Italian Television and Media Convergence [April 16 - 20, 2012]
by Alisa Perren — University of Texas at Austin
April 15, 2012 – 23:00
Monday, April 16, 2012 - Massimo Scaglioni (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) and Ira Wagman (Carleton University) present: Italian TV (and Politics): A System in Transition
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - Luca Barra (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) presents: Tutti pazzi per amore: Contemporary Fiction and Spreadable Music
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - Cecilia Penati (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) presents: I Cesaroni: The Innovation of Family Comedy in the Convergent Scenario
Thursday, April 19, 2012 - Adriano D’Aloia (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) presents: Spaghetti TV Crime Fiction
Friday, April 20, 2012 - Stefania Carini (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) presents: Between Reality, Soap and Talk Show: Maria de Filippi’s Uomini e donne
Two common stereotypes usually portray Italian broadcasting: half-dressed women and Berlusconi. Notwithstanding that an objectifying gaze on women is still quite widespread and that Mr. Berlusconi is still the owner of three commercial networks, it is quite unfair to stop just at these characterizations.
By the early 2000s, the Italian television system had entered a period of gradual but deep transformation, The effects of this were wide-reaching: Technological, with the start of multi-platform distribution; Institutional, with more competition among broadcasters and production companies (since 2003, Sky Italia rapidly topped competitor’s revenues); Textual, with the proliferation of new formats and programs; and, last but not least, on the side of Audience practices.
This week In Media Res casts a glance at the most interesting phenomena on Italian television. The framework of “convergence” will be the leitmotif. Through three very different cases of scripted programs (two family “dramedies” addressed to a mainstream audience and a “spaghetti crime fiction” which opened a new genre of “made-for-pay-TV” drama) along with one unscripted, trashy daytime talk show, a more complex image of Italian TV will emerge, where traditional elements (as references to conventional genres) and new innovations (as creative use of online media) are now firmly bound together.
But what about Berlusconi? If we submit that Mr. Berlusconi’s “conflict of interest” has had the effect of freezing the evolution of the Italian TV system during the last years, it is also fair to say that the system was changing anyway.
Consider the case of Raiperunanotte. In 2010, senior officials at RAI chose to shut down the most popular political talk show during the last weeks of the electoral campaign under pressure from Berlusconi’s government. The show’s host, Michele Santoro – often depicted as “the stronger opponent” of Berlusconi outside political institutions - set up a “temporary program.” called Raiperunanotte (“RAI only for one night”), aired by an “assemblage” of different platforms: all-news and satellite networks, local channels coordinated on national level, and newspaper online-portals. In tone with Mr. Santoro’s style, the program marked a sharp attack of Mr. Berlusconi. As shown in the accompaning video fragment, Berlusconi is compared to Benito Mussolini, both for his populist rhetoric and the inclination to limit his opponents. A system “frozen” for a long time in the duopoly of RAI/Mediaset is now showing signs of change. As a highly popular program born outside the “walled garden” of a traditional network, Raiperunanotte represents a case in point.
In 2009, a convergent approach to TV fiction aired in prime-time on Italy’s main PSB network, Raiuno. In a time slot usually filled with period dramas and conventional comedies, the network launched Tutti pazzi per amore (There’s Something about Love) to attract a younger demographic. The experiment worked: the show received high ratings and recently concluded its third season.
Tutti pazzi per amore relies on all the conventional topoi of family comedy, but refreshes this tradition with modern themes and language. A widower, Paolo, and a divorced woman, Laura, who lives next door, meet for the first time in the lift, fall in love and decide to form a new family, together with her two children and his daughter. Various minor characters are connected to the main plot offering an ensemble approach to romance and friendship.
Several aspects contribute to make Tutti pazzi per amore a successful experiment of convergent TV. The producers used YouTube to spread promotional videos in the weeks leading up to the series premiere. The light and surreal “tone of voice” – with a number of “what-if” and “dream-like” scenes often interrupting the flow of events – as well as the constant presence of meta-linguistic devices has also succeeded in engaging a loyal audience that has made the show an active presence in social media.
However, some months before Glee aired in the US, the main innovation of Tutti pazzi per amore is the role played by music. Every episode is titled after a famous Italian pop song and most of the show’s dialogue features references to lyrics. Musical performances are inserted into the narration, giving strength to characters’ feelings. Comedy hybridizes with musicals: the songs, played by lead characters, accompany the developments of the plot, or become playful impersonations of singers and music videos. Songs are both a meta-linguistic device and a deep narrative ingredient, as it happens with Marylin Monroe’s Bye Bye Baby, accompanying the funeral of Michele, a friend of Paolo. Death and its sacred ceremony are transformed into an explosion of joy and relief, accompanied by a final choreography that unifies all the actors. Not only does the music evoke nostalgic feelings and helps connect fictional characters and real viewers in a shared generational memory, it also converts chunks of the narrative into spreadable elements that can be distributed with playlists on YouTube, discussions into blogs and forums, and posted in social media.
By the early 2000s, mainstream Italian TV fiction had adapted to the new context of media convergence, characterised by digitalisation, multiple distributive platforms and a fragmented marketplace. To illustrate, I consider the case of I Cesaroni, a dramedy aired on Mediaset’s main channel, Canale 5, beginning in 2006 and now into its fourth season on the air.
