Well, Mike Bongiorno’s dead. If you’ve never heard of him you don’t live in Italy; if you do and still haven’t heard of him, you were walled into a television-free zone many decades ago and have since been denied all contact with popular culture. Either way, you’ve missed very little. Bongiorno was poached from state tv by Berlusconi when he set up his first private channels, and worked for him uninterruptedly until last year, when his ratings fell and Papi disburdened himself of the 84-year-old hasbeen with an alacrity that surprised no one except, possibly, Bongiorno himself. During his long career, Bongiorno presented a host of quiz shows and not much else, though he’d recently acquired a pinch of semi-yoof credibility by making himself ridiculous in cellphone ads with Fiorello, Italy’s current favourite showman (and a man of far greater talent than Bongiorno). He’d also reacted to his dismissal from commercial and state tv with a touching sense of hurt, which made him more likeable than he had often been on his own shows. A few months ago, he’d been picked up and dusted down by Sky, and was working on a revival of his most successful show, an Italian clone of the $64,000 Question. We’ll never know how successful this might have been, but, as has been said about so many people, his unexpected death was probably a wise career move.
Idolized by millions of people, this man owes his success to the fact that from every act, from every word of the persona that he presents to the telecameras there emanates an absolute mediocrity along with […] an immediate and spontaneous allure, which is explicable by the fact that he betrays no sign of theatrical artifice or pretence. He seems to be selling himself as precisely what he is, and what he is cannot create in a spectator, even the most ignorant, any sense of inferiority. Indeed, the spectator sees his own limitations glorified and supported by national authority.