'Amores,' 'Familia,' 'Silencio' among slated projects

MIAMI — No. 2 Spanish-lingo net Telemundo is investing some $100 million in original novela and reality programming this year as it tries to woo viewers from market leader Univision.

From mid-May through the end of 2003, Telemundo will air a total of 600 hours of original productions — including several made at a new Miami facility — up from just 200 hours in the same period last year.

During a conference call with reporters to discuss the upfront, Telemundo president and CEO Jim McNamara said Tuesday he’s “refining the strategy” with programming that uses U.S. locations and stories that reflect the local experience. He said he’s also trying to entice the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who make up the majority of the population and audience.

Given that Spanish-lingo TV is the hottest sector in the market today, McNamara anticipates a record year for Telemundo — and for rival Univision.

He anticipates double-digit growth over Telemundo’s upfront take of $210 million last year.

Peacock integration

Under NBC ownership since last year, the Telemundo sales team is now integrated with its parent’s.

On the screen, “the big NBC synergy is the Olympics,” McNamara said. “Telemundo will air over 100 hours in August of 2004.”

The net will focus on soccer, baseball and boxing, and some track-and-field competitions in which Hispanics or Latinos have a visible presence. “Most events will be broadcast live from midday to about 8 p.m.,” he said.

Telemundo’s sports department has already been working with NBC to produce boxing for the Peacock web.

NBC is leading the efforts to buy more stations to increase Telemundo’s coverage. It currently reaches about 91% of U.S. Hispanics, vs. 97% for Univision’s flagship net and 75% for its second net, Telefutura.

While Telemundo has been running promos for the Peacock web, the two are still working out cross-promotion in the other direction, which McNamara said will likely manifest itself on a station level in major markets like New York and Los Angeles.

Telemundo is also exploring the possibility of repurposing some NBC programs; it did so with “Kingpin” — though with less success than it had hoped for.

Event coverage related to the NBC relationship has already included the Hispanic Heritage Awards, the Golden Globes and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. McNamara said NBC News helped Telemundo cover the war in Iraq.

New novelas

As part of the upfront, Telemundo unveiled several original primetime novelas for weekdays, though it will continue to air acquired product as well.

“Amores del Mercado” (Barrio Love) is an adaptation of a novela script inspired by “The Prince and the Pauper” and will be produced by Telemundo with its partner RTI at a new facility in Miami and on location in nearby Homestead, Fla.

Also in Miami, Telemundo-RTI will produce “Medico de Familia” (Family Doctor), based on an established format that has been a hit in Latin and Euro markets. “La Ley del Silencio” (The Vow of Silence), filming in Houston, is a murder mystery revolving around a young priest and a social worker.

With its partner, Mexican producer Argos, Telemundo will co-produce in Mexico “Alma Herida” (Wounded Soul). Based on an existing script, the soap will be updated with the central drama turning on a woman who crosses the border from Mexico into the U.S. — and returns after a 20-year absence.

McNamara acknowledged that a co-production accord with Brazil’s TV Globo is in the “post-analysis phase,” but he remains committed to working with the Brazilian powerhouse, a leading producer of novelas. Telemundo will continue to air Globo Portuguese-lingo product dubbed into Spanish.

In the reality realm, Telemundo’s talent competish will return as “Protagonistas de la Fama,” pitting actors, singers and dancers against one another.

Telemundo is putting its own spin on the “Bachelor/Bachelorette” format with “La Cenecienta” (Cinderella), in which 20 suitors will woo one woman who will be aided by the input of her mother, father, brother and best friend.

On weekends, the net is introducing miniseries, including “Rumberas,” about a woman who becomes a performer in 1940s Veracruz, and biopic “Zapata,” starring Demian Bichir as the Mexican revolutionary. Both are co-productions with Argos.

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