on Italian-made films, which will enjoy a 50% boost in the amount RAI spends on developing, screening and promoting them.

The move was applauded by much of the Italian print media, including the left-leaning La Repubblica, which said in an editorial before the official announcement was made: "After all the vulgarity, all the cursing, and all the smut, reality television is finally coming to an end" on state-owned television.

Meanwhile, Mediaset -- RAI's chief rival -- is as set on reality TV as ever. The Silvio Berlusconi-controlled broadcaster serves a steady diet of reality programs and announced in March that it would bid for Dutch television producer Endemol, creator of the successful "Big Brother" format. There has even been speculation in the Italian media that Mediaset could make a bid for popular program "L'Isola dei Famosi" (Island of the Famous) if RAI indeed jettisons the show at the end of the year.

While the move comes amid other RAI efforts to improve program quality, it also comes during a period of sliding ratings for reality shows. In January, it was reported that "Grande Fratello" -- Mediaset's version of "Big Brother" -- lost 1 million viewers in 2006, its seventh season.

Furthermore, some reality programs have been the focus of Italian regulators: Both "L'Isola dei Famosi" and "Grande Fratello" were fined late last year for blasphemous language, something that didn't attract as much criticism previously.
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