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Less than a month after BSkyB sealed a $9.1 billion deal with 21st Century Fox to take over Italian pay TV group Sky Italia and Germany’s Sky Deutschland, the British pay TV giant will get its first real look at what a pan-European satellite operator looks like.
On Monday, BSkyB will premiere Gomorrah, Sky Italia’s inspired-by-real-life mafia drama. The series also debuts on Sky Deutschland in October.
Achieving the scale to produce high-end, HBO-style drama in-house that can be rolled out across Europe was one of the incentives behind the BSkyB-Fox deal. Gomorrah will put it to the test, seeing if gritty Euro-made series of this sort can translate.
Gomorrah has been a huge hit for Sky Italia, debuting to the best-ever figures for a series on the pay channel, beating out such HBO hits as Game of Thrones on Sky Italia’s Sky Atlantic/Sky Cinema channel. Official figures have around a million viewers watching the finale of the first 12-episode season earlier this year. Unofficial numbers, which would include pirated viewing, likely are much higher.
Based on the best-selling factual novel of the same name by Italian journalist and author Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah is a look inside the brutal Comorra mafia, the organized crime family that controls the Italian city of Naples and has illegal businesses stretching across the world.
The first season sets the stage for a classic battle-for-power struggle. Ciro, played by Marco d’Amore, the right-hand man of Camorra godfather Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino), sees his chance to claim the crown when the godfather is sent to prison. Standing in his way is the godfather’s wife, Imma (Maria Pia Calzone), and his son Genny (Salvatore Esposito). At the same time, a rival clan, run by Salvatore Conte (Marco Palvetti), sees the civil war as an opportunity to wipe out his enemies.
Speaking to THR, Saviano said he wanted the series to go beyond Hollywood portrayals of the mafia to examine “the mechanism of the crime society. Gomorrah isn’t just a mafia epic, it’s a story of how the mechanism of organized crime works: how you buy votes, how you take over a neighborhood … I hope when someone watches Gomorrah, they might realize, maybe for the first time, that this is really happening in Europe. To say: This is how power works in the real world.”
The bid for authenticity led the producers — Sky Cinema, Italian shingles Cattleya, Fandango and La 7 and Germany’s Beta Film — to shoot on location in Naples and entirely in the thick Neapolitan dialect. Rare for a European series, there are no sympathetic characters. Everyone in Gomorrah is part of the mafia game and all are implicated in the horrors that unfold.
“We did not want to create characters you could empathize with,” Saviano said. “There is a fascination with the mafia world; I am a trying to act against that, not by glorifying it but by deconstructing it.”
Saviano cites U.S. series such as Breaking Bad and The Sopranos as models for the approach on Gomorrah of “showing ordinary life through another lens, the lens of power.”
The success of Gomorrah‘s BSkyB debut will be the first indication of whether the show can replicate the success of its U.S. counterparts. Beta has sold Gomorrah worldwide to some 60 territories, with big European broadcasters including France’s Canal Plus, Spain’s Sexta and French/German public broadcaster Arte all snatching up the series. HBO has acquired rights in Scandinavia and Latin America with The Weinstein Co. taking U.S. rights.
Developing local productions with similar global potential may become a lot easier under the new enlarged company, which some have dubbed “Sky Europe,” bringing Sky’s British, German and Italian production and development teams under one roof. Ahead of the Sky Europe deal, the three companies — BSkyB, Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland — greenlighted their first-ever three-way co-production: an adaptation of the hit Italian comic book series Diabolik. Sky currently is developing Diabolik, about a master thief who steals from other criminals, as a 10-episode live-action series.
BSkyB already has stepped up when it comes to original programming, pledging to invest some $1 billion (£600 million) in homegrown British shows, with series commissions such as French-U.K. crime drama The Tunnel starring Stephen Dillane and Clemence Poesy and Arctic-set procedural Fortitude, which BSkyB’s Sky Atlantic is producing with U.S. pay TV group Starz. Sky Deutschland recently has come on board its biggest-ever original drama, co-financing the $34 million Babylon Berlin, a period crime drama set in 1930s Berlin, which Cloud Atlas director Tom Tykwer is developing. German public broadcaster ARD and Beta Film are co-producers with Beta handling international sales.
The roll out for Diabolik and future Sky Europe productions will closely follow that of Gomorrah, with Sky channels getting premiere rights in their home territories before a global bow. That model will be put to its first test when Gomorrah premieres on BSkyB Monday.
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Tracee Ellis Ross