‘Octopus’ Grabs Italo Headlines

The seventh installment of Italy’s most widely exported TV drama series, “The Octopus,” bowed March 5 on pubcaster RAI, surrounded by a barrage of media attention, political controversy and an underworld crime spree mirroring the action on screen.

Since the first series went out in 1984, every airing of “The Octopus” has sparked contentious national debate, with supporters applauding its efforts to expose the wide-reaching influences of the Mafia machine and detractors slamming the negative image it spreads of Italy.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi voiced his objections to the series last fall during a visit to Moscow, dismissing the Mafia as a relatively insignificant phenomenon, and condemning “The Octopus” for casting an unfair taint over the whole country.

Just before the new series’ preem, film director Franco Zeffirelli, a senator in Berlusconi Forza Italia party, revived the protest in a letter to Marco Taradash, head of a watchdog committee that controls the quality of RAI programming.

Objecting to a trailer promoting the show, Zeffirelli wrote, “Along with calling attention to yet another soap opera seasoned with tears, blood, pain and killings, it expresses messages and concepts that are strongly injurious to the image of Sicily and Sicilians, and therefore to the entire Italian nation.”

Exponents from RAI, Italian Parliament and from the production itself responded harshly to Zeffirelli’s attack.

Newspaper headlines are focusing further attention on the series. Veteran politician Giulio Andreotti, who served as prime minister seven times between 1972 and 1992, was indicted last week for alleged Mafia association.

Antonino Lombardo, a marshal with the Palermo carabinieri squad, committed suicide March 4 after being accused on national television by a city official of collusion with the mob. And a fresh wave of Mafia revenge killings is under way in Sicily.

Not surprisingly, the debut episodes of “The Octopus 7” pulled lofty ratings. More than 10 million watched the premiere, with viewership exceeding 11.5 million during the climactic final half-hour, accounting for a 37.16% share. The second episode aired March 6, pulling 10.6 million viewers. The results beat out the previous series, which debuted in December 1992, by close to 2 million viewers.

Despite an avalanche of protests from political and civic organizations in Italy’s Mafia-plagued south, that region is providing the series’ greatest number of viewers.

Auditel figures showed 5.25 million southern Italians tuning in to the premiere, as opposed to less than 2 million in Central Italy and just under 3 million in the North. A similar breakdown was evident from the ratings of episode 2.

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