Ratings-poor Telemundo taps programming topper

In an attempt to reverse its ratings slide, the Telemundo Group has replaced its network programming chief Harry Abraham Castillo.

The Miami-based Spanish-language web has named Manuel Martinez, general manager of company-owned station WNJU New York, as acting head of programming. Company officials say Martinez’s position could become permanent.

Telemundo has a 20% share of the U.S. Spanish-language broadcast market, second to rival Univision’s 80%.

“It was time for a change,” Don Tringali, Telemundo’s network exec VP, told Daily Variety. “We need a new strategy and new creative juices. We are excited about the move.”

Telemundo execs say they believe Martinez can bring his successes with local production and promotion from a station level to the network in Miami. Under Abraham Castillo’s watch, Telemundo’s strategy of trying to match Univision’s highly rated primetime telenovelas fell flat.

Telemundo’s airing of politically charged soaps, such as TV Azteca’s “Nada Personal” and “Al Norte del Corazon,” have been largely unpopular with Latinos living in the U.S. and simply didn’t translate into high ratings north of the border.

Telemundo officials say the network is planning a major shift in programming by this fall. Execs say instead of trying to compete head to head with Univision’s primetime novelas, the company will counter-program with talk or variety shows. The specifics of that new lineup will be mapped out in the next two months.

“The company is certainly ripe for a change,” said Paul Sweeney, an analyst with Salomon Bros., referring to Martinez’s promotion. “The intent is to revamp their programming lineup and this is part of that.”

Abraham Castillo plans to start a production company, which will supply programming to Spanish-language broadcasters.

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