U.S. showrunner Frank Spotnitz (“The Man in the High Castle”) and British writer Steve Thompson (“Sherlock”) have been recruited by Italy’s RAI and Lux Vide to develop “Leonardo,” an English-language TV series that will portray the Renaissance genius as a gay outsider.
“He was a real outsider for those times. He was an illegitimate child, gay, vegetarian and left-handed,” said RAI Head of Drama Eleonora Andreatta, echoing a description found in “Leonardo da Vinci,” a new biography of the Italian polymath by U.S. author Walter Isaacson.
The new eight-part show, which Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions is co-producing with Lux Vide, is expected to be the first project to hit the airwaves from The Alliance, the co-production group formed by continental Europe’s top pubcasters: RAI, France Televisions, and Germany’s ZDF. The broadcasters announced in May that they were joining forces to counter the growing force of streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon.
“Leonardo” will look at the artist and inventor’s life and genius through the eyes of “a girl called Caterina, who was one of his models,” and “will allow us to get inside his soul and his secrets,” Andreatta said. Each episode will revolve around one of Leonardo’s masterworks, “but the personal and adventurous aspects of his life prevail over the purely artistic ones.”
The plan is for “Leonardo” to bow next year to mark the 500-year anniversary of his death.
The Alliance‘s key execs are Andreatta; Takis Candilis, France Televisions’ managing director and head of programming; and Simone Emmelius, ZDF’s head of drama. The three met last week in Capri during RAI’s Prix Italia event.
Each member broadcaster of The Alliance can decide whether or not to join a project. RAI is taking the lead on “Leonardo” with Germany’s Beta as international distributor, with a strong interest (to be confirmed when the scripts are ready) on the part of France Televisions and ZDF. Lux is already producing Spotnitz’s “Medici” skein.
Other projects from The Alliance:
“Around the World in 80 Days”: British writer Ashley Pharaoh (“Life on Mars”) is writing an adaptation of the literary classic by Jules Verne. It is being developed by France Televisions, with RAI and ZDF expected to board. Candilis described the show as “a Christmas series” and said that France Televisions is in advanced talks with a British A-list actor to play protagonist Phileas Fogg.
“The Swarm”: “Game of Thrones” executive producer Frank Doelger is adapting the ecological thriller by German author Frank Schätzing for ZDF into an eight-part series. France Televisions has expressed a strong interest in the previously announced project.
“Mirage”: Canadian director Louis Choquette (“Versailles,” “Philarmonia”) is attached to direct this Dubai-set espionage series created by France’s Benedicte Charles, Olivier Pouponneau and Franck Philippon. As previously announced, it will be co-produced by France’s Lincoln TV, Canada’s Cineflix, and Wild Bunch Germany for France Televisions and ZDF.
“Eternal City”: Belgian writer Carl Joos (“Cordon”) is on board to pen this series being developed by RAI and France Televisions, which is set in Rome during the Dolce Vita years and inspired by real events. A reckless young French actress is killed in 1963, and in her bag, police find a black book with the names of more than 100 men. An investigation ensues against the backdrop of a visit to Italy by JFK shortly before his assassination and of Pope John XXIII’s controversial Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church addressed the challenges of modernity. “It mixes history with a capital ‘H’ with a crime story that takes its cue from a real murder in the world of the Via Veneto and Cinecittà,” Andreatta said.