Sombre TV show captivates Italian public

Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:46am EST
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By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - A TV show based on monologues about the mafia and civil rights has proved an unlikely hit in Italy, where semi-naked starlets and rowdy talk shows that turn into shouting matches are the traditional prime-time successes.

By its third episode last week, "Vieni Via Con Me" (Come Away With Me) had 10 million viewers, a record for state broadcaster RAI's Channel 3 and the kind of numbers usually reserved for international soccer matches.

Much of its popularity is down to Roberto Saviano, a 31-year old writer who has lived under police protection since penning his 2006 best-selling book "Gomorrah," a vivid expose of the inner workings of Naples' mafia, the Camorra.

Saviano's powerful monologues on organized crime open the program, which is set in a bare studio resembling a theater stage and tackles issues rarely on Italy's TV menu, like euthanasia, immigration and attitudes toward homosexuality.

In a country where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controls the biggest private TV company Mediaset and exerts great sway over RAI, the show, on a small and generally left-leaning state channel, was controversial from the start.

In the opening episode, comedian Roberto Benigni delivered an hour-long satirical tirade targeting Berlusconi's well-known taste for partying and young women.

A week later, Saviano drew fire for saying that the mafia, traditionally rooted in the poorer south, was gaining ground in the north and had contacts with the Northern League, a federalist party in Berlusconi's ruling coalition.

An infuriated Interior Minister Roberto Maroni demanded to be invited as a guest on the next show to list the government's achievements in the fight against crime syndicates.   Continued...

<p>Italian writer Roberto Saviano, author of "Gomorra", arrives on the Italian television program "Che tempo che fa" in Milan, March 25, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>