Little-Known Italian Series Boasts X-Files, Star Trek Influences

By November 25, 2016
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Did you know that the executive producer of The X-Files and the director of some of Star Trek’s biggest motion pictures, got together to create a series starring Dustin Hoffman … and that it’s a huge hit in Italy?

You probably didn’t. And if you’re in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom or India, you won’t even get to see it for yourself until Netflix debuts Medici: Masters of Florence beginning Dec. 9. And if you’re not into historical dramas, especially those set in 15th century Italy – don’t worry, because the producers say Medici is anything but an historical drama.

The series is the brainchild of Frank Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer. Spotnitz, known for his work on X-Files, more recently wowed audiences with his Amazon series The Man in the High Castle. Meyer directed both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and has popped back into the spotlight himself as a writer and producer of the new CBS All Access series, Star Trek: Discovery.

Yet the two found time to get together and pitch a television series to the government-run Italian broadcaster RAI that was such a smashing hit over the last several weeks, a second season has already been ordered, and both Spotnitz and Meyer already are mapping out a third season.

medici-inset112516The series stars Hoffman as Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, a banker who also was one of the richest men in Italy by the time he died in 1429. He’s joined by Richard Madden, the late Robb Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones, as his son, Cosimo de’ Medici.

The Italian government and production company Lux Vide is using the series to brush off the assumption they are ultra-conservative thanks to their close association with the Vatican, and in the process, helped produce a show that was watched by one in every four households in Italy.

And when it hits an expanded market in less than two weeks, Spotnitz told Variety‘s Nick Vivarelli he knows non-Italians will discover why this show has scored so well with audiences already.

“I wanted to make a series for people who don’t like historical dramas. So we took a pretty unconventional approach and framed the whole thing as sort of a ‘what if’ murder mystery that begins with the murder of Giovanni de’ Medici. We thought that was a pretty compelling way into (a) story that could seem very historical and dry.”

The issue Spotnitz and Meyer faced, however, was that while this story might not be known to Americans and others, in Italy, you might as well be telling the story of Plymouth Rock. How can they make the story fresh and interesting, and keep viewers glued from the start of the season to the finish?

“I think because we were irreverent, and we didn’t assume interest in the subject matter, we were able to reach such a big audience in Italy. It was a fresh approach to a story that I think a lot of Italians think they know, but probably don’t know as well as they imagine.”

Although the series boasts two Americans as the primary writers and showrunners, Spotnitz says this is an Italian series from start to finish. Most, if not all, of the crew working on Medici were Italian, and many of the scenes were filmed in some of the most historic parts of the country.

And Medici is a story that won’t bog itself down in a single time period, either. In fact, when Season 2 starts up, Spotnitz will move things forward quite a bit to the life of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a descendant of both Hoffman’s and Madden’s characters, who not only controls the family’s bank, but the Republic of Florence itself.

“When we first tackled this, we weren’t really sure where to begin the saga of the Medici. For a time, we decided to begin with Lorenzo the Magnificent, because in many ways, his life represents the pinnacle of Medici achievement: the High Renaissance, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli. But ultimately (we) decided to begin Season 1 with Giovanni and his son Cosimo. 

“Now we are going to jump forward in time about 20 years for Season 2 to tell the story of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and we’re actually anticipating that that will take two seasons.”

That’s a lot of story, and a lot of planning – especially for something that most people outside of Italy didn’t even know was a thing, and probably still don’t.

But you’ll have a chance to see it all beginning Dec. 9 on Netflix in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India.

By the way, Season 2 of Spotnitz’s other series, The Man in the High Castle, debuts Dec. 16. And you thought you’d have nothing to watch over the holiday break …

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael began what has become nearly 19 years of entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based out of New York City where he is the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in the Bronx.