20th gets soaped up

Telenovelas will be formatted for U.S. distribution

Twentieth TV is betting U.S. viewers will desire telenovela titillation as much as global auds do.

The company on Tuesday unveiled “Desire,” a newly fashioned franchise of multiple English-language telenovelas formatted from Latin American originals, which will launch in domestic syndication next year.

Announcement, marking the first time telenovelas will be reversioned in English specifically for the U.S. market, was made Tuesday by Twentieth Television prexy-CEO Bob Cook and studio production prexy Paul Buccieri.

A minimum of three telenovelas per year (65 episodes each) will be formatted for U.S. distribution by Twentieth under the “Desire” banner.

“This is an interesting new chapter in syndication, a whole new approach with a romantic genre that we wanted to get in on first,” Cook told Daily Variety. (Action hours have not done well in syndication in the last few years, but Cook and company insist this new genre has significant potential.)

First up is “Table for Three,” from Colombia’s Caracol, and the Cuban serial “Fashion House,” from Miami’s Xystus. A third one will be finalized shortly. The first two will be produced in San Diego.

Reconfigured in a story arc embracing 65 one-hour episodes, each “Desire” serial will be stripped Monday-Friday over 13 weeks, after which a new drama will launch.

Presumably the episodes will be produced for somewhat less than network soaps like “All My Children” or “General Hospital,” which cost about $250,000 an episode. (Twentieth would not comment on production costs.)

“Desire” has been cleared on the Fox owned-and-operated TV station group, repping 45% of the country, and will likely air in afternoon or latenight slots on those outlets.

Twentieth will offer “Desire” to stations in other markets at the upcoming NATPE convention in January. Series will be sold on a cash plus barter basis, with 10½ local spots against 3½ for national ads.

Buccieri said “Desire” will embody “network-quality production values, strong on-air talent and performances, guided by captivating storylines built around conflict, with each episode ending with a cliff-hanger.” He added that the first novela has already been cast, and includes a couple of bilingual actors who have worked in Latin telenovelas.

“Table for Three” (originally entitled “Mesa Para Tres”) chronicles the destruction of a family and the bonds of brotherhood when two siblings become embroiled in a battle of passion, betrayal and love over the same woman.

“Fashion House” (Salir de Noche) delves into the glamorous yet unscrupulous world of the fashion industry and how greed, lust and ambition make or break careers and hearts in that biz.

A global programming phenom, telenovelas have 2 billion viewers in 100 countries. Twentieth sister division Fox Intl. TV will have worldwide rights to these English-language series.

In the U.S., telenovelas rank in the top 10 programs among Hispanic viewers and comprise nearly 90% of Univision’s and Telemundo’s primetime schedules. Recently, Univision’s primetime telenovelas outperformed all other U.S. English-language networks in the women 18-34 and women 18-49 demos.

Aside from “Desire,” Twentieth is set to launch “Cristina’s Court,” a court show hosted by Cristina Perez, at NATPE.

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