MyNet counts on telenovelas to fill programming pipeline

Launch set for Sept. 5 with 'Fashion House,' 'Desire'

Nature abhors a vacuum, even in the world of network TV. So when the merger of UPN and the WB left stations across the nation networkless, Fox swooped in with a new web called MyNetworkTV.

Despite its name, MyNet deviates significantly from the traditional broadcast network model. Instead of offering a grid full of weekly dramas and sitcoms, it is focused exclusively on telenovelas, offering two fresh hours of sudsy serials each weeknight with recaps on Saturday.

The net launches Sept. 5 with “Fashion House,” a story about rival designers starring Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild, and “Desire,” about two brothers on the run from the mob who fall in love with the same woman.

Launching a network is no simple task — especially when the opportunity comes about because of consolidation. But MyNet execs say the format and approach make financial sense in terms of production, promotion and affiliates.

“We felt it was important that since the model for those two networks didn’t work over a 10-year period, that to go back in and repeat that made no sense,” says Jack Abernethy, CEO Fox Television Stations.

From a production standpoint, Abernethy says the network achieves economies of scale and shared resources that keep the cost down and the production value high. “There are enormous efficiencies to be had in shooting three shows (“Fashion House,” “Watch Over Me,” “Art of Betrayal”) at the same time,” he says.

Abernethy also says it’s easier to promote two skeins airing six nights a week than as many as a dozen shows on different nights. “We looked at it really from the stations’ perspective: ‘Give us a network we can market around, that is consistent and doesn’t change from night to night,'” Abernethy says.

The net also gains a marketing and production boost from shooting in high definition, allowing it to claim the mantle of the nation’s first all-HD broadcast network.

Getting audiences to tune in to a serial format popular the world over but largely unknown to most American viewers is a big challenge.

“There is going to be an education process for viewers to watch these shows, but we hope that education process has already started because of reality programming,” says Paul Buccieri, production prexy for Twentieth TV.

The success of “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “American Idol” have established with U.S. auds the finite story arc common to telenovelas.

“What made people interested in reality shows was that you got to quickly know characters and it quickly built to an end, which made it more interesting and compelling,” Abernethy says. With each telenovela running a finite 65 episodes, anything can happen by the final episode.

The shows also draw on American TV conventions and trends, from primetime soaps such as “Dynasty,” “Dallas” and “Melrose Place” to the highly serialized drama of “24,” Buccieri says.

Although the network already has created more than 3,000 individual pieces of content for the Internet, including confessionals and prequel shorts, Buccieri says the focus for now is on broadcast. “This network is for our affiliates, and we want to embrace them first,” Buccieri says.

Defining success for the network will be a work in progress. Execs say they are taking a long-term view and expect the net’s audience to grow. Women 18-49 are the likely early adopters, but telenovelas overseas have developed large male audiences.

“We know that something like this is going to take some time,” Buccieri says. “But what we think we have to our advantage is we are not promoting anywhere from 10 to 12 to as many as 15 different shows. We’re promoting a concept, a format, two shows, and we’re singularly focused on that.”

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