Rosario Ponzio: Beating the Drums in Italy While Beating the Odds in L.A.

Author:Serafini, Dom
Position:Int'l TV Distribution Hall of Fame

Rosario Ponzio epitomizes the golden era of Italian television--the period between 1979 and 1989 when Silvio Berlusconi's private TV channels dominated the Italian and international markets and when publicaster RAI had executives of the caliber of Carlo Fuscagni (RAI-i), Giampaolo Sodano (RAI-2), and Giuseppe Rossini (RAI-3) running the TV channels.

It was also a time when Berlusconi could count on the talents of Carlo Freccero, Roberto Giovalli, and Giorgio Gori to helm his TV channels.

And a time when RAI/ITC co-productions dominated ratings charts in the U.S. with such miniseries as NBC's Jesus of Nazareth (1977). The Lorimar/RAI co-production Christopher Columbus saw similar success when it aired on CBS in 1985.

That was the period in which Italy's MIFED (the world's first film-TV trade show created by Michele Guido Franci) was still considered the most important international film-TV market, and when RAI's Prix Italia attracted top-level TV executives from around the world. (It wasn't until later, in 1995, that Sodano would launch RAI's Cartoons on The Bay, an animation TV festival.)

It was also a time when Renato Pachetti ran RAI Corp. in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montevideo, Uruguay--heading a U.S. operation larger than that of the BBC--and managed to have 10 major RAI miniseries co-productions broadcast on every U.S. TV network.

Ponzio, who started in the entertainment business at an early age, worked in every aspect of television, including the music side and the production and distribution side (with Lew Grade's ITC). He also started his own independent distribution company (WTA), and worked for Lorimar and Warner Bros.

Ponzio's career flourished when Berlusconi first launched private television networks in Italy (and in Europe) in the late 1970s, but it also encountered a stumbling block when Berlusconi became Italy's Prime Minister for the second time in 2001, and his major clients--the previously competing RAI and Mediaset--began being referred to as Raiset.

Ponzio retired from the television business in 2008. Just three years later RAI Corp. closed its doors, in effect declaring the end of what was left of the golden era of Italian television.

Ponzio described his entrance into show business during a lunch with a VideoAge reporter in Rome last summer. "In 1962, at 19 years old, I stopped playing the drums in a semi-professional band and for the next 10 years I worked for various record labels as a record producer and publisher."

But, explained Stefania Leodori-Barreau, who worked for Ponzio for 10 years at the Rome office of Warner Bros., "Ponzio's first vocation wasn't music, but football (soccer). Unfortunately, a knee injury prevented him from professionally joining Roma Football Team, so he joined a band, instead."

Ponzio explained that it was while he was playing drums for that band that he began working for a music publisher whose function was primarily to collect copyright fees on behalf of foreign record labels. In 1965, he attended his first trade show, MIDEM, which focused on music rights. His first TV market was MIP-TV in 1974.

The publishing company where Ponzio worked also represented Italian pop singer Little Tony, whose independent PR agent was Francesco De Crescenzo, a gregarious and flamboyant character. During a visit to London in 1971, De Crescenzo had the fortune to meet Lew Grade, who ran ITC and was once considered one of the U.K.'s most celebrated film and...

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