WB Intl., HBO ink Azteca deal for sitcom

HOLLYWOOD — “Martin” is going Latino. Warner Bros. Intl. TV Prods. and HBO Independent Prods. have inked a format deal with TV Azteca giving the Mexican broadcaster the right to produce a Spanish-lingo version of the TV sitcom.

“Martin,” which toplined Martin Lawrence, ran for five seasons (from 1992-’96) on the Fox network and is now in offnet syndication in the U.S. In Latin America, it has aired on the satellite-delivered Sony Entertainment Channel.

The format deal is indicative of the growing emphasis Hollywood studios’ are placing on finding new ways to exploit their programming. U.S. sitcoms in particular often prove a hard sell abroad, so deals to localize them are likely to proliferate, international execs say.

The series’ original producer, HBO Independent Prods., will supply TV Azteca with scripts of “Martin” episodes that will be translated, adapted and then produced in Spanish. The initial order calls for 26 episodes to be “locally versioned,” with production skedded to begin later this month at TV Azteca’s studios in Mexico City.

TV Azteca will handle initial TV distribution in Mexico, Central and South America and the U.S. Hispanic market. Warner Bros. Intl. TV Distribution will license the series throughout the rest of the world, including Spain.

“We have been interested in doing a format deal like this one since establishing Warner Bros. Intl. TV Prods. a few years ago,” WBITP senior VP Catherine Malatesta, who negotiated the deal on behalf of the studio, said.

The project, which marks WBITP’s first format deal in conjunction with its sister company HBO Independent Prods. and its first such deal with a Latin partner, was unveiled Tuesday.

“We’ve wanted to find a pipeline to the Spanish-language market, and have long held the belief that ‘Martin’ could be the key to our entree,” HBO Independent Prods. exec VPs Lowell Mate and Russell Schwarz said in a statement.

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