Home-grown TV, brand ‘X’ fare best

To know a country, advised Machiavelli, study its institutions. Nothing gives such insight into a national mindset as the all-important institution of TV ratings. According to 1994 viewing patterns, Spaniards relish the sight of 22 grown men kicking a ball around a field; Spanish soccercasts took nine of the top 20 rated slots for 1994.

Locals relish a giggle at national foibles, which are parodied by comics Los Morancos and reflected in sitcoms. Spaniards are also concerned for missing persons, as reflected in the popularity of TVE’s reality show “Quien sabe donde?” And the Spanish are soft at heart, warming to couples’ making up, as reflected in Antena 3 TV’s “Lo que necesitas es amor.”

However, they are hardly interested in things foreign, unless it’s a must-catch-now picture like recent ratings queen “Pretty Woman” or the series import that plumbs the supernatural, Tele 5’s primetime Euro-hit from Fox, “The X- Files.” And yet, ratings for “The X-Files” would no doubt improve in Spain if the aliens were Spanish.

While the Spanish might not be as fervent as the French in their resistance to so-called cultural imperialism, similarities exist. When in June 1992 Rupert Murdoch reportedly partnered with publisher Antonio Asensio in his takeover of Antena 3 TV, patriotic locals feared a “Foxation” of the private web. Instead, Antena 3 TV, with pubcaster RTVE, has led the charge into local production.

“Farmacia de guardia,” an Antena 3-produced sitcom, set in a prescription drug store, was ranked eighth overall in the 1994 ratings, and continues in the top 10 this year. Inhouse production builds the station’s primetime hours, except for a couple of nights slotted for imported motion pictures, usually U.S. majors.

Now, the commitment to local production could become even greater with Antena 3’s first native MOWs, featuring true stories well known to Spaniards. This fall’s first movie of the week tells the story of the 1992 Madrid murder of a Dominican immigrant, Lucrecia Perez, which captured Spanish headlines.

RTVE continues its line of local sportscasts, light entertainment, films and sitcoms. Top-rated sitcom “Pepa Y Pepe” and reality show “Quien Sabe Donde” return to RTVE for another season. Gameshows “Cuando Calienta El Sol” and “Que Apostamos?” also saw good ratings on RTVE this year.

Most of these shows are farmed out to a growing number of independent production companies, some with proven feature film credits such as Enrique Cerezo and Carlos Vasallo’s Atrium, or Cartel, headed by Pedro Perez. Other independent production houses have gained a profile from light entertainment. “Cuando Calienta El Sol” and “Que Apostamos?” for example, are flagship TV productions from local outfit Europroducciones.

Another local, Globo Media, has a string of productions, including “Medico de Familia,” to premiere this season on Tele 5; Tele 5 variety show “Sin Ir Mas Legos”; Canal Sur talkshow “Que Buena Gente”; Tele Madrid talkshow “Ana”; and the gameshow “Sin Complejos,” co-produced with Argentine-based Prompt TV and presented by Globo Media topper Emilio Aragon and Lydia Bosch.

The key growth activity in TV production is now reversioning – customizing product for a foreign audience – led by the Endemol part-owned Gestmusic, which has one of the highest turnovers of any TV indie in Spain. Holding exclusive rights in Spain to all Endemol entertainment creations, it is searching for a fiction series to adapt in Spain, says Madrid manager Isavel Raventos. Current productions include the comedy “Que Es Peor,” game show “Sin Verguenza” and reality show “Crazy Cop.”

Via Gestmusic, Holland’s Endemol exports its own game shows to Spain. “Lluvia De Estrellas,” a Spanish version of “Star Search,” is shown at primetime on Antena 3 TV.

“Since American shows haven’t been as reliable in primetime, reversioning has increased,” comments Raventos.

The primary challenge facing Spanish companies, broadcasters and indies is international sales. Some initial moves have been made. Zeppelin is negotiating its sitcom/hidden camera “Los Canete” format in England, Germany, Portugal and Norway. Its “Inocente, Inocente” is being screened on U.S. Spanish-speaking and Latin American nets.

A heavyweight Spanish TV program distributor, Enrique Uviedo, at production/distribution company Motion Pictures, has increasingly moved into TV productions as the Spanish TV sales market has contracted.

This summer, Michael J. Solomon’s indie sales and distribution company, Solomon Intl. Enterprises (SIE), took a 36% stake in the leading Spanish TV production company, Prime Time Communications (PTC). PTC is headed and 55% owned by Valerio Lazarov, former director general of Tele 5, in which Silvio Berlusconi owns a 25% stake.

Although only six months old, it snagged three juicy production contracts: a 90-minute personality show and 26-episode sitcom with RTVE, both starring Lina Morgan, in addition to a soccer gala award show for Canal Plus Espana. PTC plans, via Soloman, to actively export its product abroad, especially to Latin America. Spain’s upmarket and cash-rich pay-net Canal Plus Espana is now making its first forays into international productions. “The aim is to bring not just money but something Spanish, creative talent or the subject to each deal,” says head of acquisitions Margaret Nicoll.

Among top Antena 3 productions proving their international sales potential is the 13-episode Curro Jimenez miniseries, shot in Uruguay during March and December 1994.

And, anxious to establish its public service credentials, RTVE is returning to miniseries productions. Initiating sales at MIP-TV was the admired “La Regenta” (“The Professor’s Wife”), watched by more than 6 million viewers a night on all its three, weekday screenings in Spain.

At MIP-TV, RTVE announced its participation in the miniseries adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo,” a co-production with the BBC, Italy’s RAI and WGBH in Boston.

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