NBCU cabler makes move into reality

NBCUniversal cabler Mun2 is going after a big fish with its latest original series, bounty-hunter reality skein “Fugitivos de la Ley: Los Angeles.”

The cabler that blends Spanish- and English-lingo programming is hoping to reach beyond its Latino niche and appeal more broadly to fans of gritty law enforcement reality shows. Think “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “Cops.”

“Fugitivos” follows a team of federal agents led by former Marine Luis Fernandez who are tasked with hunting down bail jumpers and other fugitives in the L.A. area. The show incorporates reenactments to detail the background of the cases that spark each pursuit.

Mun2 has ordered 24 hourlong episodes of “Fugitivos,” which is an ambitious production for the cabler. The series, which bows Jan. 13 at 8 p.m., is an example of Mun2′s effort to program more original weekly skeins in primetime, in contrast to the telenovela strip sudser formats that are a staple of Spanish-lingo TV. And it’s a sign that NBCUniversal brass are making good on promises to invest more in programming and marketing for the Peacock’s Spanish-lingo media assets.

“This is a reality great way to bring action and reality to our schedule,” said Flavio Morales senior veep of programming and production, of “Fugitivos.” “We can position this type of show not just for one audience. This show can attract the Spanish-dominant viewers as well as English-dominant.”

An earlier incarnation of “Fugitivos” aired on smaller domestic Spanish-lingo broadcast network Azteca America. Mun2 initially licensed the rerun rights to those episodes, which performed consistently well for the cabler.

Morales and Moises Velez, Mun2 exec in charge of production, reached out to exec producer Lou Pizarro to order new episodes. A bigger budget and broader scope allowed Mun2 to put its stamp on the show from Pizarro’s EGA Prods., Velez said.

One element that was crucial to Mun2 was the portrayal of Fernandez and his team — comprised of ex-cop Roman Morales, former Marine Jason Rouswell, bail enforcement agent Monique Covarrubias and firefighter Roman de la Torre — as professionals who help take dangerous felons off the street.

“In many shows the only portrayal of Latino characters are in a negative context. Usually we’re on the other side of the handcuffs,” Flavio Morales said. “Here is an opportunity to really show us as heroes. And this cast really reflects the wide (ethnic) spectrum of Latinos in the U.S.”

Covarrubias’ role is important as she is a shining example of a strong femme excelling in a male-dominated field, Velez said.

“She not taking any (grief) from the fugitives, and she’s not taking it from the team either,” Velez said.

The language in “Fugitivos” shifts freely between English and Spanish, depending on the case. Pizarro has plenty of experience moving back and forth between Espanol and English. About six years ago he began producing a reality series about repossession agents, “Operacion Repo,” for L.A.’s Spanish-lingo indie KWHY-TV.

That show caught the attention of programmers at Turner cabler TruTV, which tapped Pizarro to spearhead an English-lingo rendition, “Operation Repo,” a mainstay for the cabler since 2007. And Mun2 and its sibling Telemundo network both air older “Operacion Repo” segs.

The launch of “Fugitivos” comes as Mun2 is facing more competition for Latino viewers, from broadcast and cable outlets. NBCU cable and digital exec Lauren Zalaznick, who oversees Telemundo and Mun2, has been a big supporter of their efforts to broaden Mun2′s horizons, Morales said.

“With the support of Telemundo and Lauren Zalaznick, we’re focusing wherever we can on building originals,” he said. “That’s very much a standard from the cable playbook but in our competitive set we’re not seeing that much original content being produced. (NBCU parent) Comcast is supporting our initiatives.”

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