Telemundo makes mark

Net ramps up original U.S. programming

MIAMI — Staying the course of original programming made for U.S. Hispanic auds, Telemundo is adding some big names to its production dance card.

The Spanish-language broadcaster will co-produce primetime telenovela “Zorro: La espada y la rosa” (Zorro: The Sword and the Rose), with Sony Pictures Intl. Television, which makes its first foray in the U.S. Hispanic market.

And in some savvy synergy, Telemundo will launch “Deal or No Deal,” the Endemol gamer that’s been a huge hit for parent NBC Universal, on Sunday nights. The adaptation of the gamer is also Endemol’s U.S. Spanish-language debut.

During a press call to discuss the upfront, Telemundo prexy Don Browne acknowledged that at last year’s presentation, held a month after he had taken over the helm, “Ratings were headed in the wrong direction.”

The network emerged from that ratings trough, reporting year-over-year gains for the past eight months. In April, it claimed an average 26% share of weekday primetime auds aged 18-49 and 18-34, vs. a combined 74% share for the Univision and Telefutura networks.

Steve Mandala, senior VP of sales and marketing for Telemundo and NBC Universal Networks, said much of the gains have come at the expense of the Univision network. He noted Telemundo has also now unseated Univision-owned Telefutura to regain the No. 2 spot among Spanish-language daytime viewing.

Novelas still dominate Telemundo’s weeknight primetime from 7 to 10 p.m. (the 10 p.m. slot remains anchored by the dramatic anthology series, inspired by real stories, “Decisiones,” which was a last-minute replacement last May for a bombing sudser).

Upcoming productions include “Marina,” made with Mexico’s Argos, adapting from the script of one of the most successful novelas made by Mexico’s Televisa (“The Rich Also Cry”); and Telemundo-RTI production “Madre Luna,” about an older woman and younger man.

Miami-based novela productions include “Dame chocolate” (Give Me Chocolate), about a woman who finds her chocolate recipe is her unsophisticated family’s ticket to the good life in the United States, and “Blanco’s Widow.”

“Zorro,” to be produced in Colombia by SPTI, Zorro Prods. and Telemundo-RTI, is based on the novel by Isabel Allende and aimed for a midseason bow.

“Zorro” is a major move by SPTI, which has been making Latin-style primetime sudsers in Russia for several years (sister divisions are behind U.S. afternoon soaps “The Young & the Restless” and “Days of our Lives”).

“We’ve really wanted to get into the telenovela genre in a serious way,” Brendan Fitzgerald senior VP of international production, told Daily Variety. “It represents a big shift away from the sitcom remake business,” for which SPTI has become better known in Latin America, particularly in the Southern Cone.

At the same time, “It’s an important objective for us to be producing in the U.S. Hispanic market,” he said.

SPTI hopes to do sudsers for Latin America but will focus for now on “Zorro,” which will shoot in HD, Fitzgerald said.

Weekends

Saturday nights, Telemundo will take aim at Univision’s long-running, three-hour variety show “Sabado gigante,” where senior exec VP of network entertainment Ramon Escobar sees an opportunity.

“It’s a tired show that’s been on for a long time,” Escobar said.

Telemundo will launch family-friendly variety-gamer “El Gran Show,” to air 7 to 9 p.m. A 13-part series produced in Argentina will feature eight teams drawn from around the United States to compete for a grand prize.

Aiming to fuel “Deal or No Deal” fever among U.S. Spanish speakers, Telemundo will bow “Vas o no vas” on weekends at 9:30 p.m. Endemol USA Latino will produce in Mexico with the host of the Argentine version, Hector Sandarti, tapped for U.S. Hispanic duties. (A Mexican version airs on Televisa.)

“We’ve been discussing the possibility of producing shows for Telemundo for a couple of years,” said David Goldberg, president-CEO of Endemol USA. “If the show performs as well as it has around the world, it should be a good development for Telemundo and hopefully is the beginning of a long and successful partnership.”

Also Sundays, Telemundo will add Miami-produced comedy series “Seguro y urgente” (Urgent and Guaranteed), about the adventures of a special-delivery postman.

Daytime

Telemundo and controversial daytime talkshow host Laura Bozzo recently parted ways after six years. “Laura” is still airing in reruns through the summer, but come September, Telemundo shakes up the weekday afternoon lineup.

It will introduce an original novela to the 1 p.m. timeslot, beginning with “Cuatro rosas.” Courtshow “Caso cerrado” moves up to 2 p.m., leading into a new L.A.-based gamer made with Promofilms, “Buena Fortuna,” at 3 p.m. and dating show “12 corazones” at 4 p.m.

Original productions are key to developing other sales revenue and to creating multimedia opportunities, Mandala said.

Via the Internet partnership with Yahoo! announced just last week, Telemundo will direct viewers from the TV to the site, where they will be able to vote on — and watch — alternative novela endings online, he said.

And with VOD offerings like the now-defunct “Laura,” “that’s an area we’re looking to build out,” Mandala said.

Upfront included revamped pay TV network mun2, a bilingual feevee aimed at 12-34 demo, which highlighted half-hour “The Chicas Project,” hosted by two gals, 19, who weigh in on music, fashion and more from Southern California; the L.A.-produced dating show “Hecho en Heaven,” and monthly movie showcase “Have U Cine?,” which will feature thesps and others weighing in during commercial breaks.

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