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Spanish thriller finds audience

Missing daughter drama defies expectations

MADRID Spain has sacred traditions: fiestas, futbol … fall fiction flops.

But one newbie’s bucking the trend. Bowing Oct. 3 on pubcaster RTVE’s flagship TVE 1, missing daughter thriller “Desaparecida” is the best-rating original Spanish rookie, clawing a 17.4% share in November, pipping TVE 1’s usual 17.2% share.

No mean achievement in Spain where hit local series run year in and year out: Telecinco’s local drama, the “ER”-ish “Hospital Central” (25.6%), bowed 1999.

The low hit rate for frosh skeins also underscores Spanish TV’s curse. It’s not that broadcasters are doing badly. The problem’s that commercial broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 TV are doing so well.

Despite eroding share, the duo punched first nine-month profits of E262.8 million ($385.4 million) and $174.7 million respectively. Pubcasters’ ad shortfalls are shored up by state bailouts.

So moolah-wise, there’s no desperate need to evolve, despite building audience seachange.

“Most Spanish series seem conceived for an age when all new series worked. That no longer holds. Spanish society’s changing,” says Eduardo Garcia Matilla, prexy of research company Multimedia Corp.

Real innovation will come when young TV creatives get to run a show and management gives them their head. Both have happened on “Desaparecida.”

Produced by Madrid’s Ganga, “Desaparecida’s” showrunner is 31-year-old Ramon Campos who cut his teeth writing “The Laws of Celavella,” an Agatha Christie-ish rural mystery drama, and creating drama, “Life Ahead,” a tale of fisherman’s widow.

The average age of “Desaparecida’s” screenwriters is 30, says Campos. The series was nurtured by TVE fiction topper David Martinez, who is in his early 30s. Skein’s directors include Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo, whose “The Night of the Sunflowers,” was one of last year’s best feature debuts.

Breakthrough ’90s Spanish fiction portrayed the comfortingly familiar foibles and fixations of Iberian life.

“We’ve all learnt from these series. But now we’ve got to go beyond them. RTVE’s trying to do something different,” says Campos.

Turning on a cute 18-year-old girl who never returns from a night out, “Desaparecida’s” a painful family drama.

Shot in HD, the crime investigation drops clues, plows false trails and gains new momentum in the best Stateside tradition.

” ‘Desaparecida’ has a serialized, almost ‘Twin Peaks’ intrigue, which is an innovation,” says Garcia Matilla.

But it won’t outstay its welcome. First season wraps mid-December with the case partially solved, Campos says.

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