Live from Lima, ‘Laura’ airs under house arrest

Despite legal troubles, show still going strong

LIMA — Talkshow hosts may continually seek to push the boundaries of TV decorum and taste, but Peruvian Laura Bozzo is arguably breaking new ground as the first to broadcast from a virtual prison.

Bozzo, the host of “Laura en America,” has been under house arrest since mid-July. She has declared Lima’s Monitor Studios (where her program is produced by Telemundo) as her residence, and has been held there while Peru’s courts wade through numerous accusations lodged against her.

As a result of this, she can only be seen in the U.S.

Peruvian broadcasters have shied away, and local auds have not been able to see the show for nearly two years — unless they are a member of the studio audience.

The case itself is part of the sordid political soap opera that has been playing out in Peru for the past year, when the government of former President Alberto Fujimori began to crumble under corruption charges.

Bozzo is accused of receiving $3 million from former National Security Adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, who himself has been jailed since June 2001.

Among other charges, Montesinos is accused of buying off the owners of Peru’s three largest television networks — Panamericana Television, America Television and Frecuencia Latina. Adding to the political drama, an army general accused of purchasing jewels for Bozzo at Montesinos’ behest committed suicide in early September. And the judge on the case is also investigating former Telemundo journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, who is accused of asking Bozzo for $100,000 on behalf of Montesinos to cover legal fees.

Bozzo denies all the charges and refuses to discuss the case, saying only that her lawyers believe the ordeal will soon be over.

Despite her legal troubles, energy levels at her show are high.

A continuous stream of producers, techies and guests moves through the studios as Bozzo forges ahead with a new format and staffers.

Bozzo has tapped two new producers, Jimena Cantuarias and Veronica Rojas, to help refine the program, focusing it more on social issues affecting women, such as teenage motherhood and domestic abuse. They have also redesigned the set to give it a more “homey” feel.

“The show is now run only by women. The changes will bring us even closer to our public,” Bozzo told Variety.

A lawyer elected to the Lima City Council in 1993, Bozzo began her TV career in 1996 hosting a legal show for women, “Las mujeres tienen la palabra.”

She caught the attention of leading net Panamericana TV, which launched her “reality” talkshow in 1997.

In 1998, Bozzo moved to the America TV, which launched “Laura en America” in February 1998.

Telemundo introduced Laura to U.S. auds in January 2000.

The popularity of “Laura” grew enough for Telemundo to pit the Peruvian import directly against Univision’s long-running locally produced talker “El show de Cristina” in April 2000. By 2001, Telemundo had taken over the Lima-based production, and Sony Intl. Television (formerly CTIT) has been handling overseas sales.

Laura’s legal travails haven’t had much impact on her U.S. ratings: She remains strong in her afternoon slot, with a 39% national Hispanic household share in August.

This despite criticism of Bozzo for crudeness, the most egregious example of which was a program where a woman licked a bodybuilder’s sweaty armpits for the equivalent of $20.

Bozzo dismisses the charges, saying she shows the crudeness of reality.

“There are journalists who criticize me, saying that what we show is disgusting. My response is that they should be disgusted that this reality exists and no one is doing anything to change it,” she says.

Critics also accuse her of using the show for political purposes, hosting programs in early 2000 to attack political rivals of then-president Fujimori.

One show focused on allegations that then-candidate Alejandro Toledo had fathered an illegitimate child. The case continues to haunt Peru’s current president.

Operating under house arrest, Bozzo has now taped 30 programs, including a tribute to the survivors of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which aired Sept. 11, 2002. Survivors were flown from New York to Lima to appear with Bozzo.

Bozzo attributes her success to her pushing the envelope. “We discuss issues and show things that others don’t want to touch. I would say that I’m an anti-television figure, because I say what needs to be said.”

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