Netflix’s Italian originals arm is seeking ‘local-first,’ taboo-breaking stories to entertain and challenge subscribers.
When longtime head of drama Eleonora Andreatta left Italian public broadcaster Rai to become Netflix’s VP of Italian original series in 2020, it sent shockwaves through the local industry. Two years on, and speaking at MIA, last month’s copro and networking market in Rome, Andreatta recalled the moment she knew Netflix was changing the international television landscape.
“I remember very well when La Casa de Papel [Spanish drama Money Heist] went on the service for the first time, and how I was surprised and I really felt something revolutionary was happening in the industry,” she said, speaking alongside Larry Tanz, VP and head of original series for Netflix in EMEA.
“What we saw for ages was Hollywood films and content brought to Europe while [exporting series] the other way around was so difficult.”
Andreatta was at Rai when the broadcaster partnered with Netflix on 2017 crime drama Suburra and learned a little of the streamer’s global ambitions when she was told it would bring together “the best people in Europe” to oversee its subtitling and dubbing programme.
“That was really something that impressed me a lot,” she said. Now at Netflix, she says the strength of the streamer “is tied to this incredible possibility of investing in local content from all over the world. The language barrier for the Italian industry was so painful because the quality of Italian content is quite high but it was difficult to export. Now with subs and dubs, it’s possible to have our content all over the world. This is something really new and revolutionary. It’s not only Hollywood, it’s also Spain, Italy, France, Korea, Turkey, all over the world. That is our big advantage.”
Andreatta has now picked up that mission to bring Italian content – across films, series, docs and reality shows – to global audiences, but she is clear that local viewers must be her first priority. Authenticity is also key, as she seeks to find stories that don’t lean on Italian stereotypes.
“It’s very important our stories are made for an Italian audience and then they can be taken out to 190 countries,” she said. “To be successful out of our country, we know we have to be successful first of all for our Italian audience and be connected to the needs, willingness and desire of our local audience. We want to build stories that are highly entertaining but can also break taboos and be something that challenge people.”
In particular, Andreatta is looking for projects based on true events that can speak to local audiences, adaptations of big IP – from literature and history to pop culture – and also stories that build on anti-hero narratives. “We really think anti-hero stories, from the imperfect hero to the rough hero, don’t have the space they deserve in Italy,” the exec said.
“Our strategy is local storytelling, working with the best creators and the top executive talent in an industry and country, being able to bring the best local stories to our members. That ‘local plus variety,’ which is a global part of our strategy, is really what we’re going for here.”
Current programming, original production, drama, factual
Highlighting the breadth of Netflix’s Italian slate, Andreatta picked out three current titles that she believes display her strategy in action.
Four-part crime doc series Wanna Marchi (Fortune Teller: A TV Scam), which debuted in September, charts the story of Marchi and Stefania Nobile, who became the undisputed queens of Italian TV shopping, until they went too far and ended up in jail.
Marchi, says Andreatta, was “the queen of TV sales in the 80s and 90s. We really liked the way the project was presented to us by [producer] Fremantle – it was a very well-known story but with a very unique angle. It was full of twists and turns.”
Seven-parter Tutto chiede salvezza (Everything Calls for Salvation) is an adaptation of Daniele Mencarelli’s autobiographical novel in which the lead character, Daniele, wakes up to find he has been committed involuntarily to a mental hospital, and must learn how to live – and love – again with the help of his fellow patients. It is written and directed by Francesco Bruni (Inspector Montalbano) and produced by Picomedia.
“It’s a story that talks about the strengths and weaknesses of the young generation and, in particular, how we are walking a subtle line between being safe or being in the darkest moment of our life,” Andreatta explained. “What we really learned from big Italian comedy is sometimes how to make it possible to laugh in a very tragic and difficult moment of your life, and this show is tied to talking about something relevant now but doing it with a very light touch.”
In feature films, Robbing Mussolini (Rapiniamo il Duce) is the streamer’s big bet. Directed by Renato De Maria and starring Pietro Castellitto and Matilda De Angelis, it comes from the team behind Lo Spietato (The Ruthless) and tells the story of a group of misfits and rogues brought together to stage an elaborate heist of a legendary treasure belonging to Benito Mussolini. “We really loved the enthusiasm and vision of the creative group and we want to invest more in these kinds of films that have a big scale,” Andreatta said.
Looking ahead to the new year, Andreatta hopes fans of Elena Ferrante adaptation My Brilliant Friend (L’Amica Geniale), which she commissioned for Rai in partnership with US cable network HBO, will be drawn to six-part drama La Vita Bugiarda degli Adulti (The Lying Life of Adults), which is also based on a Ferrante novel and produced by Fandango. Launching on January 4, it stars Valeria Golino, Alessandro Preziosi, Pina Turco and newcomer Giordana Marengo in the story of a young girl growing up in 1990s Naples.
“It’s proof of how much we want to invest in big authors and directors that are famous in Italy and outside Italy,” Andreatta said. “In this case, it’s Edoardo De Angelis who is directing and giving a strong vision of Naples in the 90s, with its colours and music. His vision blends in a perfect way with the strong character and voice of Ferrante’s masterpiece.”
In a departure from her role at Rai, Andreatta is also spearheading Netflix’s Italian unscripted slate. Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi (4×60’) charts what happened when the 15-year-old vanished in 1983, creating a decades-long mystery.
“Docuseries are a very popular type of show all over the world,” the exec said. “In Italy, the development of topical series was a little bit late compared with other European markets and the US. Then we launched SanPa: Sins of the Savior [in 2020] with great success and we felt there was an audience for these types of shows.”
Andreatta is particularly excited to see the launch of Netflix Italy’s first reality series, Summer Job, which is set to arrive on the streamer before the end of the year. “Usually reality shows are only adaptations – this is an original show that was made for Italy,” she added.
Netflix in Italy is now bringing its content team under one umbrella to follow a unified strategy led by Andreatta. It is keen to work with established talent in front of and behind the camera, but is also investing in a number of schemes to bring a new generation of storytellers to television.
“The Italian industry has grown a lot, from both creative and business points of view. What I see is a common effort involving the industry, the creative community and institutions all going in the same direction, of being conscious that the audiovisual industry is really something important for the Italian economy and Italian culture,” she said.
“The big challenge is the scarcity of talent and crews. The competition is creating a scarcity, but we are trying to invest in new people. In this moment there’s growth we haven’t seen in the past. We are building something important for the future that will not happen in one or two years, but if you have the broad vision of five years from now, this richness everyone is bringing can make it even bigger.”
Ultimately, Andreatta wants Netflix’s talent to feel supported in a way they haven’t been in the past, while she wants producers to know the streamer is demanding a certain level of quality that can give their series the best chance of international success.
“Great stories can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere,” said Tanz. “That’s been the biggest development and shift in the company, where we have this expertise and focus on the talent and members in a particular country and try to create an authentic story that’s going to be great for our members, who can relate to it, and also can instantly be enjoyed by people all over the world.
“Different creative partners have different ways of working. We spend a lot of time listening and learning what’s important to a particular producer and what might be important to another one, and in that case there are lots of differences across countries, not just between countries. We’re learning from those differences to be better.”