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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Italian TV bins reality shows
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Like them or loathe them reality TV shows are big business. For the television companies they are a sure-fire way to boost the ratings and pull in the advertisers.

The Apprentice
Reality TV series The Apprentice continues to be a big hit on BBC

But in Italy, the state broadcaster Rai has taken an unprecedented decision to scrap them from next year. It's a decision winning popular support.

"Reality television is a dinosaur," said Italy's daily newspaper La Repubblica.

"After all the vulgarity, all the swearing, and the smut, its time is finally coming to an end."

From now on the reality shows in Italy will only be found on the private Mediaset network of the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But is this a moral crusade - or is it an astute decision based on viewing figures?

La Repubblica points to poor ratings in recent series of Italy's two most popular reality TV shows, Grande Fratello (Big Brother) on Mediaset and L'Isola dei Famosi (Celebrity Island) on Rai. Grande Fratello is said to have lost a million viewers last year.

Claudio Petruccioli, Rai's president, says his decision has been taken in line with Italy's wider efforts to improve the quality of its programming.

Federico Fellini's Eight and a Half Weeks
Rai intends to redirect the money spent on reality TV into Italian film

L'Isola dei Famosi and Wild West are just two of the reality shows recently broadcast on Rai Due.

Wild West saw ordinary people train as cowboys in the backlands of Arizona.

Each week the contestants had to prove their cowboy skills by driving a herd of cattle over a mountain pass or winning a cowboy competition to stay in the game.

It ran for 10 weeks, but it was widely perceived to be a flop.

With the money Rai will save from commissioning shows like L'Isola dei Famosi, they will increase yearly spending on Italian-made films by 50%.

"Reality TV shows put people into environments that are both unrealistic and coercive," said Mr Petruccioli.

"And what inevitably results is unjustified and degrading behaviour. I don't believe they are the type of shows the majority of our viewers expect or want from a public service broadcaster."

For the moment we believe it's a courageous choice for Rai
Claudio Petruccioli, president of Rai

Grande Fratello and L'Isola dei Famosi have attracted the biggest criticism in Italy in recent years. Both shows were slapped with a 100,000 Euro fine in December for blasphemous language and swearing.

In last year's Grande Fratello, the eccentric musician Guido Genovese was ejected from the house after using arguably the worst curse available in the Italian language (an expression which literally translates as 'pig God').

The programme-makers apologised, though it did little to silence the howls of protest from religious groups and parents alike.

Many called for the programme to be taken off air immediately.

Rai's lack of interest in reality TV is in stark contrast to the broadcast philosophy of Silvio Berlusconi's network.

On Mediaset's three private channels there is a daily diet of reality TV, which remains popular among young Italians.

In recent weeks the company has been linked with negotiations to acquire a controlling interest in Dutch producer Endemol - the creator of the Big Brother franchise - at a time when Mediaset are trying to improve flagging advertising revenues.

Grande Fratello (copyright: Mediaset)
The seventh series of Grande Fratello is currently on Mediaset

Two of the network's most popular shows - Uno, due, tre...stalla (one, two, three... stable) a show in which farmers try to turn showgirls into cowgirls, and La pupa e il secchione (The Beauty and the Geek) have won big ratings in the past year.

Mediaset are planning a new series for both programmes and producer Fabrizio Rondolino, the man credited with the series' success, says these shows are "just the beginning".

'Scandalous'

"This is just the experimental stage," he says. "Shows like this are scandalous for a reason. But soon reality TV will be considered a genre like all the others.

"There are some bad dramas, vulgar and stupid, but there are also some good ones. The same is true of reality television. You don't ban all films because some films are pornographic!"

There are some who argue reality TV still has its place on Rai. They point to other state broadcasters like the BBC, happy to feature shows like The Apprentice, which continues to grow in popularity.

But Rai believes it can develop an exciting schedule next year without relying on reality TV shows.

"We are looking for better programmes," said Signor Petruccioli.

"I am not saying that we will never go back to these shows - but for the moment we believe it's a courageous choice for Rai - one that will be supported by the viewing public, and one I fully support as president of the company."




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