ROME Italo song and satire show “RockPolitik” is rocking Italian TV.
It’s breaking rules, scoring stratospheric ratings, and has greatly peeved media mogul and conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,unwitting muse for the country’s creative community lately.
Host and creator is crooner Adriano Celentano, a balding 67-year-old former Elvis imitator. On “RockPolitik” the popular singer launches into televangelist-like sermons about serious issues such as freedom of the press — or the lack thereof in Italy — then breaks out into scathing skits that skewer both the right and the left. Add some songs to the mix and guest stars like Gerard Depardieu and Roberto Benigni and you’ve got almost half the country’s primetime audience glued to the tube for three hours.
“TV in the Berlusconi era has become so bland, so tame, that the first thing to break through with a bit more bite has magnetized people big time,” says media analyst Francesco Siliato.
The show’s debut Oct. 20 on RAI-1 was preceded by a creative-control squabble between Celentano’s Clan production outfit and RAI-1 topper Fabrizio Del Noce.
Main bone of contention was that Celentano invited onetime popular political talkshow host Michele Santoro as a guest on the first “RockPolitik” installment. The problem was Santoro had been banished from RAI in 2002, after Berlusconi publicly complained that the yakker conductor had a leftist bent.
Berlusconi’s sway has been lessened since RAI’s board was renewed after a long standoff.
“RockPolitik,” which airs from a lavish Milan studio set but has a Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, also features a big billboard showing a chart compiled by the U.S.-based watchdog group Freedom House, which two years ago demoted Italy’s press ranking from “free” to “partly free” — below countries such as Namibia and East Timor.
The show’s launch, on which Santoro appeared, drew a 47% audience share, up at the top of the ratings roost with Italy’s national soccer finals.
Berlusconi wasn’t amused.
“This is the latest episode of a system of communication, television and also press that since 2001 has systematically attacked the work of the government and the prime minister,” he lamented.
The prime minister, who controls top commercial broadcaster Mediaset, then proceeded to point his finger at several comedians sometimes seen on RAI whom, he said, “often overstepped the boundaries of truth and good taste.”
Among the “bad” comics was Sabina Guzzanti, whose popular political TV laffer “Raiot: Weapons of Mass Distraction” was pulled from RAI in 2003.
Since then, Guzzanti took her show on the road and shot “Viva Zapatero,” a docu about her censorship experience — the title pays tribute to Spain’s current liberal prime minister. Docu has been enjoying a boffo domestic run after unspooling at the Venice film fest.
“Viva Zapatero” juxtaposes Italo webs’ muzzle on political satire against shows like the BBC’s “Mock the Week” and “The Thick of It” and Gaul’s “Les Guignol’s de l’info” on Canal Plus — all of which regularly ridicule those countries’ top politicos.
But despite his attempts to avoid becoming entertainment fare, Berlusconi has lately become a prime cinematic and literary commodity. Helmer Nanni Moretti is in post on “Il caimano” (The Caiman), about a predatory Berlusconi-inspired reptilian figure.
At least four local novels published recently are centered on a hypothetical assassination of the prime minister, including thriller “A.D. 2005,” which imagines the kidnapping of Berlusconi by an unstable anarchist thesp.
Meanwhile, as he trails in opinion polls prior to national elections scheduled for April 9, Berlusconi has been pushing to change the rules that currently give all political sides equal TV ad time free of charge during the run-up to a general vote.