Telemundo adds ayem novelas

Afternoon soap placements also possible

NEW YORK — Telemundo is adding several hours of novelas to its daily programming this fall, betting heavily that more soaps will woo viewers from market-leader Univision.

Besides its four hours of primetime novelas (vs. three at Univision), Telemundo will air up to three hours of novelas in the morning, beginning at 9 a.m.

“We feel the third hour of (Univision morning news show) ‘Despierta America’ is the most vulnerable,” said Telemundo prexy-CEO James McNamara. “Novelas do work during the day, and we have tried to figure out the best slot.”

Telemundo may also air one to two novelas during the afternoon for a total of up to nine hours each weekday. As a result, it will continue to acquire soaps, despite several co-production accords.

Its first original novela with Mexican producer Argos, “Cara o Cruz” (Heads or Tails), will bow May 21 in primetime. The first with Colombian producers RTI and Caracol is already on the air.

Telemundo last month inked a soap and series output deal with Brazil’s Globo, with whom it will co-produce.

The two are finalizing the details on their initial soap, McNamara said. “Our target is a September production date.”

Telemundo will seek soap talent via the first U.S. Spanish-lingo reality show, “Protagonistas,” whose survivors will get novela roles. It is skedded for a six-week run beginning in October and extending into the November sweeps.

Gaveler afternoons

Afternoons will showcase originally produced court shows introduced about a month ago, leading into popular 4 p.m. talker “Laura en America,” for which Telemundo has taken over production in Peru.

The net is revamping Sunday nights. Sitcom “Los Beltran” will not be renewed as ratings do not justify the cost of the L.A.-based production, though it could be revived out of Mexico.

A new comedy hour (Sundays 8-9 p.m.) will feature “Buscando a Rita,” an animated series made in Spanish, and a revolving set of series that will include Argos-produced “Popotes.”

Telemundo is venturing into dramedy with “Solterita y la Orden,” to air Sundays at 9 p.m.

It has an accord to air “The Wonderful World of Disney” once a month.

Net will also extend its daily news show from five to seven days weekly.

Univision will be selling its as-yet unnamed second network, due to launch in January, at its Wednesday presentation. The acquisition of the USA station group has not yet been finalized, but Univision said it will have 80% coverage of U.S. Hispanic auds.

Univision aims to complement, rather than cannibalize, its existing viewership with the second net.

Citing Nielsen stats, Spanish-dominant viewers spend up to 40% of their TV time watching English-lingo channels, while bilingual auds watch English TV 75% of the time, Univision said.

Soccer to ’em

A big emphasis will likely be placed on sports; Univision holds the exclusive rights to the 2002 World Cup, among other key soccer events.

Event programming will feature prominently on both nets. Univision noted that the broadcast of its kudofest Premio lo Nuestro sparked a 17% spike in its ratings, while Telemundo’s were flat.

The lead network is expected to showcase novelas from shareholder/suppliers Televisa and Venevision, as well as long-running popular shows like “Sabado Gigante,” “El Gordo y La Flaca” and talker “Cristina.”