Italian Language Blog

Mike Bongiorno, il Re del Quiz Posted by on Sep 16, 2009 in Culture

On the 8th September 2009 Mike Bongiorno, il Re del Quiz (The King of the Quiz), passed away from a heart attack, aged 85. Born in the United States of an Italian mother and Italian-American father, Mike Bongiorno was one of the very first Italian television presenters, having been on air since the birth of the new media in January 1954. He has always been considered Italy’s ‘King of Quiz’ largely because it was him who introduced the quiz show concept to Italian TV. The first of these was named Lascia o Raddoppia? (Leave or Double), the Italian version of an American show called The $64,000 Question. This show was so successful with audiences that cinemas all over Italy had to stay closed when the program was broadcast every Thursday night between 1955 and 1959.

Following his early success Mike Bongiorno went on to presente an incredible series of popular games, inducing the writer Umberto Eco to pen an essay in the early Sixties entitled Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno (A study of the Mike Bongiorno phenomenon). In his study, Eco sustains that the success of Mike Bongiorno is due to his “absolute mediocrity”, in other words the spectator sees his/her own mediocre limitations glorified. Mike Bongiorno was also famous for his many gaffes, which included asking a widow about her husband’s health, or making mistakes while reading the questions and not noticing them, a factor which also contributed to the sense of mediocrity presented in the shows. But these famous gaffes were one of his trademarks and made him a more memorable personality, therefore they were never edited from his shows, even when the programs were prerecorded.

One of his most important shows was Rischiatutto (Risk Everything) broadcast from 1970 to 1974, which introduced the ‘technology’ element, special effects, and even la valletta “parlante” (the “talking” assistant) to TV. But Mike Bongiorno was more than just a quiz show presenter, he was also the person who introduced pubblicità (commercials) to Italian TV, including quiz shows sponsored by private businesses, such as car, or clothing manufacturers, who gain publicity through the show.

Mike Bongiorno was un infaticabile lavoratore (a tireless worker) and, despite his age, he was still active and working up until the day he died, in fact he was scheduled to start a new show later this year.

I will end with Bongiorno’s famous trademark exclamation:


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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    When I was growing up, I always watched the “$64,000 Question” and ‘21” but the shows were fixed and after the scandals big quiz shows went off the air in the USA for decades. Did Italy avoid the Quiz Show scandals? I’d like to think so.

    Also, when I lived in Italy, 1964 to 1967, I believe the TV commercials came on the air all at one time in the evening for a half hour and the commercials were so entertaining that people would actually sit and watch commercials for a straight half hour. Are commercials still done this way?



  2. Serena:

    Salve Vince:

    I’m not aware of any big quiz show scandals in Italy in the Sixties or Seventies (I was very young at the time, and my family lived abroad), and looking at the dates of Mike Bongiorno’s Quiz Shows, I can see that there are no gaps.

    Regarding TV commercials, you mention the famous “Carosello”, which marked bed-time for generations of Italian children. Nowadays, unfortunately, TV commercials are very different and they bombard the viewer relentlessly throughout any program, making watching a film almost an impossible task. But all this brings back memories, hmmm, perhaps I’ll write an article about our beloved “Carosello”.

    A presto,


  3. Funny Animated TV Commercials:

    Comedy is like jazz music. If you are not willing to extend yourself, be spontaneous, the material won’t be exciting! Jazz musicians who make no mistakes aren’t really improvising. the formula is #of bloopers = effort put into the performance

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