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With TV changing by the day, Italy’s Rai has been one of the quickest public broadcaster to adapt. Rai’s head of fiction Eleonora Andreatta has been at the helm, shifting the network towards a strategy of internationalization, creating series that appeal to Italy’s core audience, while also developing projects that can succeed globally.
Rai traditionally delved in international co-productions for film-influenced two-episode miniseries, such as a series of shows on the Bible co-produced with Lux Vide and Beta Film.
Its first-ever international co-produced series was Medici: Masters of Florence, a show developed by U.S. showrunner Frank Spotnitz to make the Renaissance interesting for a contemporary audience.
The first season was a huge hit in Italy and sold worldwide. The second season, Medici: The Magnificent, a production by Lux Vide in cooperation with Rai Fiction, Big Light Productions and Altice Group, is a coming-of-age story on the life of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his trials with the Pazzi family. It will air in the U.S. on Netflix later this year. The third season, shooting now, focuses on the second half of Lorenzo’s life once he’s lost his youthful idealism.
A modern mafia drama, The Hunter, was a huge success for young audiences in Italy and has been picked up by Starz in the U.S. The true-life drama follows an ambitious provincial prosecutor who dares to stand up to the mafia.
The upcoming In the Name of the Rose, an adaptation of Umberto Eco’s seminal novel, represents another giant international co-production (Tele-Munchen Group, Rai Fiction, 11 Marzo Film and Palomar) starring Rupert Everett and John Turturro, which will air on AMC in the U.S. And perhaps their most daring bet yet, My Brilliant Friend, a co-production with HBO and Timvision will debut in November, based on the best-selling book by Elena Ferrante. Rai is already working on adapting the second series The Story of a New Name.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Andreatta about how she’s transforming public television in Italy one series at time and why she created the “The Alliance” with France and Germany’s public broadcasters to stay competitive in today’s market as online streamers like Netflix increasingly grow their European content. Upcoming series include exploring the life of on one of history’s greatest artists Leonardo, a sprawling adaptation of Emmanuel Carrere’s The Kingdom, and continuing to capitalize on the international success of detective series Montalbano.
How does Medici represent Rai’s new international strategy?
Medici was the first global series we co-produced. Nowadays geographical limits have been overcome: we all work in a sole global market, a market that changes at an incredible pace. Therefore if we want to compete in the global market we have to create series that can attract a worldwide audience.
As Italian Public Broadcasting Television, we are focusing on Italian creativity, culture, history and identity to create projects that can be universal, as part of our internationalization strategy.
These ventures have certain features in common. They display strong national identity, they were produced and shot in Italy and trade on our homeland, using Italian talent in front of and behind the camera.
These co-productions go beyond the classic pattern of bundling together a large number of many international partners with the risk of fragmenting the creative control of the project and losing identity, and are being replaced by a new model that sees one independent producer, Rai, an international distributor and a platform at the top end of the market (HBO and AMC). This allows controlling development and editorial choices, and to maintain a “vision”: an indispensable element for the realization of a truly original and challenging project
How risky was it to fund Medici?
The risk for the production company was very high. The narrative quality and the innovative visual style of the first series, together with audience results, have positively affected the financial situation of the new season. With the series on Cosimo, the production company took a very high financial risk and the break-even was achieved only after the completion of the series and the airing in Italy. The good news is that all the first season sales have been made back.
Lorenzo, instead, was co-produced by a larger group of partners, including Beta and Netflix for the English-speaking countries. It averaged three million euros per episode, over 24 million for eight episodes.
Would you say that this new production push is because of Netflix and other streaming competition?
The best series from all over the world tend to get here as soon as they are released in their country of origin, so I think that Italy too will have to adapt to a different rate of growth in audience quality. The old scenario is undergoing a rapid reset; a considerable part of audience is beginning to diversify and refine its taste and expectations.
For the moment, Netflix has not invested so much in Italian projects. I think production in Europe needs European voices and point of views and public services play a very important role in the development of European audiovisual industry and culture also in an international perspective.
That is the reason why with France Televisions and ZDF we have decided to join forces not only in an episodic way, but by creating a true production “Alliance” that will provide a rich editorial menu with a variety of high end projects that can multiply our possibility to compete in the global market.
Have you adapted to a changing audience, or targeted younger audiences?
