‘Brother’ still big as others struggle

Webs choose Euro shows but U.S. finds niche

It had to happen. The novelty of reality TV has worn off in Latin America so broadcasters are looking for fresh ways to milk tried-and-true shows like “Big Brother” or are coming up with their own versions and new schemes to bankroll them.

In Argentina, reality shows went on hiatus in the first half of this year but are now back in revitalized forms. In Mexico, broadcasters have cut right back to the core skeins, and in Brazil “Big Brother” still reigns.

But in this cash-strapped continent, no country has gambled on producing its own, original concept with the potential to be picked up worldwide.

The flow of reality shows is still mostly out of Europe, with a very few influenced by Stateside concepts.

These include Mexico’s Artear-Canal 13 skein “Transformaciones” (Transformations), a plastic surgery-based reality skein from U.S. Hispanic net Telemundo that’s similar to “The Swan.”

And in a U.S. vs Euro battle, Endemol is prepping a rival to “The Apprentice,” “El trabajo de tus suenos” (Dream Job), to air in Argentina. The Donald Trump-style entrepreneur has yet to be selected but high-profile real estate mogul and arts patron Eduardo Constantini may fit the bill.

In telenovela-mad Argentina, reality shows have either contributed new talent to these soaps or tapped their actors to participate in them.

But the territory is giving up familiar formats like “The Bar” that ran with high ratings in 2000-03.

“Viewers lost interest” due to a reality overkill,” says Diego Abadie, sales director of production outfit Promofilm.

“Reality is a bad word for advertisers,” Abadie says. “It means risk.”

They remain skittish of risque scenes on “Big Brother” and other round-the-clock formats and couples-in-paradise shows like think “Temptation Island.”

“Without advertisers, it isn’t possible to produce a show, especially as ad spending is still low,” he says.

Instead, producers are developing formats tailored for advertisers.

Promofilm is doing this with “El llamado final” (The Final Call), a show that “Amazing Race” creator Jerry Bruckheimer might find familiar.

It bowed July 18 on Argentina’s second-ranked net Artear-Canal 13. Two pairs — couples, parents, siblings or co-workers — must reach an unknown destination using only a roadmap, a car and a cell phone.

The show is backed by Telecom Personal, the country’s biggest cell phone operator, and cell phone maker Nokia. In effect, it is one long commercial for their products and services.

There are still some traditional formats with twists to attract viewers.

Telefe is airing a “Survivor”-like show with celebrities, “Odisea, en busca del escarabajo dorado” (Odyssey, in Search of the Golden Beetle).

Mexico’s broadcasters have whittled down their reality content to core programs.

Market leader Televisa pacted with Endemol and went berserk over reality TV early on, trying everything from adventure-style formats to pop singer competition “Operacion triunfo.”

Now it is focusing on “Big Brother,” which is by far the top reality show in Mexico. Six installments have run so far — three regular “Big Brother” series and “Big Brother VIP,” using minor celebs instead of regular joes.

“Big Brother VIP 3,” which just ended, kicked up a political storm when it included congressman/former pro boxer Jorge Kahwagi in the house.

TV Azteca claims credit for inventing “La academia,” an “American Idol” clone that includes a training school format.

The first season of “La academia” was Azteca’s most successful show ever, with a 30 ratings for the finale. Two of the stars of that series, Yahir and Myriam, went on to become telenovela actors and recording artists on the Azteca label.

Televisa ran its “Operacion triunfo” against “La academia” — and lost. Televisa claimed that Azteca copied its format and threatened to sue, but nothing came of it.

Both “Brother” and “Academia” will likely continue to run for an additional season or two, but neither broadcaster has unveiled plans for new skeins.Brazil’s leading broadcaster Globo also forged a joint venture with Endemol, and has pulled out all the stops with its “Big Brother” format.

Now on its fourth edition, “Big Brother Brasil” (BBB) is Globo’s highest rated show along with its music talent-studded telenovela, “Celebrity.”

Globo did not take kindly to rival SBT’s similar format “Casa dos artistas,” which featured low-wattage celebs, and sued to get it off the air in 2001. However, “Casa” went on to do three seasons after Globo Endemol failed in its attempts to block it.

Since then, SBT seems to have given up cloning and has acquired the “Pop Idol” format from FremantleMedia and “Protagonistas de novelas” from Argentina’s Promofilm. Winners of “Protagonistas” clinch a role in an SBT telenovela.

Marcelo Cajueiro in Brazil, Ken Bensinger in Mexico and Charles Newbery in Argentina contributed to this report.

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