Latenight laffer debuted with 18% audience share

ROME — A scathing comedy program that took potshots at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s dominance of Italy’s airwaves has been pulled by pubcaster RAI.

Called “Raiot. Weapons of Mass Distraction,” the latenight laffer debuted Sunday on RAI-3 and scored a stellar 18.37% audience share.

The hourlong show opened with standup star Sabina Guzzanti wielding a samurai sword, “Kill Bill” style.

Lashings included an impersonator of Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri admitting he didn’t draft the proposed new TV law — the subject of heated debate in parliament — and had no idea what it says. The skit implied that Berlusconi laid out the new rules, which, if passed, would allow his Mediaset to raise its advertising roof.

Mediaset has announced it has begun proceedings to sue RAI and the program’s writing and directing staff for slander.

“Raiot” also featured a spoof of Neapolitan singer and Berlusconi pal Mariano Apicella, for whom Berlusconi has penned syrupy lyrics featured on a recently released CD.

But the show was not all about Berlusconi. A highly controversial skit centered on a European Union poll said to indicate that Israel is believed to be a major threat to world peace. Caustic comments by Guzzanti about this poll contained the words “Jewish race,” which prompted vehement condemnation from Italy’s Hebrew Communities Assn.

Guzzanti has countered that she used the strong words in her skit to mock those who use them in real life. The Hebrew Communities org has invited her to attend a public debate on satire and Israeli politics, and she has accepted the invite.

RAI’s board of directors Wednesday decided to “temporarily” suspend “Raiot,” which will not air this coming Sunday. At the same time, the pubcaster’s board said the show would continue to be taped. But it is unclear whether it will ever go on air again.

“We have a right to defend RAI. Mediaset could sue us for millions of euros,” said RAI board member Francesco Alberoni, who is considered to be in Berlusconi’s camp.

Lamented Green Party politicians Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio: “They are gagging satire. I smell the stench of regime.”

“Mediaset’s lawsuit and my (misconstrued) words about Jews are just excuses. If they hadn’t found those, they would have found others,” said Guzzanti, who has announced she will perform “Raiot” live in a Rome theater if RAI’s ban on the show isn’t lifted.

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