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Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Young Pope’ Debuts to Stellar Ratings in Italy

ROME — Paolo Sorrentino-directed TV series “The Young Pope,” starring Jude Law as conservative cigarette-smoking American pontiff Pius XIII and Diane Keaton as a nun, debuted to stellar ratings Friday on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky paybox in Italy where the first two episodes drew an average 953,000 viewers – out of a 4.7 million subscriber base.

Sky is calling the draw the best result ever scored in Italy by the debut of a Sky-produced show, saying the share is 45% higher than the launch of its gritty mob skein “Gomorrah,” which went on to become Italy’s alltime top TV export, and also three times higher than the Italian bow of “Game of Thrones.”

However the 10-episode Sky, HBO, and Canal Plus original — which is co-produced by Fremantle Media-owned Wildside with Haut et Court TV and Mediapro — did not open as strong in Italy as the second series of “Gomorrah” which in May drew an average of more than 1.1 million viewers on Sky for the first two episodes.

Of course even with all the fanfare “The Young Pope” generated after launching positively in September at the Venice Film Festival it still needs to build an audience.

One type of publicity “Young Pope” has not received so far is a blasting by the Vatican. Official Vatican newspaper “l’Osservatore Romano,” known to lash out against movies which can be perceived as casting the Church in a negative light such as “The Da Vinci Code,”  is keeping mum.

Catholic weekly “Famiglia Cristiana” has criticised the show saying Sorrentino, who won the 2014 foreign-language Oscar with “The Great Beauty,” “overdoes it with the caricature-like characters created to appeal to an American audience.”

As Variety critic Jay Weissberg notes in his review, in the show’s first episode “the unabashedly American Lenny Belardo,” played by Jude Law, who takes the name Pius XIII, has a nightmare “in which he makes his first pontifical address to the crowds outside St. Peter, urging his flock to embrace nearly every social activity traditionally forbidden by the Vatican, from gay marriage to sexual pleasure without the bonds of wedlock.”

“The Young Pope“ will air at the end of October on Sky in the U.K., Germany, Ireland and Austria, and on Canal Plus in France. HBO has not yet set the U.S. airdate.

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