Frank Spotnitz on Why ‘Medici’ is a Megahit in Italy; U.K., U.S. Deals ‘Imminent’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Nick Vivarelli
Variety

ROME – The first season of high-end TV drama “Medici: Masters of Florence,” produced by American showrunner Frank Spotnitz and starring Dustin Hoffman, recently ended its run in Italy by breaking ratings records and becoming the most-watched new series of the past two years.

The show is coming soon to American and British households, Spotnitz says, and plans are already in the works for a third season, following the previously announced Season 2.

“Medici” features Hoffman as banker Giovanni de’ Medici and Richard Madden as his son. Its first season scored an average 26.9% share per episode on Rai 1, Italian state broadcaster Rai’s flagship channel, and played well with younger viewers, who are not typically Rai 1’s core demographic. It was the most tweeted series in Italy this year.

“Medici” marks the first historical skein handled by Spotnitz (“The X- Files”), who spoke to Variety about the challenge of making it click with audiences in the land in which the medieval drama is set. Excerpts from the interview:

The ratings results for the first series of “Medici” in Italy are impressive, especially because of potential aversion by Italian audiences to non-Italians handling their history. Was this something you were concerned about?

Of course I was. What I said to my partners at Lux Vide, and to Rai, was that I wanted to make a series for people who don’t like historical dramas. So we took a pretty unconventional approach and framed the whole thing as sort of a “what if” murder mystery that begins with the  murder of Giovanni de’ Medici.  We thought that was a pretty compelling way into [a] story that could seem very historical and dry. I think because we were irreverent, and we didn’t assume interest in the subject matter, we were able to reach such a big audience in Italy. It was a fresh approach to a story that I think a lot of Italians think they know, but probably don’t know as well as they imagine.

Italian TV critic Aldo Grasso has pointed out that the Vatican-set sex, including gay sex, and corruption scenes are unusual for Lux Vide, a company known to be close to the Vatican. Did you have to push boundaries with them?

No. I have to say they were very ambitious. The first time I met Luca Bernabei [Lux Vide CEO], he said that Italy was changing and that he wanted to do a series that showed the face of the new Italy and what Italy was capable of doing. He said we would shoot in all the real locations in Florence and Tuscany, that I would get the best production designer, the best costume designer, and so on. When it came to editorial things like showing corruption or sex or violence, they were completely open to it. The only note we got was: “Don’t seem like you have some agenda; don’t seem like you are out to paint somebody as black or white.”

When the show debuted, Andrea Scrosati, who is in charge of content for Sky in Italy – a rival to Rai – tweeted that this was a success for the entire Italian TV industry, even though it’s not a totally Italian show.

Well, the production company, virtually the entire crew, and much of the cast was Italian. The writers, it’s true, were American and British. But I actually have two passports, an American and an Italian passport! I was raised in America and I have Hollywood storytelling values and training, but there’s an awful lot of Italian talent in this show. I consider it an Italian show.

Where does ‘Medici’ go from here? Will it be airing in the U.K. and North America?

It has rolled out in France on SFR Play, and it’s also rolled out in Spain on Telefonica. I believe Sky Deutschland is next. Its been sold in more than 30 territories all over the world, including Australia, Latin America, and Japan. There are announcements coming very, very soon for the U.K. and for the U.S. They are not quite ready, but they are imminent.

I know a second series has been commissioned. What can you tell me about that?

When we first tackled this, we weren’t really sure where to begin the saga of the Medici. For a time we decided to begin with Lorenzo the Magnificent because in many ways his life represents the pinnacle of Medici achievement: the High Renaissance, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli. But ultimately [we] decided to begin Season 1 with Giovanni and his son Cosimo. Now we are going to jump forward in time about 20 years for Season 2 to tell the story of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and we’re actually anticipating that that will take two seasons.

So you are saying it’s very likely that there is going to be a third season, though it has not been green-lit yet?

That’s right. I think Season 2 will have an ending and feel like a complete eight-hour journey. But it will not get to the end of Lorenzo’s life; there’s still a lot more that we could explore in Season 3.

Can you tell me anything about casting of Season 2? In Italy everyone is wondering who will play Lorenzo.

I’m wondering, too. I think we have very big shoes to fill. We all feel we had an extraordinary cast in Season 1, and we want to do as well in Season 2. But we are still writing the scripts.

Is it fair to say there is a good chance that Richard Madden will be back?

I can’t say. My lips are sealed.

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