Telemundo stirs ‘Passion’ in Spain

Saucy 'Hidden' sudser is summer's TV sleeper

MADRID — The title sequence to telenovela “Hidden Passion” boasts six shots of cowboys, torsos glistening, as they caress beautiful, but bodiced muchachitas.

Aired by private net Antena 3, these bodies have helped made “Passion” Spain’s summer TV sleeper. Some episodes grab 34%-plus shares.

So what? Every few years, a telenovela storms Spain — a country that has blown hot and cold to the Latin American genre, which is usually tucked away in a lowly afternoon slot to appeal to older women.

But the latest sudser surge may not be cyclical and it’s not just one telenovela.

On pubcaster TVE, “Looking for Dad” enjoys above-channel average 22% tune-in. TVE’s readying “Loving the Enemy.”

A3’s “Second Chance” punches 34.5% in its Canary Islands test-bed. Barcelona City TV’s “Eternal Flame” danced up 3.1% daily, a municipal station standout perf.

All five telenovelas are sold by Tepuy, and made by NBC-owned Hispanic broadcaster Telemundo, two with Colombian producer RTI.

In fact, Telemundo’s doing in Spain what it can’t do in the U.S. — beating Univision at its telenovela game.

Univision has long been No. 1 Stateside thanks to its content deal with Mexican TV giant Televisa.

And, until recently, Televisa was a prime source of the genre in Spain.

“Competition between Telemundo, Televisa and Venevision is raising production standards to new levels, including in casting,” says Ele Juarez, Intuition Media prexy.

The face-off is paying off in Spain, opening up telenovelas to wider audiences, and breaking them in as primetime fare.

A strategic re-think has played a part.

“The U.S.’s 30 million Hispanics come from 23 countries. Telemundo-RTI-Tepuy makes telenovelas with no distinct national setting” to appeal to as many viewers as possible, says Tepuy chairman and Telemundo development head Marcos Santana.

“Passion’s” action could occur on the Mexico-U.S. border, or the grasslands of Colombia and Venezuela. Its ranch patio looks more like a U.S. health-spa-cum-golf-course courtyard than a lost-in-the-wilds hacienda. Characters go by the name of Malcolm and Melissa. The cowboys and girls and horses are immaculately groomed.

Spain now has three million Latin American immigrants. But Telemundo appeals beyond the maids-at-ironing-boards brigade to 18-35s who form Antena 3’s core demo.

“Telemundo’s novelas turn on familiar passions, but they’re quicker cut, have more exteriors and laxer morals. The core audience is still housewives and 54+, but there’s a significant youth viewership too,” says Eduardo Garcia Matilla, prexy of research company Corporacion Multimedia.

“Eternal Flame,” turning on a gypsy girl who catches the eye of a rich villager, is half-Spanish, half-U.S. Hispanic. It features nude bathing, beach bonfires, flamenco, aerial shots and much mobile camera work.

Production upticks don’t come cheap.

Per Santana, Telemundo telenovelas cost $60,000-$100,000 an hour, compared to $12,000-$15,000 in Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. International accounts for only 30%-40% of telenovelas’ returns, Santana adds.

So Tepuy’s raising its overseas game in other ways.

It’s co-producing minis with Endemol Spain and BVI Latin America, kicking off with “Pedro Navaja,” about a lowlife assassin.

And it is advising Spain’s inward-looking TV companies on transforming local product into exportable fare.

“Spanish telenovelas can benefit from international know-how,” agrees Arturo Vega, prexy of Spain’s main sudser maker, Europroducciones.

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