ROME — National pubcaster RAI has scored near-record ratings with its two-part telefilm, “Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth,” proving once again that piety, devotion and spirituality have as much of a hold over Italian television viewers as voyeurism and reality TV titillation.
The religious biopic monopolized almost half the Italian TV-viewing population when it aired in primetime on flagship channel RAI 1 over Sunday and Monday nights.
First episode drew a lofty 43% share with 12 million viewers, defeating commercial rival Mediaset’s popular lead offering, “You’ve Got Mail.”
Latter is a surprise reconciliation forum for estranged friends and lovers, which has trounced several RAI dramas over recent Sundays but sunk to 6.4 million viewers against “Padre Pio.”
Concluding part of the RAI mini boasted even higher ratings, pulling 14 million viewers and a 45% share.
A Lux Vide, RAI Fiction production, the $4 million project was produced by Luca Bernabei and directed by Giulio Base, with Michele Placido in the title role.
A revered figure in the Christian world, Padre Pio was a Francescan monk believed to have performed miracles. The cloistered monastery in Puglia where he lived continues to attract over 7 million religious pilgrims per year. The telepic traces the humble monk’s life from 1918 when he first manifested signs of the stigmata, through to his death in 1968.
International rights are being handled by Lux’s London-based sales arm Sirio Lux, which began presales at Mipcom and will be presenting the drama to buyers at Natpe. Negotiations reportedly are under way with several key broadcasters in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.
Continuing a long tradition of popular religious dramas on Italian television, the RAI hit is the second TV biopic on the subject to air in Italy this year.
Human side illuminated
But while Mediaset’s “Padre Pio,” directed by Carlo Carlei and starring Sergio Castellitto, was a special effects-laden production highlighting the miracles, unexplained phenomena and superstitions surrounding the man, the new version focuses more on the human side.
Shown in April on leading web Canale 5, the earlier mini also was a critical success and ratings topper, landing a 43% share and 11 million viewers for the debut episode and 46% with 13 million viewers for the closer.