Gay TV programming makes tentative steps into Italy
January 26 2005 12:00 AM ET
"Pink" programming may have crossed over to the mainstream on American TV and in some European territories, but it's an open question whether Italy is ready for gay-friendly shows. Take, for example, the level of outcry from conservative quarters following the launch last month of the Italian version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy--I Fantastici 5 (The Fantastic 5). Labeling the show as "proselytizing," the parental watchdog group Moige called the broadcasts "dangerous for children and adolescents as they portray gay as beautiful, even that gay is better."
Or the made-for-television film Mio Figlio (My Son), which aired on public broadcaster RAIUno earlier this month. The Italian press got in a tizzy because the show stars 70-year-old Lando Buzzanca, who became an icon of Italian machismo with his dozens of film roles beginning in the 1970s. In Mio Figlio, Buzzanca plays a police superintendent forced to come to terms with the homosexuality of his only son (Giovanni Scifoni), also a member of the police force. Before airing, the director of the program told the newspaper La Reppublica that he was "afraid" of making a gay-themed fiction program. The show pulled in an impressive 7.2 million viewers for a 27% market share. And then there was the victory in November of the fedora-adorned gay 23-year-old Jonathan Kashanian on the hit reality show Grande Fratello (Big Brother). Kashanian, now one of Italy's ubiquitous flavor-of-the-season superstars, has been criticized by gay advocacy groups and some left-wing pundits for never openly admitting during the show that he was gay.
The Fantastic 5, halfway through its 12-episode run, has generated only modest ratings, last week pulling in a 2% share in a prime-time slot on upstart commercial network La7. "You're just not going to see the same success over here," says Giuseppe Musci, the show's executive producer. "In Italy [a gay programing wave] could happen, but in a limited way because here we have the Vatican as a backdrop." It remains unclear which, if any, of these shows may end up as the breakthrough program to take gay-friendly programing into the mainstream. "There really is an opening and it happened over the past few years with the arrival of certain American and Northern European films," says Franco Grillini, left-wing deputy and honorary president of the gay advocacy group Arcigay. "People are obviously very interested in these shows and there is a large audience, so television is making a number of initiatives." Musci thinks the envelope still needs to be pushed further. "The revolution will be when a gay Italian man is on television playing a doctor or a lawyer, not a stylist."