Talent show will air primetime on Cuatro

Startup Spanish broadcaster Cuatro is launching a local version of U.K. talent show hit, “The X-Factor.”

Produced by Grundy Prods., the Spanish unit of FremantleMedia, “Factor X” starts casting today in Barcelona. It will air primetime on Cuatro.

Series, which has local versions in Australia, Belgium, Turkey, Russia and Colombia, is being pitched in Spain as a latest-generation talent show, with two contests for solo singers and a band category.

One of the largest challenges for Spain will be to adapt a show whose success in the U.K. depends as much on the personalities of the judges as the talent of the singers.

The withering sarcasm of judge Simon Cowell is a staple of public life in Britain. Many Spaniards, however, find public putdowns cruel.

But the last season of “Operacion Triunfo” — Spain’s “Fame Academy” — gained notoriety and a sizeable ratings bump from the insults of one judge, Risto Mejide.

“Singing like that, you wouldn’t fill an old people’s home,” Mejide told contestant Jose Antonio.

The fact that “Factor X” will bow on Cuatro, a boutique channel with a 7.5% audience share, rather than on dominant broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 with 18%-20% shares, is symptomatic of the state of reality TV in Spain.

Spanish production house Gestmusic originated “Operacion Triunfo” — released in the U.S. as “The One: Making a Music Star” — by melding “Big Brother” and “Pop Idol.”

Its first season on TVE averaged 44% over 2001-02. It latest — which aired on Telecinco — averaged 21.4% and 2.5 million viewers.

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