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‘My Brilliant Friend’ Leads Italian TV Series Production Boom Despite RAI Budget Cuts

TV production is growing in Italy, where U.S. streamers are gradually raising their investment levels just as pubcaster RAI, which is still the industry’s main driver, is cutting back.

According to local TV producers association APA, the Italian market in 2022 will generate more than €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) worth of scripted content resulting in double-digit growth. Exports of the country’s high-end shows, such as “My Brilliant Friend,” now in its third season, and upcoming spaghetti Western saga “Django” are also gaining more traction.

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But though demand is increasing, the picture for Italian producers isn’t all rosy.

While pubcaster RAI remains the main driver of content in Italy, its 2022 budget has been trimmed by $33 million to $176 million. This is the second year of cuts as it tries to recover following COVID-related ad and tax revenues drops.

Like many of his cohorts, producer Rosario Rinaldo, head of TV production company Cross Prods. (owned by Germany’s Beta Film), bemoans the pubcaster’s shrunken resources.

Rinaldo saw the budget of his crime show “Brennero” cut.

“RAI remains crucial for us because they represent an alternative business model from the streamers,” says Rinaldo. But at the moment it’s really tough working with the pubcaster, he laments.
RAI could not be reached for comment.

Netflix, Amazon and Disney spent a combined total of roughly $152 million on Italian scripted content in 2021. They are now expected to almost double their investments in Italian originals to at least $292 million in total by 2023, becoming Italy’s main TV industry drivers, according to APA chief Giancarlo Leone. He has been busy negotiating terms of trade with the global streamers as the country implements the European Union’s Audio Visual Media Services directive, which is expected to allow producers to hold on to rights when they make shows for premium platform play.

Meanwhile, Cross has completed the first season of “Prisma,” an Amazon Italy original centered on identical adolescent twins named Marco and Andrea, who challenge gender norms in different ways. The show will be dropping later this year.

Italy’s first Amazon original made for the international market is 1980s-set criminal coming-of-ager “Bang Bang Baby.” The show revolves around a shy, insecure teenage girl who becomes the youngest member of the Milanese mob — not for money, ambition or a desire for power, “but to win the love of her father, whom she had long thought to be dead,” says producer Lorenzo Mieli.

“Bang Bang Baby,” which Amazon will drop globally on April 28, is loosely based on the true story of a teenager born into the notorious Ndrangheta clan in which “women have a central role,” Mieli says. He points out that what’s key to its appeal is that it’s “very pop and pulpy, but also — somewhat surprisingly — anchored in reality.”

Mieli, who heads Fremantle unit the Apartment, is proud of his next show, “Eastern Notte,” from auteur Marco Bellocchio. The series, which is a three-way co-prod among RAI, Franco-German network Arte and Netflix, follows the 1978 kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by Red Brigades terrorists.

In March, Fremantle gained control of Italy’s Lux Vide, the shingle behind the “Medici,” “Devils” and “Leonardo” skeins, which have travelled widely.

It also owns Wildside, another top Italian production company that in tandem with Apartment is behind “My Brilliant Friend,” the third season of which recently launched to stellar ratings on RAI in Italy and rave reviews in the U.S. on HBO and HBO Max, and on Sky in the U.K.

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