ABC Studios takes an interest in Italian shows

ROME — The trend toward a more global TV-production mindset — in adapting foreign formats and border-crossing co-productions — was on prominent display at the Rome Fiction Fest, starting with the execs who made the trek.

First is a U.S. remake of Mediaset’s “Squadra antimafia — Palermo oggi” (Antimafia Squad), an Italo primetime hit centered around the relationship between a highly positioned antimafia crusader and a Cosa Nostra associate, both of whom are women.

Indeed, Little Engine Prods. partners Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo, whose multicountry-set thriller “Missing” made a splash at Mipcom as ABC’s new paradigm for a global TV show, have fully embraced mulitnational production.

Speaking at the fest, which unspooled Sept. 25-30, the U.S. duo announced plans to adapt two hit Italian series for American TV, both with the participation of ABC Studios.

“It’s a friendship between two women who ultimately end up on different sides of the law and in two different families — one an organized crime family; the other in a law-enforcement family forced to bring her family down,” Matthews says.

Matthews and Scharbo plan to transplant the setting from Palermo to Philadelphia, with David Hollander (“The Guardian,” “Heartland”) onboard to write. The producers have high hopes ABC will greenlight the skein.

The other project, in a more formative stage, is a U.S. revamp of RAI’s top-rated romancer, “Tutti pazzi per amore” (Crazy About Love), which features Bollywood-style musical numbers. Little Engine and ABC have optioned the format.

“Just the fact that it’s a multigenerational love story makes it universal,” says Matthews of the show, in which two middle-aged divorcees, a man and a woman living in adjacent apartments, become entangled, as do their respective adolescent offspring.

The musical element, says Matthews, adds pizazz and dimension, as well as emotion.

“Italians are making some great television, and if the themes are universal, (they) can travel anywhere,” Scharbo says.

Antony Root, the former Sony TV Europe production topper who now runs the Rome Fiction Fest market, recruited an impressive roster of international industryites, including writer-director Gideon Raff, who co-created Showtime’s “Homeland,” based on his Israeli series “Prisoners of War”; Ben Donald, head of international drama at BBC Worldwide, which hooked up with Italy’s Mediaset on “Zen” and with France Televisions on “Death in Paradise”; American showrunner Tom Fontana, whose “Borgia” was commissioned and co-developed by Canal Plus; and Anne Thomopoulos who, since leaving HBO, has been a key exec behind Showtime’s “The Borgias” and “Camelot,” both set up as international co-productions.

“After a long spell in the doldrums it’s a great time to be in TV drama again,” Root says.

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