Herbert L. Kloiber, the managing director of Tele München Group (TMG) and TM International, shares details with TV Drama about how the event series The Name of the Rose came together and what viewers can expect.
Umberto Eco’s acclaimed 1980 novel The Name of the Rose is coming to life as a big-budget event series. The eight-part crime thriller, set in Italy in 1327, is being produced by 11 Marzo Film, Palomar and Tele München Group (TMG) in co-production with SundanceTV and in association with RAI Fiction. Set to launch in 2019, the production boasts a bevy of big-name international stars, and TM International has already signed a slew of presales around the globe.
TV DRAMA: How did doing The Name of the Rose as an event series come about?
KLOIBER: It has been 30 years since the original book, and the film came right after. The author, Umberto Eco, always felt that the film didn’t do full justice to his work. He felt that a TV series, with eight parts, would be much better suited to tell the whole story, which is complex and has a lot of characters and varied storylines. With the renaissance of the miniseries, and series in general, it became very exciting and justifiable to do something as major as The Name of the Rose in a different way. There were many compelling reasons, including that it has not been fully told; there’s a lot more to it than was in the film. Also, having Umberto Eco behind the idea was a great reason.
We have known the company that bought the rights from the publishing house and Umberto Eco’s estate, 11 Marzo Film, for a long time and have a personal relationship with them. My father [Herbert G. Kloiber, chairman of Tele München Group] started producing films with Roberto Levi [of 11 Marzo] 40 years ago. In 2014 we started being in touch with them about producing the series. RAI was always on board from the start and when Palomar joined as well, we thought we had a winning partnership to get this epic project off the ground.
TV DRAMA: At what stage did TM International come on board the project?
KLOIBER: We came in very early. We always believed in the potential of the project; the big brand has great international appeal. We liked that Umberto Eco and the estate [were involved].
There were various stages to making this happen during which we were involved and weren’t involved. Ultimately, together with Palomar and 11 Marzo, we found a great way of working together and making it possible. We didn’t come into it to meddle with the creative or narrative. We wanted to keep it as close as possible to the original book and the vision that RAI, 11 Marzo and Palomar had.
TV DRAMA: Why is the story in Eco’s novel a good fit for TV?
KLOIBER: The original book is probably one of the most important novels of the 20th century. It’s well known all over the world. It’s the tenth most-sold book in the world today.
The confines of the monastery where the murders are taking place is a very exciting setting for a murder mystery with a political backdrop that is in many ways relevant today. Of course there are lots of fascinating characters. Viewers will have the chance in an eight-hour format to immerse themselves into the very harsh reality of the Middle Ages. We’ve tried to create a realistic look and feel of that.
The original book was around 700 pages, which was condensed down into a one-and-a-half-hour movie. You can tell that story much better on a larger canvas.
TV DRAMA: How closely does the series follow along with the book?
KLOIBER: It was developed together with Umberto Eco, who obviously was keen on having his book turned into a TV series as close as possible to his original vision. Different than in the book, there are new strong female roles, which make the series more interesting and appealing for a broad audience, more modern and more relevant.
The set design and costume design are as authentic as possible. There was a lot of research done by the set designer, who was a student of Umberto Eco when he was a young man. We tried to transpose the atmosphere from the book onto the screen.
TV DRAMA: Tell us about the international cast.
KLOIBER: The cast is absolutely fantastic. The scenes I’ve seen so far show incredibly good acting, and they are very dense.
William of Baskerville, who is the lead investigative monk, is played by Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe nominee John Turturro. He was fantastic in The Night Of. He plays a sort of medieval Sherlock Holmes, who’s sharp as a knife, very intelligent and very likable. The German shooting star Damian Hardung plays Adso of Melk, a young novice who is fascinated by William. Damian starred in the highly successful German drama series The Red Band Society, which was awarded with an International Emmy Kids Award. John and Damian have formed a very close relationship on set. They’ve spent a lot of time together going over the scripts and working on dialogue to make it even more natural than it already was in the script; they’ve really enjoyed spending all that time together, and you can see that on-screen.
Then we have Rupert Everett, who makes a fantastic villain. He plays the cruel inquisitor Bernard Gui. We intentionally cast a lot of these characters very differently from the movie. Rupert is a very tall man, a very imposing figure. He looks threatening but speaks with a very soft voice, which makes it even more scary! [Laughs]
We also have Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe nominee Michael Emerson, who plays the abbot [of the Benedictine monastery] trying to stop all the murders that are going on in his abbey. Audiences may remember Emerson from his roles in Lost and Person of Interest. He brings a lot of unique spice to this show.
