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  • Reality Television Conquers - and Fascinates - Italy
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    NOVEMBER 7, 2004 - Practically all of Italy tuned in last spring to see Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. The cast of virtual nobodies rocketed to stardom and now make guest appearances, do photo shoots and put out albums. Right now Italians are hooked on Isola dei Famosi 2, which is Survivor for famous people such as soccer legend Toto' Schillaci and rapper D.J. Francesco. The cat fights between some of the women celebrities, which have been re-played on La Vita in Diretta on RAI International, are reason enough to watch. I am certain of one thing only. This reality does not bite - and it's creeping into Italian society.

    These days Sunday in Italy means Jesus, soccer, pasta and television personality Mara Venier - in that order. Venier is the host of the Italian program Domenica In, which is part Oprah, part The Bachelor and all fun. This year, presumably in an effort to cash in on Italy's fascination with reality programming, Mara and company have started playing matchmaker to some of Italy's sweet young singles. For this weekly segment, a young bachelor goes on three dates. No surprises there, right? His mission: to decide whose daughter he should court based solely on the date he shares with her mamma. He doesn't even get to see a picture of the daughter.

    We get to watch all three of the dates and hear reaction from the moms and bachelor. The mothers have griped about the tattoos one of the bachelors sported. They have argued with each other about whether it's okay for young couples to live together before marriage. And they themselves have rediscovered flirting by going out with the young man in question. Sometimes, the bachelor falls in love with the mamma instead of the daughter, in fact.

    The best part is at the end when he reveals which daughter he has chosen and the two losing mothers - and their daughters who jump out of a paper door on the stage - lambaste him for picking someone else. The winner comes out last and gets a few seconds to decide if she'll go on a date with him. It's the reality show of every Italian mother's dreams. If it wasn't on at the same time as soccer and Columbo in Italy, then even more people would be watching this must-see TV.

    Love is a favorite topic for reality shows in Italy. Last year, RAI International aired two seasons of Adesso Sposami or Marry Me Now. One partner surprises the other by dressing up in full wedding gear to ask for the other's hand in marriage. The surprised lover gets five minutes and one phone call to ask a friend or family member for advice on whether to say yes. At the end, all the people who agreed - usually four to five of the six or seven couples - actually get married on TV. In addition to having some tender moments, Adesso Sposami is a fashion show - and when the bride is the one asking the groom to marry her, you get to follow her to the store to pick out her dress. This makes up for the awkward moment when someone gets jilted on live television - and you almost can't bear to watch.

    Reality shows that don't center on love, usually focus on celebrities. Una Giornata Particolare, a program that debuted on RAI International last winter, had Italian stars trading places with the country's working people for a day. Actress/model Martina Colombari cleaned toilets at a hotel, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon changed oil on cars and singer Giorgia learned how to make pizza at a busy, busy trattoria. Apparently, Italians are as fascinated with famous people as Americans - and the Italian public is just as happy to watch the beautiful and the popular suffer as all those folks reading Us magazine in the States.

    Watching reality television - in Italy or anyplace else - makes us all feel like a potential star. After all, if the people who got eliminated from Grande Fratello can make careers out of their 15 seconds of fame, then anyone can. More so, this reality TV phenomenon makes the universe seem even smaller. We're all a little bit crazy - and now we have to admit it because it's on TV for all the world to see.

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