EXCLUSIVE (with season 3 spoilers): It’s dark. It’s beautiful. It’s addictive. It’s Gomorrah.
Fans of the acclaimed Italian crime series will be glad to hear that with three seasons under the belt and a fourth currently shooting, producers aren’t putting a hit out on the show just yet. Why would they, considering it has sold to 190 markets and is Sky Italia’s flagship show at home where it even outperforms Game Of Thrones.
I checked in with producers Sky Italia and Cattleya and with lead actors Marco D’Amore and Salvatore Esposito to discuss what we can expect from series four and the chances of a series five.
I’m still coming to terms with the epic season three finale, which brought with it a major surprise. “No one is guaranteed safety in Gomorrah,” confirms series producer Riccardo Tozzi, founding partner of Italian powerhouse Cattleya, which was bought by ITV last year. “This was a conscious decision from the beginning in order to make it believable. “It’s like a Greek tragedy.”
As announced earlier this year, season four will see actor Marco D’Amore, who portrays tormented hitman Ciro, also make his directorial debut (pictured on set, above) beside regular directors Francesca Comencini and Claudio Cupellini.
Alongside its macho veneer and simmering homo-eroticism (remarkably, this is something Esposito says was never discussed when making it), the show is known for a string of powerful and textured female characters. “I’m fascinated by the show’s portrayal of women”, comments D’Amore when I ask him who his favorite characters are. “The series has discovered new talent and afforded a good platform for established actresses and lets them play different kinds of roles to those often afforded women in Italy.”
So what can we expect from season four? According to the previous synopsis released by the production, the next season “will see central characters Genny (Esposito) and Patrizia (Cristiana Dell’Anna, pictured on set, left) having to establish a new balance of power, while Enzo (Arturo Muselli) and Valerio (Loris De Luna) consolidate the leadership of their gang in downtown Naples.” According to the production, the protagonists will “face new threats and ruthless enemies while Genny will have to make difficult decisions to protect his family.”
Tozzi took me a little deeper into the new season’s mood.
“Each season has its own special sentiment. The main sentiment of season four is displacement. The main characters are forced to go to places that aren’t usual ones for them. This make them more open and unsafe. It’s also a season where there’s more room for feelings. There has been a lot of passion and violence in Gomorrah but in this season there’s more room for normal feelings. The main characters get the perception that there could be another life, one outside the violence they are used to. It’s hard to say it’s romantic but it’s moving and touching: the characters are closer to us in a way. There is still plenty of violence and blood but the characters discover violence isn’t only in La Scampia [the iconic Naples suburb where much of the show is set].”
“Losing his two parents, and his wife and child for a time, leads Genny away from the criminal universe and sees him trying to find more honesty for his family,” adds Naples native Esposito (I’ll have more from the two lead actors at a later date).
As we revealed in April, London will provide a new backdrop for the series. At least for some episodes (one scene is pictured left). The UK capital will partly provide that escape Esposito and Tozzi talk about but it will also offer up different types of crime. “There is a glance at the corruption of the financial sector in London,” explains Tozzi. “Series creator Roberto Saviano previously spoke to the UK parliament about money laundering in the UK and in the show we’ll see it in action” (Saviano’s 2016 speech is a fascinating read, by the way).
The screenplay for season four, which is based on Saviano’s idea and novel, comes from Leonardo Fasoli (who is also lead writer on Cattleya’s large-canvas series Zero Zero Zero and spaghetti western TV drama Django, which I hear could go into production next spring), Maddalena Ravagli, Enrico Audenino and Monica Zapelli. Producers Fandango and Beta are also aboard again.
Season four is likely to air in Europe next spring. In Italy, Sky Italia EVP Programming Andrea Scrosati led the charge — in the face of some skepticism from other parties — for two episodes of season three to screen theatrically just before their TV debut via the firm’s new distribution company Vision Distribution. The move was a huge success, generating more than $600,000 on only two week days and helping to boost small screen engagement via the added marketing reach and national buzz. Scrosati tells me that he would like to do something similar for season four, only bigger.
“Absolutely”, he enthuses about a repeat of the release model, which is a novel one for a pay-TV broadcaster. “I think we should be more aggressive and go beyond the two episodes. This is still to be discussed but I think it’s a win win for everyone. For the audience they get to see it on the big screen with other fans. For exhibitors it’s mid-week so it’s usually a quieter time. For us, the cinema-going audience is a fraction of the millions who see it on TV but it’s a great marketing tool. A Gomorrah premiere generates a national conversation. I don’t think it would be a problem to theatrically show the entire season week after week before each episode goes on air.”
Inevitably, Scrosati is also passionate about the show finding its international audience. The series has scored strong numbers far and wide. France is its second-strongest market, where Canal+ has seen impressive linear take-up and excellent non-linear numbers: series three reached almost five million downloads within three weeks of its debut, with the entire season being watched by 70% of those who watched the first episode. Russia pulled in more than one million average viewers across season three and it plays across Asia, where even India picked up the show, an unusual feat for a non-Bollywood, non-U.S. series in that market.
Audience numbers have yet to be disclosed for the U.S. where reviews have been strong. The first two seasons were picked up stateside by Sundance TV and then showed on Netflix but I understand the former is not yet on board for the third season so the show could have a new home.
Scrosati thinks dubbing, which is common in a market like France, will become more popular in the U.S. soon, thus boosting foreign language series in the territory. The show’s stunning Neapolitan dialect even requires most Italians to watch the series with subtitles.
“The assumption today that foreign shows should be subtitled is going to be proven wrong,” says the well-respected Scrosati. “People will start to dub more. I’m sure more shows will be dubbed in the U.S. going forward. Netflix is doing that more and more. Digital and on-demand gives you the choice to watch it dubbed or with subtitles. I think this will be a key element of the industry in the next five years. When you raise this in U.S. and UK you get mixed reactions. People often say, ‘that’s not how we do things here’. But audience habits change.”
So what of a series five? It hasn’t been officially commissioned yet but everyone I spoke to was receptive to the idea. “All the partners want to go to season five,” confirms Tozzi. “Over the summer we’ll be deciding where we’re going in terms of concept. We’re discussing it now.”
“The show can go on for as long as there is a strong storyline and connection with audiences and as long as it doesn’t repeat itself,” adds Scrosati. “That’s what we need. We wouldn’t want to squeeze anything out artificially. There is so much content out there. A viewer will understand if something has been done for a purely commercial reason.” The show’s budget has increased each season but is far from unwieldy, I’m told.
Sky Italia can afford to tread carefully. It is on a roll. Among buzzed-about internationally-oriented series the broadcaster has coming up are starry cocaine trade crime epic Zero Zero Zero from Sicario: Day Of The Soldado director Stefano Sollima (“The first images are stunning,” says Tozzi, “the action in the show is equal in scale to a major U.S. production”); the second season of Jude Law-starrer The Young Pope, which has John Malkovich also aboard (“The first season was about discovering a world,” adds the producer, “the second season is more dynamic and has some very dramatic moments”); European banking crisis drama Devils is in “an advanced stage”; and the sought-after Saviano has also co-scripted Gaddafi, about the rise and fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Sky’s Italian division is making waves at home and abroad. But for now, at least, their Neapolitan mob story is still the jewel in their crown.