Why is Italian TV so important for Italian cultural and social heritage?
Simple. First of all, Italian TV history started and grew alongside the birth and growth of a strong national identification of Italians after the Second World War. The war was a “good teacher” thanks to plenty of cultural, linguistic and historical programs. They helped unify Italians and to feel a part of the same country, especially with popular genres like “edutainment” and historical scripted TV. Secondly, TV is a reflection of Italian society. Customs and traditions, trends and fads, political and social conditions are expressed through this media.
If someone wants to understand the composition of the Italian population, or the people’s interests and current situations, then TV’s wide range of programs can do just that. Italy’s TV history is long and plentiful, but I want to focus my attention on its most recent 30 years. From the sparkling 80’s TV to the current TV, filled with “infotainment” and “reality shows.”
Old TV programs versus today: the 80’s.
Even if Italian TV was both largely political and educational, during the ’80s a new list of programs were introduced. Thanks to the public service broadcaster, Rai, there were new Italian quiz shows and many funny games like “Giochi senza frontiere”, “Supergulp!” and “Paroliamo” (a kind of lookalike Ruzzle TV game).
During those years, a commercial TV broadcaster with an “American TV approach,” was founded, called Mediaset. It introduced to Italian families new American soap operas such as “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and other typical US action shows such as “A-Team,” “MacGyver” and comedies like “Robinson.” US shows became a sort of cult TV throughout the population. Moreover, this new TV broadcaster introduced never-before-seen entertainment to Italians. One of the most extreme examples was the Italian “Drive-In:” it expressed a new and fresh society, which was also more sexually free. Like many other playful, light and new shows, “Drive-In” perfectly expressed the happy and joyful mood of those years. Our country was living in a moment of economic and social wealth; and so did television.
For sure, many Italians are nostalgic about the 80’s TV programs, but is it really related to TV or is it about those past happy and carefree years?
Through the 90s… until today
During the ’90s Italians had “music fever.” Everyone was addicted to music. Young people and families were big fans of music programs like Festivalbar,” a well-known summer music festival. Every show on MTV was a hit and music games like “Karaoke” — singing all together — and the music quiz “Sarabanda” were a must-see. The American Dream continued to be crucial. In fact young people followed American teen dramas like “Buffy” and “Beverly Hills90210,” along with Italian satirical journalism shows like “Striscia La Notizia” and “Le Iene.”
At the beginning of the 2000s, Italian society changed its taste in TV, along with many other countries. A new and fresh TV genre was coming out: the “reality show.” “Big Brother” became a hit and many other similar programs came out on TV, like “La Fattoria” (“The Farm”). Everyone wanted to spy on unknown people and gossip about it. TV at that time was also full of talent shows (based on the international format like in “The XFactor” or the Italian version like “Amici”). Afternoon talk shows and political talk shows are now standard Italian TV. Seeing people talking about other people, gossiping, shocking, and discussing, became the main ingredients of this new form of television. It is now a part of Italian tradition.
Nowadays, in Italy, there is a large part of our population which is over 55 and mostly female; therefore, the free-to-air TV responds to this large audience. Every day there are Hispanic soap operas like “Il Segreto,” “Una Vita” and endless soap operas like “Beautiful.” On the other hand, young people and adults love to watch international and high-quality TV programs thanks to pay-to-view TV broadcaster Sky and streaming content providers like Netflix show hit TV series, whose success has spread throughout Italy thanks to the internet (and gif!).
Last but certainly not least as to why TV is a reflection of Italian society: football. Italians are crazy about football, which is why most of the population lives for this sport, treats it as a religion and uses it as a way to identify with a group. Champions League, Serie A, and Europa League are part of the Italian cultural heritage too. And the easiest way to watch these games without traveling and paying high prices for seats in the stadiums: watch it on TV.