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Like in North America and other parts of the industrialized world television in Italy has been a cultural phenomenon since its inception. Since the beginning of broadcasting on January 3rd, 1954, television has been a fundamental part of the public and private lives of Italians. At the time Filiberto Guala, the CEO of Italy's newly created public broadcasting company RAI, said that "television is the hearth of our times." Over the years those words have proved to be prophetic and absolutely true.
Pippo Baudo is one of the best known figures on Italian television.
The Early Years
Baudo was always interested in show business and as a boy tried his hand in theater. Pippo gained a small amount of fame as a piano player and singer while he was in full-time education and in the late 1950s he was hired as a pianist and singer in the Moonlight Orchestra.
When iconic Italian actress and showgirl Sandra Mondaini died on September 21, 2010, at age 79, the majority of Italians were saddened, but not many were surprised. Seeing Mondaini at the funeral of husband Raimondo Vianello, dead at 87 just five months earlier, it was clear how much of a toll the loss of her beloved had taken on the actress. The love and bond between the two proved too strong and the actress soon followed the husband she had met in 1958 and married in 1962.
Simona Ventura is an icon of Italian television who started out on Rai Uno's Domani Sposi with Giancarlo Magalli and translated her love of sport into a successful career as a correspondent during events like World Cup Italia '90 and the Barcelona Olympics. Ventura has participated in such popular shows as Domenica In, Quelli che il calcio..., the Sanremo Festival and L'Isola Dei Famosi. "I love the United States, I consider it the country of freedom, meritocracy and creativity," Ventura says, eyes shining when she speaks of her relationship with the U.S.
Historically, the term "velina" referred to the press releases sent by the Ministry of Culture to newspapers in Fascist Italy. These releases reported facts, and most often the government's interpretation of facts, to the newspapers. In the years that followed the term became a common one in political jargon, used to identify official and not so official communications between the offices of political parties and those of newspapers and TV news stations.
In Italy, as in North America, the 1990s saw a huge jump in popularity for two types of programs: information shows and reality shows. In the 90s Mediaset launched their own newscasts and both RAI and Mediaset added socio-political talk shows and informational programming to their daily schedules with the Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) political scandal fuelling the debates on these shows. Where mindless entertainment is concerned reality became all the rage with these cheap-to-produce shows becoming increasingly popular with viewers and producers alike. And while Italian television continued to produce strong fictional programming the number of TV shows imported from the United States kept getting higher, increasing the influence of American culture on Italy.
The two main events in Italian television history that occurred in the 1970s were the advent of color and the introduction of private channels. The story of color TV is truly a political-industrial epic that began in the mid-sixties and ended only towards the end of the 70s after many delays and false starts. In these years RAI’s television monopoly showed its first cracks with viewers tuning into shows from neighboring countries like Monaco and Switzerland that were broadcast in Italian. For the first time since television was born the viewing public began to see they had a choice.
The Rise of Women
When talking about TV personalities, can you forget Jay Leno, or Jimmy Kimmel? Well, aside from the fact that they are witty, spontaneous, and smart, there is another thread which binds them - they have an Italian heritage. Yes, while names like Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel don't sound particularly Italian, the fact is that they have Italian blood. Jay Leno was born James Douglas Muir Leno and Jimmy Kimmel was born James Christian Kimmel. Leno is noted for his amazing comic timing as a standup comedian and talk show host, and Kimmel is also a comedian and the host of his own talk show.