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Spat over cheesecake on RAI

Co. looks to lure back auds, advertisers with sexy hosts

MILAN — It could only happen on Italy’s testosterone-fueled TV screens, where scantily clad women host everything from documentaries to gameshows.

Pubcaster RAI found itself in hot water late last month when it decided to end a 50-year institution by replacing its demure evening announcers, fondly known as the Signorine Buonasera (Miss Good Evenings), with six sexy twenty-somethings.

RAI hoped the raunchier image would lure back auds and advertisers — and rival the young announcers on market leader Mediaset, the TV group controlled by media tycoon and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But the last Signorines — Alessandra Canale, 38, Katia Svizzero, 44, and Maria Rita Viaggi, thought to be around 40 — did not take the decision quietly.

After Canale’s usual “Ladies and gentlemen, good evening,” she added, “this is my last announcement, perhaps. Not by my choice, but because of a decision of the corporation’s top management.”

Then she announced a film which, by a cruel trick of fate was entitled “A Face From the Past,” and signed off with “arrivederci from Alessandra Canale” — announcers never give their names — “I love you all,” and burst into tears.

An outraged RAI called her behavior “tantamount to the private use of public means of communication” and ordered a probe to find out why “the announcement was not blacked out as soon as it was clear that Canale was abusing her position.”

But the public was even more outraged. Thousands wrote to RAI to protest, the press started a campaign backing the Signorines, Canale asked Berlusconi to intervene and get her job back and the matter was discussed in the Italian parliament.

To add to the controversy, the arrival of the sexier and not-so-experienced announcers comes just a few months after RAI prexy Lucia Annunziata’s failed attempts to remove scantily clad women from its shows, calling it “an inappropriate way to depict women.”

After a hot month at RAI, things are tutta bene. The internal inquiry absolved Canale and the RAI staff who did not black out her last announcement.

Mamma RAI, as the Italians call the pubcaster, has returned to its maternal ways and is hunting for new roles for Svizzero and Viaggi, while Canale has been found a slot on RAI2’s “In Famiglia.”

And Italians are happy with their younger, sexier replacements.

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