(Local) Deal, or No Deal: Regionalism on Italian TV

Curator's Note

 The tendency to indigenize foreign programs according to regional elements is a well-tested strategy in Italy and it continues to influence the importation and domestication of foreign programs that air on Italian television. One recent example of “domesticated format” is the game show Affari Tuoi (Your Business), imported as a formula from an original idea developed in The Netherlands by renowned television producer Endemol and sold worldwide, including the United States, where it airs on NBC as Deal Or No Deal. The purpose of the show is for the contestants to win a large sum of money by opening the luckiest box. In other international versions of the show, the boxes are labeled by numbers and are usually opened by anonymous attractive showgirls who simply display the contents of the box. 

In Italy each box is labeled by the name of one of the twenty regions of Italy, and those who open the boxes are common people from each corresponding region. Every time that a box is chosen and needs to be opened, a traditional folkloric song from that region is played in the TV studio and the show’s histrionic host Paolo Bonolis starts imitating the accent and dialect of that region in a very stereotypical fashion, exchanging amusing conversations with those who opened the box (and genuinely speak with that same accent). 

In this specific example from 2005, a polyphonic quartet from Sardinia, Tenores di Bitti “Mialinu Pira,” was invited to the show to wish “good luck” to one of the contestants, and performs a traditional regional tune together with Bonolis. In an essay for Flow Michela Ardizzoni explains the significance of this type of indigenization and argues that it exemplifies the balance of global and local forces in contemporary Italian television: "This emphasis on regionalism as the essence of national identity expands to other global products like Big Brother or Music Farm. Aside from the formulaic characterization of participants, this process elicits a contradictory conception of unified identity that is paradoxically fragmented and potentially divisive."

As demonstrated by the indigenization of international formats, in Italy the major challenge against globalization does not come from a fervent nationalism, but rather from the strong regionalism with which Italians still identify. As this example shows, regional stereotypes are used continuously in Italy as an industrial practice of domestication.


Sharon's picture
By Sharon

 The ambivalence of the studio audience and host performing the particular regions' dance (the host seems like he is trying to suppress his laughter at the dance?)
I find the use of music here very interesting as the relationship between music and national culture is such a strong integrative/divisive element in many other locations where formats "travel". In Israel, for example, the mega-popular "Idol" type show Kohav Nolad also reworks for a global age the core tension between the two big Jewish ethnic groups by offering a specific (ambivalent and careful) fuse of Mizrahi (Arab-Jewish) and "Western" local musical traditions.
Similar to dance (As Dana Heller fleshes out in her collection chapter) - music seems to offer another layer of nuanced localization which, as you have shown is wired into the reformatting of the show itself, rather than the notion of "infused" local "taste" or "color" into an existing format.
Fascinating stuff!


I think ambivalence is a good word to describe this clip, Sharon. There is a moment in which the host remarks how silly he looks with that hat, and then he immediately apologizes, clarifying: "I look silly NOT because you guys are silly, but because I don't belong (to this tradition)." I thought this was a revealing comment about the "foreignness" of certain cultural elements of identity (and representation) if you are from a different region in Italy. Such foreignness is not overcome by a true sense of belonging to the same nation as much as by the participation in a TV program that has global appeal.

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