“Allegria!”: this was the word that Mike Bongiorno used to open his quiz shows for over half of a century. Mike Bongiorno was one of the undisputed fathers of Italian television. Born in New York City and an active supporter of the allies during World War II, his early life was spent between America and Italy, and in this spirit he started importing shows from American TV to Italy. His version of popular American hit “The Quiz Show,” translated into “Lascia o Raddoppia,” held glued in front of the TV the entire nation, in a way only a sport event such as the World Cup of soccer could do.
Bongiorno went on to success after success; he was called by Silvio Berlusconi to help in creating the first, major private Italian network. The rest is history. Mike Bongiorno helped build Canale 5 from scratch, just like he did with RAI a few decades earlier. Bongiorno developed new TV shows like “Superflash,” “Pentathlon,” “TeleMike,” and the legendary “Bis,” and he also introduced to Italy the “Wheel of Fortune.” For a long time, he held a very high executive position that allowed him full power in the creative process. He worked to expand Fininvest first and then Mediaset; Mediaset is today the number one communication/media company in Italy and one of the largest in the world, and Mr. Bongiorno deserves a lot of credit for it.
The image Italians have of Mike is that of a man who was part of their everyday life, master of entertaining in a very professional way, a bit different from your average Joe, it is true, but nevertheless close to people’s feelings. He loved soccer and especially Juventus and this gave him a powerful way to connect to people. His shows were always glamorous and entertaining, and so was the way he used to talk about them – this transformed them in an almost compelling view for most. He once said that “it doesn’t matter to be spoken about negatively or positevely, the important is to be spoken about.” That being said, he was never involved in anything scandalous or denigrating, and his life was truly impeccable.
As commercial television shaped up, so did the use of commercials, and Bongiorno was one of the first to introduce the concept of being a commercial spokesperson in Italy. He introduced product placement advertising in his shows and his name gave such credibility that sponsors gained the trust of a larger audience, simply because he spoke for them. He is the one who started the idea of commercial sponsor on tv, a concept which is today a must of Italian television.
Mike Bongiorno was also very famous for his “mistakes,” voluntary or not. He often misspelled words, names, and mixed up verbs, sometimes amusingly. He was a very intelligent man, but liked to stay humble, even though he had reached power and money. He represented a country that changed under his eyes, but that he defended until the very last minute, hoping to be appointed life senator by the President, something he truly deserved and that would have capped a truly perfect life. As time passes since his death in September 2009, Mike Bongiorno still lives on the memory of all Italians, while he waves one more time his hand on the air and screams with a smiling face the word: “Allegria!”