As 2020 comes to a close, Italy’s TV industry is mourning the recent death of Sara Melodia, who was head of drama at Italy’s prominent TV production company Lux Vide, the outfit behind “Medici,” “Devils” and the upcoming high-end “Leonardo” series.
Melodia, who died of cancer on Dec. 2 at 46, had been instrumental to the quantum leap that Lux — and, by extension, Italian TV as a whole — has made in the international market over the past decade.
Born in Milan, where she studied screenwriting and production at the Università Cattolica, Melodia started out at Lux in 1999 as a junior story editor, cutting her teeth first on ancient Rome mini-series “Augustus” and then on “Don Matteo,” the hit local show about a crime-busting priest that launched in 2000 and still reaps stellar ratings on public broadcaster RAI 20 years and 12 seasons later.
In 2007, when Lux was seeking to break out of national confines with skeins that could play on premium cable TV in the U.S., Melodia was entrusted with shepherding Lux/Lifetime mini-series “Coco Chanel,” directed by Canadian helmer Christian Duguay. Lux CEO Luca Bernabei fondly recalls how Melodia was hellbent on getting Shirley MacLaine to play the pioneering French fashion designer for her first big project as an executive producer.
“She travelled to the U.S. to convince the co-producers [Lifetime Network] to totally change the script,” says Bernabei, who adds that “the clincher” in getting MacLaine on board “Coco” as the lead was “the work Sara had done on the story.” MacLaine (pictured with Melodia) scored noms for a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award for that role.
“A story meeting with Sara was like playing tennis with a master,” says U.S. showrunner Frank Spotnitz (“The Man in The High Castle”), who first worked with Melodia on Lux’s groundbreaking “Medici” saga.
“She could take every idea you threw at her, and hit it back with equal or greater force. She never missed a shot. But it wasn’t a contest,” Spotnitz notes. He also points out that, besides her knack for storytelling, Melodia’s professionally-formed insights into music “were just as remarkable.” They made for her “great and detailed notes” to composer Paolo Buonvino while working on the score for “Medici,” which in 2016 broke ratings records on RAI before traveling widely.
Former RAI head of drama Eleonora Andreatta, who is now vice president of Italian original series at Netflix, points out that there are very few people anywhere that have the ability to “work on storytelling, on casting, including negotiations, editing and even music.” And, she says, “almost none of them has the heart, the soul, the humor, the courage and the generosity of Sara.”
“For me it was a priceless gift having her as a sparring partner and as a friend over my long years at RAI, and my few months at Netflix,” Andreatta notes.
Francesco Arlanch, a longtime Lux head writer and story editor who worked with Melodia on many shows including “Medici” and hit Italian medical drama “Doc – Nelle Tue Mani,” also remembers Melodia as an all-round creative producer who could always find the “weak spot” in a screenplay –– she was “surgical about that,” he says –– and also curated all product “up until the last tweak in the editing.”
Sony Pictures Television is now developing a U.S. adaptation of “Doc” that Italian media have praised as being a mix of “House” and “The Good Doctor,” albeit with a distinctive flair. SPT and Lux are also partners on the upcoming lavish “Leonardo,” which Melodia was instrumental in bringing to screen. The drama, which was shot during lockdown, stars Aidan Turner as the Renaissance genius and is co-produced with Spotnitz, who served as showrunner.
Melodia is survived by her three children, Maddalena, Benedetta and Filippo Maria and by her husband Lorenzo.