Mediaset throws riches at pharoah

Italo co. wins bidding war to produce 'Ramses' miniseries

ROME — After six months of negotiations, leading Italian commercial television player Mediaset has acquired the hotly contested rights to make a major English-language miniseries based on “Ramses,” the bestselling series of historical novels by French author Christian Jacq.

The popular saga of the Egyptian pharoah who reigned for 77 years has spawned four bestsellers in Europe so far, with a fifth due imminently. The books will be published in the U.S. in the coming weeks. In Italy, the series has sold more than 1.7 million copies to date.

Mediaset’s head of TV drama production Riccardo Tozzi claims he outmaneuvered heavyweight competitors including Columbia and Paramount in obtaining the rights from French publisher Bernard Fixot for an undisclosed sum plus a percentage — reportedly between 1.5% and 3% — of the cost of production.

“America is losing its leadership with major series because it now serves up product that is increasingly less exportable, while in Europe we are becoming masters in the field,” Tozzi said. “Jacq’s work is perfect to be adapted into a TV epic, not only because “Ramses” is already a serial, with one volume after another, but because the books are so visually evocative.”

Budget and production details for the miniseries, which is being planned to air by the year 2000, are not yet available, but German outfit Beta and French web M6 look to be among the co-producers. Tozzi has indicated the deal will be open to associate producers from the U.S. and U.K.

Following the recent success on Mediaset webs of miniseries like “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Odyssey,” the group’s drama slate for the coming year is bulging with literary adaptations.

Set to air in January is Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black,” a French-Italian co-prod involving TF1 and Mediaset. This will be followed in spring by Melville’s “Moby Dick” and later by Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” both co-produced by Mediaset and Beta and exec produced in the U.S. by Hallmark.

The major TV production of the year looks to be “The Count of Monte Cristo,” starring Gerard Depardieu, which will air in the fall. The retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ prison classic is produced by TF1 and Mediaset.

Future Mediaset projects still at planning stage include a mini based on Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” and adaptations of the work of Italo Calvino.

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