James Cosmo is playing an old blind monk who is one of the most powerful and highly respected members of the monastery—but he’s not harmless. Viewers may know Cosmo from Game of Thrones.
We also have Tchéky Karyo from The Missing. He’s playing the Pope, who is sort of the counterpart philosophically and politically in this whole fight. He represents a pretty corrupt face of the Catholic Church.
The other roles have been carefully cast to bring complex characters to life. A monastery in the Middle Ages was nothing less than a cultural melting pot where monks from all different regions came together. The casting reflects that. We also have Sebastian Koch from Homeland, Fabrizio Bentivoglio from Human Capital and Richard Sammel from Inglourious Basterds. We tried to stay true to the book there as well since all of these different monks come from various places across Europe.
We have two very strong female characters who play important roles in the series. One is [part of] a story arc that we don’t know from the movie. The actresses that we selected are not very well known internationally: Greta Scarano and Antonia Nina Fotaras. It’s a great opportunity to bring unknown, local faces to a wider audience. That’s part of the appeal.
TV DRAMA: How did the financing for a project of this scale and budget come together?
KLOIBER: It was clear that a project like this had to have a big budget because of the scope of the story, the historic setting and our goal to achieve a cinematic look. But also because in today’s competitive environment in the television landscape, you almost have to have a big budget in order to compete on a worldwide scale.
RAI was on board from the beginning. It helps in a big-budget production to have at least one big anchor broadcaster on board [from the start]. Tele München was very convinced of the brand and the creatives involved, so we were happy to take the additional risk on the financing side. We also agreed to take the worldwide sales efforts into our own hands in order to be in control of that big investment.
TV DRAMA: A slew of presales have already been secured. Why is it so essential with a project like this to have broadcasters on board at an early stage?
KLOIBER: The show has been sold in many territories already. We consciously decided to try and sell to enthusiastic networks or platforms that share our vision on a territory-by-territory basis at an early stage. Because it’s such a big brand and because of the creative elements involved and the iconic cast, it has been possible to achieve this. But also because in today’s top-notch TV drama world, many big properties go directly to a worldwide streaming service and national platforms or broadcasters have a harder time competing. For example, in the U.S. our partners from AMC/SundanceTV or Orange Studio in France have been extremely excited from a very early stage. It obviously helps to feel confident that the show will be seen by as many eyeballs as possible. Early, excited partners are much more motivated to promote a show because it’s important to them. Because early partners have a more meaningful stake and influence in the show, they can stand behind it much more strongly with their brand. That’s why we decided to go this route.
TV DRAMA: How does The Name of the Rose fit in with the hallmarks of the types of programs that TM International is known for?
KLOIBER: We have done literary adaptations in the past like The Sea Wolf and Moby Dick, as well as the Rosamunde Pilcher miniseries. They’ve all been, to a certain degree, period pieces. So, The Name of the Rose fits in very well in that regard. We’ve done a lot of big international co-productions over the years in general. You are going to see more of these things coming from TM International as we put our focus towards more co-production.
TV DRAMA: With all of this experience, TM International must be a skilled partner at navigating large-scale international co-productions.
KLOIBER: We try to be! Every time is different and every project is different. Every project has so many moving parts. Tele München is an interesting partner because when we like a project and are excited about a project, we are happy to jump in and take on risk early. We don’t meddle with creative elements unreasonably because we always partner with people who we believe in. In that sense, we can reduce some of these moving parts and are able to realize these international co-productions more effectively.
TV DRAMA: Are there any other upcoming dramas from the catalog you’d like to tell us about?
KLOIBER: An exciting project we’re co-developing with our partners at Kordes & Kordes is Operation Damokles. It is based on a real event from the 1960s when German weapons factories were arming Egypt against Israel. The Israeli Mossad started recruiting people who were in German concentration camps and had moved to Israel. They were sent back to infiltrate families involved with this armament. It is an interesting political backdrop that a lot of people don’t know about. That operation was called Operation Damokles. This project tells the story of a young man who infiltrates a German family, so there is a personal drama that we’re focusing on as well.