NEW YORK: HBO is at the forefront of the revolution "Top TV" – from "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" to "Game of Thrones" and "Westworld", the American premium cable network has produced high quality content for two decades.
On Sunday, the new ground breaks with its first non-English series, "My Brilliant Friend", an Italian linguistic adaptation of a wildly popular series of novels by Elena Ferrante.
The much-awaited premiere is proof of the globalization of television in the internet, with the audience no longer primarily concentrated in America.
Fans of the Books – Ferrante is a pseudonym and the author's true identity is unknown – master the bite to see the series.
More than 10 million readers have fallen in love with the novel – the story of a lifelong friendship between Elena and Lila, who first met in Naples in the 1950s – since the first was published in 2011.
The broadcasting rights for the 8-episode HBO series were sold in 56 countries. It will fly in Italy on the public broadcaster RAI from November 27th and at Canal Plus in France in December.
Even in the United States, where books translated into English barely represent 1% of the market, the four Neapolitan novels have been big deals, with 2.6 million copies sold, according to publishers' Europe Editions.
But the leap to the small screen is still a risk for HBO, which collaborates with RAI on the series, filmed in Italy by Italian director Saverio Costanzo.
The dialogue is actually in the thick Neapolitan dialect, and not pure Italian, so even RAI will show the series of subtitles.
"It really hit me," said Costanzo The Hollywood Reporter.
"I asked why a US network would care about the accuracy of the language if the audience were to watch the series of subtitles. They replied that they wanted the series to be valid," he added.
"At that moment, I understood why HBO is HBO."
Non-English programming rare in the United States
Such attention to detail and authenticity is relatively new in the United States.
In 2009, Quentin Tarantino drove in that direction with the Second World War, "Inglourious Basterds", which was partly filmed in German and French.
But until very recently, the TV series was careful about boarding.
Then came the "Americans" (2013-18), the award-winning FX series of Russian spies who lived in America during the Cold War, which contained long sequences in Russian.
And since the world's television consumers are turning more and more to streaming platforms to find new applications, they are more open to texting subtitles. Denmark's political drama "Borgen" is a striking example of cross-border success.
Netflix "Narcos" – filmed in Spanish and English, debuted in 2015 – "opened the door to the others by showing that authenticity was crucial to the success of a series," explains Lorenzo Mieli, executive producer of "My Brilliant Friend."
"We could not imagine that American actresses play Italian schoolchildren in poor areas of Naples in the 1950s," Mieli told a round table discussion at MIPCOM, an annual trade fair held in Cannes in France last month.
Truth in the showbiz
When the leap was made towards more authentic productions, one step remained: how to ensure that the novel was not curbed in the adaptation process.
"From the first book by Elena Ferrante, I felt we shared the same ideas and the same stubbornness about making things look legit on the screen," Costanzo said at the Venice Film Festival in September, where the first two episodes of the show are premiere.
Francesco Piccolo – who co-wrote the manuscript with Costanzo, Ferrante and Laura Paolucci – said that the author made suggestions throughout the process and gradually became more satisfied.
Her suggestion was "never to defend the books, but more about how to best convey the ideas on the screen." She had a great deal of confidence in Saverio, "said Piccolo.
The HBO series is truly faithful to the book, a sweeping story of friendship, admiration, rivalry and jealousy. It offers a close-documentary look at Naples in the 1950s, where Elena and Lilila meet in school.
Both girls are unusually intelligent for their age and they grow close as they try to escape the violence in their rundown part of the city, where the old eye for a eye theory prevails.
Filmsas in an industrial desert in the Naples area, the series looks like their neighbors, with just a shabby courtyard that you can play and school as the only escape.
The story of the female state is somewhat contemplative, with detailed depictions of everyday life mixed with the tension between the main characters.
"This series is completely different from what we usually watch Italian TV," Mieli said on MIPCOM.
"We do not see people running around everywhere – instead, we are focused on the complexity of female characters," he explained.
"I think this can open the door to a new way of telling."