I Cesaroni is based on the successful Spanish format Los Serrano. It shows the daily complications of the marriage between Giulio, a widower with three sons of different ages, and Lucia, divorced with two teenage daughters. The story is deeply rooted in the sub-urban context of a popular neighbourhood in Rome. From a narrative point of view, I Cesaroni is a traditional series. It presents strong elements of continuity with past examples of family comedies, alongside few novelties, including storylines which stem from the teenage characters which are themselves inspired by US teen-dramas. At the same time, however, I Cesaroni is also an attempt to turn a mainstream series into a cross-media TV product, where storytelling is developed across different media through various top-down paratexts that are conceived in order to multiply the “touch points” to the text.
This occurs along two fronts. First, viewers can enjoy the romance of the teen plots and then follow it in two novels and a blog, composed in the form of a diary written by two teen characters. The second front has to do with the music in the series. As established by the Spanish format “bible”, the main teen character, Marco, is a musician. Several storylines follow his route to success: Marco is shown composing songs and performing them while presenting its album in a real radio programme, and the real label Cinevox Record commercialises the albums played by Marco in the series. The album developed alongside season three, Ovunque andrai (Wherever you go), represents a case in point of this synergic brand extension: together with the music album, the homonymous novel and blog were launched. Ovunque andrai is also the title of the season three finale episode, with Marco performing a song from the album on the stage of an imitation talent show.
The case of I Cesaroni has much to say about the dynamic of convergence in Italian mainstream TV fiction, reflecting a combination of tradition and innovation that involves both the narrative strategies of TV products and their models of consumption.
The successful adaptation of Giancarlo De Cataldo’s novel Romanzo Criminale, both in film and in television, has sparked a new trend in Italian media production. A cinematic version of the novel was directed by Michele Placido in 2005. Then, in 2008, the tv series Romanzo Criminale – la serie aired on Italian television, produced by Sky Cinema. Romanzo tells the story of the rise and fall of the Banda della Magliana, a criminal organization based in Rome, particularly active during the 1970s and the early 1990s. The show has had two seasons on air, and has attracted the attention of Italian critics as being the most innovative series ever in terms of style and inspiration. With hand-held cameras, fast paced editing, realistic scenography, crude language, explicit violence, and an excellent soundtrack Romanzo Criminale – la serie looks different than any previous Italian series and echoes the gangster films of Scorsese and Coppola.
In one sense, we can describe Romanzo as “convergent” because it mixes a variety of television genres. It is a criminal novel that features the point of view of the villain, as in a mob film (it draws inspiration from American series like The Sopranos), and draws on references to other subgenres ranging from thrillers, film noir, prison movies, true crime, comedy (particularly through its use of the romanesco dialect) and “polizziottesco” (Italian 1970s-era tough cop and crime B-movies). At the same time, Romanzo is foremost a melodrama. Many storylines focus on the characters’ personal traumas and dilemmas, from their poor family roots and their search for social emancipation, their inability to find love, and their problems with friendship in the struggle for leadership. Introspection prevails on the historical perspective.
In another sense, Romanzo is convergent because it stands at the intersection between past and future media texts. It continues the story from the novel and film and now extends into other areas of media production and consumption. The success of the franchise Romanzo Criminale is in fact generating many descendents, such as recent biopics Vallanzasca. Gli angeli del male (a film directed by Placido), and Faccia d’angelo. Una storia criminale (a tv series produced by Sky Cinema). Can we say that with Romanzo Criminale we may be seeing the beginning of a “spaghetti crime fiction” new wave in Italian television?
Since 1996 the commercial network Canale5 (Mediaset’s main channel) aired Uomini e donne, a talk show about couples and their problems in daytime five days a week. The show was created and hosted by the famous Tv guru Maria De Filippi, herself a sort of Italian Oprah Winfrey, who also created the popular show C’è posta per te and the talent show Amici. From 2001 Uomini e donne became more like a reality show than a talk show: men and women searching for love, meeting each other in the studio and, when “love bursts”, continuing to date in real life, often followed by cameras. The studio audience also discussed their relationship.
Uomini e donne is a hybrid show. It shows common people in a narrative context like a reality show. But it also has the characteristics of a soap opera. So Uomini e donne is like a never-ending reality soap. Thus the program is set up like a talk show with a studio audience invited to comment on the events, a dynamic mirrored and amplified in the audience at home. As a result, Uomini e donne generates a never-ending audiovisual, narrative, discursive flow that goes beyond television. The show can be considered a convergent text since it gives rise to a process of extension that follows two directions.
First, Uomini e donne generates a huge “material overflow,” both in the strict sense (audiovisual flow) and in the broadest sense (narrative flow of events, characters, moments). This material can be re-launched non-stop and dispersed in other programs (i.e. Uomini e donne story, a kind of best of) and in other media (websites, gossip magazines), as well as in the “real world” (parties, events where the couples can be special guests). From this, it is also possible to extract some fragments considered of value, which are dispersed, aggregated, re-assembled, mostly by the fans on the web. Second, because of its gossipy nature, Uomini e donne generates an “overflow of communication” on youtube and social networks and on blogs and websites created by fans. They cointain videos of programs, photos, fan art and above all chat, forums, pulls, blogs, comments. Here the fans can discuss the show and the protagonists. These websites allow fans to display their passion and creativeness.
So, Uomini e donne is therefore a “classic” Canale 5, but it also a convergent text because of its nature.
Mon, 16 Apr 2012 04:00:00 +0000