Sky Italia breaks national mold

Expanded focus looks to create more exports

Providing tangible evidence of the increasing need for payboxes around the world to add local fare to their mixes — rather than just being a pipeline for Hollywood fare — Sky Italia is churning out bold TV skeins that are beginning to break out of national confines.

Sky Italia shook up Italy’s TV landscape in 2008 with an initial batch of edgy scripted content, including “Crime Novel,” which centered around a real heroin-dealing gang and has now sold to some 40 countries, as well as projects involving a satanic sect (“Nel Nome Del Male”) and a porn star (“Moana”). Now, the seven-year-old News Corp. satcaster is broadening its production palette, while staying true to its basic mandate to differentiate itself from top terrestrial players Mediaset and RAI.

“Being (on) pay-TV means every time we produce something, we have to respect our subscribers and give them something that is unique,” says Sky Italia programming and promotions veep Andrea Scrosati.

And besides helping to lure local subs, “this means that our product also becomes more exportable,” he adds.

Soon to air on Sky Italia, which has 4.8 million subs, is the country’s first dark auteur toon series “Adrian,” conceived by local pop icon Adriano Celentano, designed by topnotch Italo illustrator Milo Manara, co-penned by Oscar-winning scribe Vincenzo Cerami (“Life Is Beautiful”) and seen by Scrosati as having travel potential.

The Milan-based paybox is also producing formats with international ambitions such as “Lady Burlesque,” a talent show based on the current burlesque craze that will make its market bow at Mip.

Staying within tested territory, plenty more gangster fare is also in the Sky Italia pipeline. Now in script stage is “Gomorrah,” a 12-episode TV series based on Roberto Saviano’s bestselling expose of the Neapolitan Camorra syndicate — adapted by Matteo Garrone into the hit pic hailed as the most realistic Mafia movie ever made. And production is in full swing on “Faccia d’Angelo” (Angel Face), a two-part mini toplining hot Italo thesp Elio Germano (who took acting honors in Cannes for “Our Life”) as Felice Maniero, the Italo crime boss who wreaked havoc in Italy’s North East after forging close ties with Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.

Scrosati, who calls the “Gomorrah” TV series “the best example of our production policy,” says that, unlike Garrone’s fly-on-the-wall approach, “it will provide more of an opportunity to understand the Neapolitan mob and, unlike the movie, will be a bit more uplifting, perhaps by also showing a viable alternative to a life of crime.” Sky Italia is co-producing with Fandango and Cattleya.

For more frivolous fun, in what is turning out to be a real ratings-driver, Sky Italia has beefed up its homegrown entertainment offerings with scathing satire rubber puppet show “Gli Sgommati,” which takes shots across the nation’s entire political spectrum, something Italians aren’t used to.

“There is no doubt that satire in Italy has long been focused on a certain political area (the center-right) and even towards a single person (Silvio Berlusconi). This has left a lot of untapped material,” Scrosati notes.

As for the “Lady Burlesque” format, which will be sold at Mip by Europroducciones, Scrosati points out that, while a superficial analysis might lead one to think that the prime audience for this show is male, “it’s actually a prevalently feminine show.”

“It’s about women aged 35-50 reconquering their sensuality,” he says.

The Sky Italia exec cautions it’s premature to say if stepped-up local production at the Italo paybox may be integrated within overall strategy at Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group, now that News Corp has purchased the U.K.-based production powerhouse. At present, any synergy of sorts is limited to Renaissance-set mega skein “The Medici,” which Shine and the BBC are co-producing with Sky Italia as partner and shooting expected to kick off this year in Italy.

But Scrosati is sure that “Italy has a huge reservoir of untapped creativity and a strong desire to do new things” due to the terrestrial TV duopoly which stunted the growth of stimulative shows.

“We are investing in this and think we can be a big opportunity for the local industry, both domestically and internationally,” he says.

It makes sense if you look the ratings. On Sky Italia the second series of “Crime Novel” systematically scored better than both “Criminal Minds” and “CSI.”

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