When HBO Max drops the fifth and final season of Neapolitan gangster saga “Gomorrah” on Jan. 27, it will also mark the end of a convoluted seven-year journey for Italy’s most widely exported TV show.
“In Italian TV, there is a before and after ‘Gomorrah,’” says Nils Hartmann, senior VP of Germany and Italy for Sky Studios, the production arm of the pay TV operator that originated the gritty, hyperrealistic crime skein.
Besides attaining megahit status in Italy, the show has traveled to 190 countries, including the U.S., where it ran into snags due to the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Co.’s 2018 bankruptcy.
“It was a big mess,” says Oliver Bachert, sales chief at Germany’s Beta, which was selling the show.
He notes that on top of thorny rights issues, the moral quandaries and the stigma of the bankruptcy effectively blocked “Gomorrah” on its U.S. journey, delaying the stateside releases of Seasons 3 and 4 — after the first two aired initially on Sundance TV starting in 2016 — before a settlement was reached.
Eventually, this led to a deal through which WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max in 2020 launched the first four seasons of “Gomorrah,” plus feature film “The Immortal,” which serves as a bridge between Seasons 4 and 5. Like other major streamers, HBO Max was intent on building a global audience for its nascent service, and Sarah Aubrey, head of original content for HBO Max, has gone on record about being a “superfan” of the show.
Its availability on HBO Max elevated the franchise to a completely different level of visibility with U.S. audiences and the media. “Gomorrah” is among the top 10 international shows selected by The New York Times in 2021. It’s also one of Europe’s biggest global TV hits. “This show is really the first time that American audiences have been exposed to a prestige Italian antihero drama,” notes Jeniffer Kim, senior VP of international originals for HBO Max, who says the series’ story about power and desperation transcends language and cultural barriers.
“Gomorrah” producer Riccardo Tozzi, head of Rome shingle Cattleya, says the “benchmark” of the show’s success is the splash it’s made in the U.S. “With HBO Max, things took a positive turn,” he notes, chalking up “Gomorrah’s” international fan base to its authenticity and overall visual quality.
The series is based on Roberto Saviano’s bestselling Neapolitan mob exposé, and the stated intention from the outset was to bring audiences inside the belly of the real Neapolitan criminal underworld by shooting almost entirely in the actual places it portrays.
The authenticity of “Gomorrah” also extended to the cast, which initially featured no stars, though Salvatore Esposito, who plays Genny, and Marco D’Amore, who plays his rival, Ciro, are both Italian A-listers today.
D’Amore has become a director, initially on some “Gomorrah” episodes, followed by “The Immortal,” which he helmed entirely. In Italy, the launch of Season 5 late last year was an emotional affair; the final season drew gangbuster ratings, breaking records and pulling in an average 1.5 million viewers. All of which begs the question: Did it really have to end? As Tozzi puts it: “The idea was to die while we are still alive, maintaining the show’s narrative energy at its peak.”