No replacement named yet for Islas

Mauricio Islas, the lead actor in “La Prisionera,” a top-rated primetime telenovela on NBC-owned Hispanic net Telemundo, was arrested in Miami on Thursday charges of having sex with an underage actress on the skein.

The show remains in production, but Telemundo has not clarified who, if anyone, will replace Islas.

“We take this matter very seriously,” said Telemundo spokesman Tom Goodman. “The investigation is under way; therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment further. Mauricio is on a leave of absence at this time.”

The 31-year-old Mexican heartthrob has been at the center of controversy since he defected to Telemundo from leading Mexican broadcaster Televisa earlier this year. Telemundo shelled out $1 million to extract Islas from his contract with Televisa.

The Mexican conglom filed an injunction in the U.S. against Telemundo, claiming that the Miami-based net negotiated with Islas without Televisa’s approval. A Miami court rejected the injunction and allowed Islas to work on the soap, which bowed in March. In June, Televisa filed a $1 million breach of contract lawsuit in Mexico against Islas.

The Islas incident comes at a time when Telemundo has been gaining ground in the ratings war with market leader Univision.

In New York alone, Telemundo beat Univision in primetime Monday-Friday in July, according to Nielsen Media Research. Telemundo 47 in New York reported a 68% surge in audience compared to last year, with a 2.4% rating/4 share. Rival Univision 41 dipped 30%, with a 2.1% rating/3 share.

Telenovelas have been at the vanguard of Telemundo’s programming charge, many produced in Miami. Since NBC acquired the second-ranking net for $3 billion in October 2001, it has restructured its programming and production departments. Telemundo invested $30 million in primetime production last year and announced plans to double its budget this year.

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