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  • RAI International Makes a Big Boo-Boo
    The Italian-language channel fails to give fair warning about a popular show's time change, which upsets viewers who live abroad
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    MAY 20, 2007 - RAI International provides a great service for Italians living abroad by keeping them connected to their language and culture through television broadcasting that is accessible in many parts of the world. More than keeping us updated via vehicles such as Porta a Porta, RAI International enables us to stay part of the community. The plot lines of Un Medico in Famiglia and La Squadra give us something to spout about when hanging around the metaphorical water cooler with our Italian people. But the channel, which already had its share of problems, has recently riled up fans by changing the time slot of the beloved soap opera Un Posto al Sole - without warning or explanation.

    The Italians in the United States who have spoken to me expressed outrage when they discovered that their favorite show was moved from 6:30 p.m. EDT to 11:30 a.m. EDT about two weeks ago. At first, folks didn't even know what was happening. Some feared the worst - that the 10-year-old show was canceled. Others assumed there was just a change in time and kept clicking back onto RAI to see when it might appear. When they realized that the show would now air in the morning, when most people are at work, things got ugly.

    At the time, viewers were hanging on by the edge of their seat waiting to find out if Diego and Filippo, both wrongly accused on drug charges, would ever find their way out of jail. Some fans still don't know what happened. I received phone calls from relatives and friends, who thought that I might know what was going on. I didn't. No one seems to know what happened. I just started to look at the guide of shows and found that Un Posto al Sole was slotted for 11:30 a.m. EDT. I started to spread the word. But my loved ones are still not satisfied. They miss breaking bread over the tears and smiles of Raffaele, Ornella, Viola, Andrea, Michele, Guido, Carmen, the beautiful Filippo and the rest. Who doesn't? And they wanted me to write a letter to RAI International complaining about the switch. I, however, don't even know to whom I should write.

    Besides, the channel has disappointed us before. Often, you would turn on Un Posto al Sole, which was scheduled to start at 6:30, and something else would be on until 7:17 or even later. Then, the right show would commence. This happens often for all sorts of RAI programs, and it's something American TV viewers are not used to. My mother and I joke that RAI International is in its own time zone.

    Lately, shows that run more like ads encouraging us to vacation in Italy are supplanting interesting, fun series. In the last two years, I've gone from watching RAI International every night during prime time (for Vento di Ponente, La Squadra 3 and 4, Lo Zio d'America) to hardly once a week. Granted, part of the problem is that the non-government channels in Italy are putting out better programming than RAI, which might now be the CBS of Italy. But that's precisely why the officials who make scheduling decisions should have kept Un Posto al Sole right where it was. The show is a darling of fans. This is especially true for Italians living abroad, many of whom come from the south, because Napoli is as much a character in the show as the cast. It's like you get to go home to Vesuvius every night. People love that.

    Anyone with a computer that has Internet access can catch up on episodes they miss. In fact, an episode is running on my computer as I write this. Diego and Filippo have returned home and are trying to put back the pieces of their lives, Roberto is finding love again, teenage Nico is confronting his girlfriend's pregnancy, and Otello is misguided by his sister who is trying to hock beauty products. Even I - someone who uses the computer everyday for just about everything - can't get used to this new relationship with the show. It's just not the same. I miss too many details - and the video stream, which rolls on a tiny, little screen in the corner of my monitor, often gets stuck and I have to start from the beginning. It was so much simpler to just flip on the TV with the remote control - and watch it with my mom while we prepared or ate dinner. It was also a lot more fun!

    My friends and family feel the same way. They are up in arms. I am witnessing a passion in them that I thought was long ago extinguished. That's why I was compelled to write this column. I have to take a stand because RAI's time change is like a stab to the heart to those who are trying to keep up with Italian pop culture from afar.

    Having RAI International 24 hours a day, seven days a week comes with a cost (at least $10 per month with my local cable company). If I have to watch my favorite shows on the Internet anyway - and most of the Italian soccer is on basic cable for no extra charge - then why should I pay for the all-hours service? What about those Italian Americans - and there are a lot of them - who are of a different generation that never got used to using computers? What are they to do? The bottom line is we want fair warning about time changes, and we'd prefer our place in the sun at dinner time, where it belongs!

    For more information on Di Meglio and all things Italian, please visit www.francescadimeglio.com.

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