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Raffaella: TV stardom, Italian-style

By Alan BunceStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 10, 1986



New York

CALL her Italy's media superwoman. A remarkable combination of on-camera skills has made her the most popular female star on TV in that country. Now she'd like to leap across the chasm traditionally separating the pop cultures of Europe and the United States.

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``I'm curious to see if the American viewers would accept an Italian or European touch in TV entertainment,'' says Raffaella Carr`a. ``After all, the earth is just a little ball. If my company and one from the US could make an exchange and do a talk and entertainment series together, it could be very interesting. Otherwise, why did they invent the satellite?''

If anyone can add an dash of internationalism to American network TV entertainment, it's probably Raffaella, as she is usually called. Her versatility would surprise most US viewers used to more specialized roles for their TV personalities. When her series ``Buonasera, Raffaella'' was on location here recently, she was called upon to switch styles nimbly -- from high-powered singer and dancer, to game-show moderator, to talk-show host who could interview guests ranging from Richard Chamberlain to Henry Kissinger.

The feat was typical of what Raffaella has been doing on RAI, the Italian network, over the past few seasons. She's been an international star and a favorite in her own country for years -- performing in films, on stage, and in several TV shows during the late '70s and early '80s. But when she began a TV show called ``Pronto, Raffaella'' in 1983, the format she tackled was daunting. She became, in effect, a one-woman magazine of the air, doing a live 3-hour weekly show that displayed her whole range of skills.

The show was offered during a traditionally dead period of Italian TV -- midday -- but Raffaella soon had Italians rushing home to catch ``Pronto.'' Last fall she switched to the evening hours and began ``Buonasera, Raffaella,'' turning Thursday into Raffaella night for millions of viewers.

A number from ``Buonasera'' was being rehearsed when I arrived at the cavernous Silvercup Studios here. Music was booming from powerful speakers as Raffaella and her company went through a dance number on a glittering set that included a striking image of the Manhattan skyline along one wall. She performed with an almost palpable vitality that seemed to quicken the whole stage. Later -- wrapped in a black cape and peering from large, quick, friendly eyes -- she walked out onto the floor to greet me.

``Doing the show here has been a great challenge,'' she conceded -- still a bit breathless from doing her number, ``but I really appreciate the help of the Americans.''

Why hasn't there been more transatlantic entertainment of the kind Raffaella would like to see? Is it because Americans are less cosmopolitan than Europeans?

``No, I say the contrary. Americans are cosmopolitan, but they are a little bit closed in their show business life. But someday, if you give us the chance to know a little bit more about you, and if you learn more about us -- if we can produce something together -- it would be a great hit. You have had a strange view of Italian-Americans at times -- it wasn't always a good one -- but today I think it is much better.''

Although ``Buonasera'' is over now, Raffaella's TV contract runs for another year, and her next series is expected to be similar in style. Everybody wants to be on the air with her these days. Besides political figures, she talks to stars, Nobel Prize winners, sports heroes. During bubbly interviews -- conducted in the studio or by satellite with guests throughout Europe -- she offers adroitly paced running translations (in four languages), complete with descriptive asides for Italian-speakers (``Oh, he's so funny!'').

``The important thing when I interview somebody, here and in Italy, is to make them feel at home,'' she notes. ``I told Dr. Kissinger, `Don't worry, you'll be at your ease,' but he didn't believe me so much. At the end, though, he said, `Yes, you are perfectly right.'

``The most similar personality to him at home was our foreign minister, Giulio Andreotti, who looks like Dr. Kissinger, the way he moves his face. Some people said, `Oh, it's not good to have him on.' Others say, `It's great to have him.' But everybody must admit he is clever and a great conversationalist.