Gallic viewers of TF-1 are copping an eyeful

ROME — Gauls are watching a copshow set in Rome’s Tuscolano ‘hood, two other Italo copshows are to air in China, a soap set in a Turin shopping mall will go out in Kazakhstan, and several Italo skeins will hit TV screens in Eastern Europe.

Dramas produced for Italy’s two main broadcasters, pubcaster RAI and commercial rival Mediaset, are finally starting to penetrate other markets in surprising ways.

For the better part of the 1980s and 1990s, Italian drama was known abroad mainly for the now-defunct Mafia series “La piovra” (The Octopus).

Now RAI’s RAI Trade sales arm and Mediaset’s Mediatrade unit are back from the recent Mip TV mart in Cannes boasting brisk sales on a wide range of product, excluding John Paul II-themed fare.

France’s TF-1 — where Mediaset’s “Police District” is airing — has also picked up Mediatrade’s forensic science police show “Crime Evidence.”

Gallic distributor AB Groupe acquired Mediatrade’s romantic skeins “Seasons of the Heart” and “Laws of Love” plus RAI’s “Homicide Squad” and the minis “Ferrari” and “My Son” from RAI Trade.

“It was pretty unheard of, until recently, for us to be selling to France,” says Mediatrade Intl. Sales Manager Patricio Teubal.

“But because the quality of our product is improving, we are seeing considerable growth in several territories, including Asia and Eastern Europe,” Teubal adds.

Local drama started replacing U.S. fare on Italian TV in the mid-1990s, and over the past five years it has more than doubled to roughly 900 hours produced in 2004.

Both RAI and Mediaset have sold police shows to China. Mediaset’s “Carabinieri,” which features busty babes in paramilitary police gear, will air on China Central Television.

Teubal is particularly proud of the fact that Italo skeins are going strong in Vietnam, where they are the third-highest TV import, after series from South Korea and China.

Eastern Europe also likes Italo tube fare.

In Cannes, RAI Trade sold packages worth E1.5 million ($1.9 million) to pubcasters BNT in Hungary and TVR in Romania, and to the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and Georgia.

Mediaset’s youth soap “The Mall,” set in a Turin mall, sold to Kabar TV for Kazakhstan and to other former Soviet Union states.

RAI Trade also sold horrormeister Dario Argento’s telepic “Do You Like Hitchcock?” to Jan Mojto’s Beta for Germany.

“We doubled our sales at Mip compared with last year,” says RAI Trade’s recently appointed topper Nicola Cona, boasting some $3.2 million worth of biz in Cannes.

In an effort to maximize profits at the mammoth pubcaster’s sales unit, Cona is now packaging material from RAI’s vast archives into docus and producing Italo operas for DVD such as a “Madame Butterfly,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more