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MIP: Italian TV Exec Tozzi Talks Netflix and How to Reach Global Audiences

U.K.-based ITV Studios recently bought a majority stake in top Italian production shingle Cattleya, which made “Gomorrah” for Sky and “Suburra” for Netflix. The deal marked the biggest foreign acquisition in the Italian media sphere in recent memory. Cattleya founding partner Riccardo Tozzi spoke exclusively to Variety about the vision behind the company’s increasingly international scope, what he thinks is driving the success of Italian TV dramas in the global marketplace and the next necessary steps.

What prompted the Cattleya sale to ITV Studios and what’s its significance — not just for Cattleya but perhaps for the Italian TV industry at large?

ITV Studios is the largest aggregator of production companies in Europe. Being part of it brings us into the core of the international TV production system. It’s a recognition of the quality of the products we make, but also, indirectly, of the high level achieved by Italian scripted production.

Italian scripted content has the built-in advantage of a large home audience. But what’s your take on the international prospects of Italian shows? “Gomorrah” and “The Young Pope” have clearly made global inroads. What do you see as the next steps?

Scripted production has a long tradition in Italy. It’s part of our TV history from the very beginning of [pubcaster] Rai broadcasts. “Sceneggiati” as they were known here [before the term “fiction” was coined for TV dramas] are part of the DNA of the collective imagination of Italian TV audiences. Their ratings have no equals in Europe. It can be said that the whole free TV system in Italy is based in large part on the scripted narratives produced by Rai Fiction. And their specific trait has always been a close correlation with movies starting with the series directed by [film helmers] Luigi Comencini, Lina Wertmueller, Renato Castellani, Giuliano Montaldo and others. The style of our best “sceneggiati” is cinematic, strongly rooted in reality, but also with rich visuals. That’s the case with “Gomorrah” and “The Young Pope” and I am sure that it will also be the same with “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Name of the Rose.” It’s Italy’s strong suit and the reason behind our escalating international success. We will continue to grow if we know how to value this increasingly. We will have to be like a Ferrari, or at least an Alfa Romeo!

What can you tell me about what’s in the Cattleya pipeline, on the TV side?

This spring we will start shooting “ZeroZero- Zero,” the series based on [Roberto] Saviano’s book with Stefano Sollima (“Soldado”) — who is now destined for a great future in American cinema — as its lead director. We will also be shooting the fourth season of “Gomorrah” and the second season of “Suburra.” We are in advanced development on “Django,” a very special Western about globalization; and also on “Romulus,” to be directed by Matteo Rovere … and with “The Kingdom,” based on the Emanuel Carrere book, to be directed by Agnieszka Holland.

The crucial role played by Sky in making Italian TV become more international is well known. But now Rai seems to have risen to the challenge. Do you agree?

Sky has certainly been instrumental to the birth of a new wave of series in Italy and spearheaded this process. And now Netflix is also contributing, on their part, with new resources. But I really have to underline the speed and decisiveness with which Rai has tapped into this [TV] trend with bold and innovative projects, such as their participation in “Suburra.” Now I am waiting for a creative impetus from the new leadership of Mediaset’s drama department as well.

Some Italian broadcasters, including Mediaset, are not pleased about the quota system that the government has just put in place. What’s your take on that?

Well, let’s say that the [culture] minister has thrown his heart over the fence … and now we must reach it! But I think that with some reasoning we will find the right solutions. Broadcasters have every interest in developing television and film content. It’s a worldwide trend.

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