Launched in only March and topping the ratings by May, “El Show de Videomatch” is the hottest thing on Argentine TV. A cross between “Candid Camera” and “Saturday Night Live,” it’s also that rarity of TV phenoms: the spin-off that proves more successful than its parent.

“Videomatch,” as the original format is called, was launched five seasons ago by leading broadcaster Telefe as a candid camera show for adults. Hosted five nights a week by charismatic former radio host Marcelo Tinelli, the show built an impressive following, despite its midnight to 1 a.m. timeslot.

Soon Tinelli was also hosting the Sunday primetime variety show “Ritmo de la Noche.” And then last March, Telefe execs decided to broaden the “Videomatch” format to include live music and sketches in a two-hour special each Thursday at 10 p.m. – hence “El Show de Videomatch.”

Telefe’s decision to simultaneously retain the original show proved wise. Before the launch of “El Show…,” the midnight program ranked about 30th with an individual rating of 5; now, “advertised” by its Thursday offspring, the older version ranks in the top 15.

Despite recession-prompted belt-tightening, Telefe is rumored to lavish about $200,000 a month on Tinelli, although the shows themselves come in pretty cheap.

With so much cash in hand, 35-year-old Tinelli has built a small production empire – MT Producciones – which generates a daily TV gossipfest “El Paparazzi,” several shows on cable TV and FM radio, plus film coproductions that include a stake in 1993’s enormously successful “Tango Feroz.”

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