Indie producers unleashing telenovelas

Global demand sparks surge in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Fueled by growing demand from global networks, indie producers in Mexico are pushing out of the telenovela genre.

In the past year, at least half a dozen shingles have sprung up, including TV arms of indie film outfits Lemon Films and Canana Films.

This year, Argos produced HBO Latin America Group’s first Mexican series, women’s prison drama “Capadocia.” Drama will air next year with episodes helmed by top-notch Mexican film directors including Carlos Carrera and Javier “Fox” Patron.

Luis Peraza, HBO Latin America VP of original production, says the feevee aims to produce at least two series a year in Mexico. But he notes the speed of indie companies isn’t up to the demands of TV.

“It took four years to develop and complete ‘Capadocia,’ ” says Peraza.

Televisa also has begun to open up its closed shop to indie producers, and companies are prepping more content aimed for digital outlets.

“The competition is going to be ferocious,” says Edgardo Mejia, head of Lemon TV, which is developing projects for Sony and Warner Bros.

Argentina, a smaller market than Mexico, has a booming indie TV scene with hundreds of companies. But production in Mexico has been dominated by the inhouse output of Televisa and, since the 1990s, its smaller commercial rival TV Azteca.

Mexico’s indie TV scene has had its fits and starts. HipTV and Argos made an attempt last decade, but HipTV washed out and Argos began producing telenovelas for export to air Stateside on Telemundo. Now it is back producing telenovelas for TV Azteca as Telemundo prepares its own studio in Mexico.

Meanwhile, a host of series are in development that are different from the telenovela and variety shows that dominate production in Mexico.

Canana, founded by Mexican thesps Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and producer Pablo Cruz, has been prepping “Ruta 32,” a series of one-hour films set to air on MTV Latin America that take a hip look at life outside Mexico City.

Upstart film and TV shingle Vitamina is developing a series based on the family of a sexologist, a “Nip/Tuck” meets “Desperate Housewives,” says Avelino Rodriguez, one of the founders. It is also developing a toon based on Mexican wrestler “The Blue Demon” for Fox.

“We are looking to the next generation and aiming to provide higher quality shows. There are new windows and forums for this kind of content,” says Rodriguez.

Nickelodeon’s first local production, tween comedy “Skimo,” is shooting its fourth season. Televisa and other free-to-airs across the region have picked up the series. Skein was produced by Macias Group, an ad company with no prior experience in series.

Televisa is also turning to outside producers. Mexico’s burgeoning toon factory Anima Estudios is cranking out the second season of the animated remake of kid’s classic “El chavo del 8” for Televisa. Toon has been a hit throughout Latin America.

Televisa’s new block of series is a further driving force.

Earlier this year, the telenovela factory unveiled its first four U.S.-style series. Lemon produced horror series “Thirteen Fears” for Televisa’s first line-up, which bowed in spring. The other three 13-episode skeins were produced within Televisa.

Other companies have been gaming to break in on the second season of the web’s series, due out early next year.

Among the lot, long-time Televisa exec and Endemol Mexico chief Pedro Torres is developing a series with “Sex, Shame & Tears” helmer Antonio Serrano.

But Mexico’s indie scene is going to remain a niche market as long as Televisa and TV Azteca produce the lion’s share of their hours inhouse.

Telemundo’s bid to enter Mexico could give the industry a boost — if regulators ever allow the NBC-Universal-owned web into the market.

The powerful Vasquez Rana family purchased Canal 28 last year and aim to win a broadcast license and turn the Mexico City UHF station into a national net that would need more content.

Pols could also make a mark. Lawmakers are debating an overhaul of media laws that could make it easier for new broadcast companies to enter the market as well as impose requirements on local broadcasters to buy indie product, as Venezuela has.

Argos founder Epigmenio Ibarra, who made a splash in the 1990s with more sophisticated telenovelas, is skeptical any of that will happen soon.

“We are a long ways from an independent boom,” Ibarra says. “The best we have right now is being an off-shore factory for global networks, fabricating the output they want.”

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