MIPCOM: Journalist Roberto Saviano on the Real 'Sopranos' of Mafia Series 'Gomorrah' 

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Roberto Saviano

A new Italian show based on the real life exploits of the Camorra mob premieres for international buyers.

CANNES -- Gomorrah, new Italian TV series which unspools for international buyers at TV tradefair MIPCOM this week, promises to be Italy's Sopranos. In place of the New Jersey mob, however, Gomorrah, inspired by the best-selling book of the same name by Italian mafia journalist Roberto Saviano, will turn its focus on the much larger, and more deadly, Camorra mafia based in Naples.

The Gomorrah series, which Italian pay-TV channel Sky Italia commissioned, begins with the arrest and imprisonment of Pietro Savastano, one of Naples biggest and most-feared Camorra bosses. With his boss in jail, right-hand man Ciro Di Marzio is set to take over the family. But instead Pietro's wife Imma seizes power. Pietro's heir apparent, son Genny is busy interning for the family business by running criminal operations in Honduras while, back in Naples, a rival clan led by Salvatore Conte plots to destroy the Savastanos family once and for all.

The series stars Italian actors Fortunato Cerlino, Marco D'Amore, Maria Pia Calzone, Salvatore Esposito and Marco PalvettiStefano Sollima, director of Sky Italia's critically-acclaimed mafia series Romanzo Criminale directed the first six episodes of Gomorrah and served as artistic director for the series with directors Claudio Cupellini and Francesca Comencini also helming episodes. Sky Cinema produced together with Italian shingles Cattleya, Fandango, Spain's and La 7 and Germany's Beta Film.

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Beta, which is handling worldwide rights to the series at MIPCOM, secured multiple deals for the 12-hour first season of the series ahead of the market, closing with Sky Germany, HBO Nordic in Scandinavia, HBO Latin America, Lumiere for the Netherlands and Arrow Films for the U.K. Beta said negotiations were underway in several other territories, including with a major partner in France.

Saviano was initially scheduled to attend MIPCOM to promote the series, which 21st Century Fox's Sky Italia commissioned, but had to cancel after being called to testify in an ongoing mafia trial in Naples. In an email interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he explained that the series will "show the Camorra as it really is": a criminal organization that  has taken over the role of the state across whole regions of Italy. "[This is] an organization that communicates using daily newspapers, music – that doesn’t have the feeling of being a world apart, but part of the world in which it operates," Saviano said. "It's an essential part of this country [Italy], its economic avant-garde."

Saviano's book has already been turned into a film, Matteo Garrone's award-winning Gomorrah (2008). But Saviano said he believes the series will create a fuller picture of the Camorra mob and the people who run it.

"I don’t think that a film and a book can exhaustively relate everything that can be told about organized crime on their own," Saviano stated. "As I was writing Gomorrah, I had to leave out incredible stories for reasons of space, things that were impossible to include."

The plot of Gomorrah is a “maze of stories inspired by events that actually took place,” says Saviano. The names are made up but the details “remain absolutely credible.” Dialogue, for example, was closely based on real-life intercepted phone calls between Camorra mafioso.

The series shot on location over thirty weeks across Italy and in Barcelona in Spain. Saviano says several local communities opposed the shoot, not wanting to be associated with the mafia.

Another complication in the production was Saviano himself. Since the publication of Gomorrah, the writer has been under 24 hour police protection.

“My [security] situation complicates everything in my life,” Saviano admits. “Which is why I haven’t been on the set. I took part in the TV series as author and supervisor. My task was to write.”

That Sky Italia, the Italian pay-TV group controlled by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, commissioned Gomorrah, might surprise many. The Australian mogul's right-wing conservative views are well known and he has had numerous business dealings with Italian media mogul and politician Silvio Berlusconi, who has been linked to the mafia. But Sky Italia has developed a reputation for pushing the boundaries and challenging local taboos, as it did with mafia drama Romanzo Criminale.

"From day one Rupert and his team told us to push the boundaries -- to create by far the best content in the territory,"  Sky Italia EVP of Programming Andrea Scrosati told THR. "Our goal has always been to be best in class and to not follow conventional ways of doing things. We did it," he added, "with our drama Romanzo Criminale and now we're doing it again with Gomorrah."

Elizabeth Guider contributed to this report.