×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘My Brilliant Friend’ Brings Italian Voices to Premium Cable on HBO

HBO is betting fervent interest will be stronger than an historical aversion to fully subtitled programming when it comes to “My Brilliant Friend,” an upcoming HBO, Rai Fiction and TimVision series produced by Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani for Wildside and by Domenico Procacci for Fandango in co-production with Umedia Production.
Based on the first of four “Neapolitan Novels” by pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, the HBO series will break ground for subtitles in mainstream U.S. programming. German-language “Deutschland 83” and Italian “Gomorrah” both aired domestically on Sundance TV, but “My Brilliant Friend” on HBO marks the most mainstream outlet for a fully subtitled series to date.

Lorenzo De Maio, agent at Endeavor Content, says while in the past subtitled programs in the U.S. resulted in a niche audience, that’s changing due to global platforms.

“Think about ‘3%’ on Netflix, which is a brilliant show [in Portuguese], or ‘Babylon Berlin’ in German,” De Maio says. “I was tracking ‘My Brilliant Friend’ for a long time and I think American audiences are ready. You go to Netflix or Amazon and you can find dozens of German-language series on there. The streamers have brought more of this local content to a wider audience, a bigger audience.”

Francesca Orsi, HBO co-head of drama, acknowledges the new experience of foreign-language programming on the primary HBO channel.

“The entire series will be in Italian, in the Napolitano dialect, and it’s a very authentic portrayal of this world,” she says. “Had we done it in English, we don’t think it would have been as honest. It wouldn’t have been as truthful an exploration of this culture. Speaking Italian in the Napolitano dialect is very specific and a whole other endeavor and emotional experience.”

“My Brilliant Friend” producer Mieli says his company never considered making the series in English.

“HBO, from the beginning, not only accepted but encouraged something authentic and unique,” Mieli says, noting that the language spoken is important to the story’s plot as well. “Seventy percent of the show is spoken in a language I — and I’m from Rome — don’t understand. Part of the story is the growing up and education of these girls and one of them becomes an intellectual who wants to write books and must learn Italian. Italian is a totally different language from Neapolitan.”

Contractually, HBO has a deal in place to do four seasons based on the four books in Ferrante’s series, but just the first season has been ordered so far.

Orsi says for its first foray into foreign-language production, HBO goes in with an advantage in wooing viewers who may not normally gravitate toward subtitled entertainment.

“Worldwide, women of all ages have read these books, women in their 60s and in college. They’re just beloved,” she says. “So we, to some extent, know we will get those eyeballs. The question for us is how do we expand it and ensure we can attract an audience beyond just those who have read the books. If we hone in and find the heart of the story and translate it to a visual medium, we can find an audience that will appreciate it.”

Part of that effort includes an American writer-executive producer, Jennifer Schuur, working with the show’s Italian writers.

“We did all agree an American writer was critical to help the process in Italy and having that point of view that an American TV writer brings, that sensibility, could help translate just from a storytelling perspective,” Orsi says. “It’s one experience to take it in as a book and published property and another to translate it to a visual medium.”

Orsi calls HBO’s series “pretty faithful to the book” but acknowledges choices — new scenes, breaking point of view to provide perspective — made to adapt “My Brilliant Friend” for TV without an over-reliance on exposition.

“So much of it is the inner psychology of the characters in the experience of the book, through the author’s voice,” she says. “How do you capture that in a visual medium? That’s what we needed to crack and I think we have with a lot of close-ups on the eyes of the girls, how they’re taking in things emotionally and how they’re processing emotionally.”

More TV

  • Mediapro Unveils The Mediapro Studio, With

    Spain's Mediapro Unveils New Studio, With 34 Series in Production (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Mediapro Group – the Barcelona-based multinational co-founded by Jaume Roures – is unveiling The Mediapro Studio, with 34 scripted series already in production worldwide. The new production company will be based in Fuencarral, northern Madrid, just a few miles from Netflix’s soon-to-open European production hub. It will be overseen by Javier Méndez as chief [...]

  • BBC Drama and Comedy Box Sets

    BBC Drama and Comedy Box Sets Coming to Sky, Now TV

    BBC Studios and Sky have joined forces to add a raft of catalogue comedy and drama from the pubcaster to the Sky platform and its Now TV streaming service. The deal kicks in next month and includes dramas “McMafia” and “Spooks” and classic BBC comedies “The Vicar of Dibley” and “Only Fools and Horses.” The [...]

  • Jim PackerPRESS PLAY: Variety Home Entertainment

    FilMart: Jim Packer Says Liongate Ready to Support Starz Global Rollout

    A keynote speaker at Hong Kong’s FilMart this week, Jim Packer, Lionsgate’s president of worldwide TV and digital distribution, shares plans to support Starz’ international expansion. And he recounts his experience of watching Netflix change up through the gears. Back in 2012, when Lionsgate was still casting “Orange is the New Black,” Jim Packer, Lionsgate’s [...]

  • Hong Kong's TVB Boosts OTT Plans,

    Hong Kong's TVB Boosts OTT Plans, Sets 'Court Lady'

    Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts is set to boost its OTT platforms locally and abroad with new packages and initiatives targeting the Southeast Asian market. The city’s biggest broadcaster has also renewed its partnership with China’s Huanyu Entertainment following the wild success the two enjoyed last year with palace drama “Story of Yanxi Palace.” The new [...]

  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

    Stephen Colbert Cancels 'Late Show' New Zealand Trip After Mosque Shootings

    “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” had been scheduled to make a surprise trip to New Zealand this week — but those plans have been put on hold in light of last Friday’s terrorist attack that left 50 people dead. On Monday’s show, Colbert revealed the now-shelved trip, which had been kept under wraps but [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. “The Agencies [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: L-R: Monster (T-Pain)

    New-Model Murdochs: Fox Corporation to Emerge Tuesday

    A new era for the Murdoch clan and the media business begins with the debut of Fox Corporation on Tuesday, a day before Disney completes its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. The new-model Fox will begin trading Tuesday on the NASDAQ under the FOXA symbol. On Tuesday, 21st Century Fox will initiate a complex transfer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content