On the commercial stations there are mostly dubbed versions of TV shows from the US, UK, and sometimes Germany or France. Years ago the dubbing used to be pretty bad, pretty much like the early anime that came to the US. Now there’s usually an effort to match the voices and the mood.
Merlin in Italian works well. I’d recommend it for someone who wants to listen to Italian conversation while enjoying how silly the programme is. The channel that shows Merlin also shows reruns of other BBC fantasy oriented programmes (Robin Hood) and US science fiction (Quantum Leap). Sherlock is broadcast too, but really the pace of the speech is hard enough to follow in English let alone dubbed Italian.
Poirot was great. The voice actor managed to mimic David Suchet’s Belgian accent and translated it into Italian. Unfortunately Miss Marple just got a generic old-lady voice. The one Italian made series that I did get to watch was Don Matteo. Another murder mystery programme set in a small town. Like Midsomer (Midsomer Murders is also broadcast in Italy as Barnaby) and St. Mary Mead, the village of Gubbio has a statistically impossibly high number of murders. In this case the amateur detective is a savvy with-it priest on a bicycle. He faces off with the carabinieri, one of whom is a friend and the other the by-the-book hard-nosed cop. Like Midsomer Murders, this has been broadcast for donkey’s years and people have followed the characters and their families for generations. Unlike Midsomer Murders, the families in Don Matteo extend in every direction and I have a difficult time remembering who is related to whom.
What impressed me most is that there is an entire channel devoted to the arts. I often joke about having art news replace sports on nightly news broadcasts. Rather than football, basketball, races and such, there would be news about theatrical events, gallery openings, and concerts. I couldn’t see it happening in the US or the UK, but in Italy it happens and I wish every country had it. The day on RAI 5 starts with rebroadcasts of concerts, some of them from in the 1950’s. I remember watching similar programmes on NET (the forerunner of PBS) when I was a kid. Operas are broadcast, and there’s even a masterclass series by Ricardo Muti. Then there are actual news reports that cover new galleries, museum exhibitions, concerts, and discussions on the state of the arts. No celebrity gossip, it’s not like they’re substituting arts personalities for ordinary celebrities. There are interviews with artists and musicians, but it’s all about the art. As the day goes on they have repeats of some of the evening shows. There was a beautifully animated series The Adventurers of Modern Art that followed the lives and interactions of Picasso, Stein, Apollinaire, Hemingway, Matisse, and others in Bohemian Paris. Another programme features museum curators and restorers. It’s set in the Louvre, and was filmed when major works were taken down for cleaning. The first one I saw was of the Mona Lisa. It included the latest CT-scans and also historical information about Da Vinci’s style of painting and the materials he used. The next episode featured Goya.
In the afternoon there are usually a couple BBC documentaries. These aren’t nearly as enjoyable since they are dubbed, but the original voices are still there, although at a low volume. To someone who understands both languages, it’s annoying because my brain is trying to interpret two sets of speech simultaneously. The dubbing isn’t that great either. It’s obvious that the voice actors are in a studio reading from a script while trying to mimic the reactions of people who are in a live situation.
In the evenings more modern art programmes are broadcast. I admit that some of the modern dance was pretty silly, but I did enjoy the irreverent lectures on art and religion by Dario Fo.
OK, Italian TV isn’t perfect. They have the same irritating History Channel as the US. They do documentaries on Hitler too, but they include more Mussolini.
Late at night, after my aunt goes to bed, I discovered that two of the shopping channels run old movies. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would sneak back into the living room after everyone else was asleep to watch old films. That was in the day when old movies were used to fill up air time, before video recording, and before Ted Turner bought up all the rights. I loved those old films and now for the most part they do well in Italian. Even in B movies an effort was made to match the voices and do a good job of dubbing. Clark Gable and Bette Davis seem to be odds on favourites, but I also got to see Jimmy Cagney in White Heat and Angels with Dirty Faces. One night of the week is devoted to vintage science fiction, mostly 1950’s films with giant animals. So I got to watch the original version of The Fly with Vincent Price, and Tarantula. Poor Leo G. Carroll not only was he transformed into a malformed beast, but he was also given a high-pitched nasal voice instead of his classy accent. On the other hand, as I watched more films, I realised this was the voice that is usually used for professors and posh types.
I did see some more recent films. The modern dubbing is done very well. The voice actors who did Young Frankenstein were brilliant. I could have sworn that it was Gene Wilder speaking Italian. A few jokes were changed to make it more sensible to Italians, but the rest was pretty much verbatim. One of the stations had a Tim Burton week, so I also got to see Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish in Italian. Both were very good, and Big Fish is so Fellini-like that it seems natural.
Tomorrow I head back to the US for three months. I doubt I’ll have any time to watch TV, but I might just watch a programme or two on Youtube now and then.