Spaniards passionate about sudser

Telenovela heats up the ratings

MADRID — Smash hit telenovela “Pasion de Gavilanes” (Hidden Passion) bowed out Jan. 19 in Spain with its final episode hitting a 27% share.

Nothing strange in that: airing in Spain’s siesta time from 3.45 p.m, the Telemundo/TPI production has punched a season’s average of 24%.

The novelty was that commercial broadcaster Antena 3 aired the finale in primetime: 27% for a weekday, 10 p.m.-11 p.m., is a strong showing.

The end episode’s 5.3 million viewers made “Passion” the fourth-highest rating show of last week, only bested by neighbors farce “Aqui no hay quien viva” (33%, 6.2 million), police procedural “The Commissioner” (29%, 5.4 million) and “CSI: Miami” (27%, 5.3 million).

Telenovela don’t play primetime in Spain. But “Passion” is no ordinary Latino soap. Its hunky cowboys and babelicious cowgirls have altered Spain concept about what makes the genre tick.

Naysayers will say that there are simply more immigrants in Spain: some four-to-five million. But there may be more to “Pas-sion,” which catches the eye.

“There’s more flesh, less misfortune,” opined Spain’s most read daily newsie El Pais on Sunday, praising the protags’ insistence on the need to take frequent showers.

The success of “Passion” may reflect U.S. input: “The collaboration in production of U.S. producer Telemundo has influenced the look of the novela and the attractiveness of its actors,” said Carlos Arnanz, head of research at Spanish audience research company Corporacion Multimedia.

As with many big hits, “Passion” has morphed into a sked builder and sociological phenomenon.

Just as Telecinco streams excerpts and analysis of “Big Brother” through its sked, Antena 3 tapped cowboy Michel Brown to present its New Year’s Eve Gala and host gameshow “I’m For You.” “Passion’s” title song “Who’s That Man?” tops Spanish charts.

Brown was paid the ultimate compliment of being taken off on Spain’s hip latenight comedy yakker “Buenafuente.” He hosts couples gameshow “I’m Gunning For You.”

In a TV commercial, Brown, Juan Alfonso Baptista and Lorena Meritano ride horseback into a Corte Ingles, Spain’s leading department store, to tubthump its January sales: An insinuation to consumers that, when it comes to savvy consumerism, “Pas-sion” shows the way.

Spain’s middle classes have traditionally turned their noses up at telenovelas as a third-world opiate of the masses. Hence the soaps’ consignment to after-lunch hours when Spain’s educated women are out at work.

After this, Spain’s resistance to soaps, especially among key 18-54 adult demos, will never be quite the same.

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