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Telemundo preps U.S. telenovelas

First project will be Dallas-set 'Silencio'

MIAMI — Spanish-lingo broadcaster Telemundo is prepping a spring slate of three original telenovelas, including a first with Fremantle.

First out of the box will be the Dallas-set and -produced “La ley del silencio” (Law of Silence), under the auspices of Fremantle Prods. Latin America.

The other two are “Los plateados,” a period novela from its Mexican production partner, Argos Comunicacion; and a family-oriented soap with the working title “Frijol.”

Over the past few years Fremantle has expanded beyond nonfiction formats and games into primetime sudsers, the mainstay of Latin American and U.S. Hispanic primetime television.

“La ley” also is Telemundo’s first novela to be shot in high-definition format.

“La ley” has been in the works for more than a year, since Fremantle “brought the proposal to us,” says Telemundo exec veep of programming and production Ramon Escobar.

The Miami-based topper of Fremantle Prods. Latin America, Carlos Gonzalez, says the treatment was inspired by the true story of an American priest to whom a parishioner confessed that he had killed someone, but that another man was jailed for the crime.

As with other production partners, “all the development goes through Telemundo,” Escobar says. “The story and structure are managed and approved by Telemundo.”

But Fremantle is overseeing the production in Dallas, and its team includes former Televisa soap producer Carlos Sotomayor, who is now the head of novelas for Fremantle. Outside his experience on multiple Mexican soaps, Sotomayor “was in charge of five English-language novelas produced by Televisa and Fox Networks, which gave him a vast knowledge and understanding of the U.S. Hispanic audience,” Gonzalez says.

Mexican thesp Jose Angel Llamas toplines “La ley”; Flora Martinez, Rodrigo de la Rosa and Julio Bracho round out the cast.

Also in March, Telemundo will bow period novela “Los plateados” (Silverados), set in turn-of-the-20th-century Mexico. “It’s a mix of Robin Hood and Zorro,” Escobar says.

“Los Plateados” will mark the return of Mexican novela heartthrob Mauricio Islas, who was wooed away from Televisa.

The third soap, “Frijol,” marks the first novela production for Telemundo by Buenos Aires-headquartered Promofilms, a division of Spain’s Grupo Arbol, which specializes in format creation and execution, working through Latin American and Spain. Promofilms has previously produced reality-based shows for Telemundo.

“Frijo” centers around a 5-year-old boy who is devoted to his struggling, single mother who finds a new love.

Starring all Mexican leads — Litzy, Mauricio Ochmann and young Alejandro Flores — it will be filmed on Buenos Aires soundstages and an under-construction back lot, a sign of the compelling cost structure that Argentina can offer.

Since novelas run as daily strips for four to six months, Spanish-lingo TV is not defined by season like its English-language counterparts. Still, “the timing is good as we head into upfront,” Escobar says. “We can demonstrate our strategy of producing our own programming made for the U.S. Hispanic audience.”

Telemundo still lags Univision in ratings by a significant margin. But Escobar vows Telemundo’s strategy will pay off.

“We’ve laid the foundation … and we’re now in such a great position going forward,” Escobar says.

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