Historical dramas draw big auds

Spain’s past — one that features inept rulers, grinding poverty and senseless slaughter — might seem to be the last thing the nation’s TV viewers would want to watch.

But perhaps amid the current economic crisis, those feel like the good old days.

Historical series, minis and made-fors — commonplace programming on nets in Europe and Asia — have finally caught on in Spain, and have been building ratings popularity over the past few years. Pubcaster TVE’s 17th-century-set swashbuckler “Red Eagle” has been the No. 1 fiction series since its 2009 bow, nabbing an average 29 share.

Other hits include Catalan broadcaster TV3′s medieval-set “Ermessenda,” which averages a 22.3 share, and post-Spanish Civil War drama “The Voices of the Panamo,” with a 21.4. TV3′s normal share is between 13 and 15.

The trend shows no sign of stopping. Ovideo TV recently announced miniseries “Almodis,” about fratricidal 11th-century Barcelona Count Berenguer Ramon II.

Broadcaster Antena 3 unveiled medieval adventure series “Toledo,” and the Globomedia-produced “Moon,” set in a benighted Victorian village. Antena 3 also has in production “In the Heart of the Ocean,” a 1550-set New World woman’s drama, and “El tiempo entre costuras,” charting colonial romance and espionage in 1940s North Africa.

TVE’s biggest 2012 fiction bet, bowing in February, is “Isabel,” a series about the monarch who financed Columbus’ voyage in 1492. Two minis — “Barcelona, Neutral City,” set during WWI; and French Resistance drama “We Shall Return” — will air on TV3.

Once “Red Eagle” soared in the ratings, other broadcasters have lined up to cash in, says TV analyst Eduardo Garcia Matilla.

Even though the Spanish TV market took a 6% hit in ad revs in the first half of 2011, film producers see TV as a safe haven in Spain, where quotas for broadcaster investment in local film production have been reduced to just 3% of nets’ annual revenues. TV producers are guaranteed 15% of a show’s budget as payment for producing, and share international rights with broadcasters.

“Ermessenda” and “The Voices of the Panamo” are produced by Ovideo and Oberon, respectively, both once better known as movie producers.

Matilla warns that Spain’s historical boom risks saturation. One solution is to hike budgets and spectacle via international co-production. Antena 3 has already boarded mini “Titanic: Blood and Steel,” alongside Italian pubcaster RAI and Germany’s Tandem Communication.

“We’re studying other international period co-productions,” says Sonia Martinez, Antena 3′s head of fiction. “There’s a clear opening here that we want to explore.” n

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