Yes, we are always trying to dare. Yet the three differing Rai channels have always had an inclusive mainstream mission; they cannot and must not marginalize or leave behind the weaker sectors of audience, but the same goes for the more up-to-date and demanding sector. As always, the great challenge of popular storytelling lies on the horns of the above dilemma.
An extraordinary example of a project that can lift our ambitions is My Brilliant Friend, the adaptation from the first book from Elena Ferrante, a sophisticated tale and one of the most impressive international editorial cases of the last decades. The series encompasses topics that are very close to the public service such as the point of view of women and the possibility that emancipation happens through education.
The phenomenon of older audiences is common in Europe. But fortunately, Rai has three channels that help to differentiate our audience. The great gamble today, for any public service facing up to the new market conditions in an era of audience fragmentation, is to raise the average quality of its classic general TV products, but also to win back the younger target audiences who are used to international series. Our decisions have taken stock of these goals.
How have your OTT options helped this strategy?
Rai Play, our platform, also helps to reach a broader, more contemporary audience.
On our platform it is possible to watch by streaming, and also in non-linear modes, since episodes have a catch-up and stacking option for at least two weeks after the entire series has gone on the air. From the current year on, we have also experimented with providing whole box-sets of series as a foretaste to the general release.
Why was In the Name of the Rose significant for Rai?
It was also a source of pride that Umberto Eco welcomed the idea of re-adapting his book for television precisely because Rai, the Italian public Service, was in on it.
Umberto Eco worked at Rai when he was very young. It was, after all, his first youthful breakthrough in what would be a culturally outstanding career. When we started to develop the project three years ago he managed to read the first script and the outline of the whole series. He really liked it and gave us some tips. The film had to simplify the book’s story, while the serial dimension enabled us to broaden the narrative scope and fill it out in ways denied by cinema.
The adaptation of it sought to bring out the rich genre configuration, as well as the topicality of the major themes tackled by the novel: the search for truth and the great spirit of tolerance that goes beyond those times to reach our days.
Is My Brilliant Friend your biggest project so far?
My Brilliant Friend is a giant co-production with HBO and a surprising project, very new on the international scene and a milestone in the line of internationalization of Rai fiction, firmly desired by the company. Our criteria is to invest around one-third of the budget on these kinds of big co-productions. The strength of the project and its international appeal allow us to create high-end series of global level thanks to co-productions and sales. Rai as public service invests 15 percent of its total revenues in European and National audiovisual projects coming from independent producers.
What else is in the pipeline for Rai?
We are working with Frank Spotnitz and Steven Thompson (Sherlock, Deep State), on Leonardo, an eight-part limited series that unlocks the mystery of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters in history — a man whose art is familiar to all and yet whose true character remains a secret. The series begins production in summer 2019, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death. Although set in Renaissance, we want the tone of the series to be modern and the characters immediate and real. What is important for us is his extraordinary human and artistic experience.
What other series do you have in the works that might be coming out?
We are developing with Cattleya, The Kingdom, a six-part adaptation from a book by an extraordinary French writer, Emmanuel Carrere. It is an incredible series that rediscovers the story of Jesus and the early Church through the eyes of Saint Paul and Saint Luke with a very contemporary lens.
The adaptation is written by Emmanuel Carrere himself and Sandro Petraglia, who is one of the best Italian theatrical film writers who worked for Nanni Moretti, Marco Tullio Giordana, Marco Bellocchio, Gianni Amelio and many other authors.
And what other Italian projects are coming?
We’ve had a lot of success in these days with a crime series The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, which is an adaptation of novels by Maurizio De Giovanni. We are developing another collection of novels from the same writer, called Ricciardi, that has been translated all over the world. It is a story of a policeman in the thirties in Naples that can see dead people, in the moment they are violently killed. This for him is a gift and a curse.
We are going on with the production of Montalbano, which remains the big hit. And also we started to adapt the historical novels by [Montalbano author] Andrea Camilleri with Palomar, which is the production company of Montalbano andMaltese, a series acquired by Channel4 and France Televisions among many other networks.
Is Montalbano still your most successful show?
Still, in Italy it reaches almost a 50 percent share. It has been sold to more than 60 countries and it’s huge also in the U.K. on BBC, and it is attracting tourists from all over the world that want to discover the mysterious Sicily of Camilleri.
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