It’s not TV, it’s HBO Latin America

Cuatro's 'Sexo' to be first original production

MIAMI — HBO Latin America is celebrating its 10th anniversary by ramping up original production to emulate the success of its Stateside cousin.

Having produced interstitials and a number of smaller docus inhouse over the years, the premium feevee is now branching out to tap innovative, local production companies.

And although HBO will have six channels in the region by year’s end, the original productions are destined for the flagship HBO network.

Closest to completion is the six-part docu series “Sexo Urbano” (Urban Sex), a production of Buenos Aires-based Cuatro Cabezas. Crews traveled around Buenos Aires, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile and Mexico City with a cabbie as both driver and on-camera guide to the red-light districts and hot spots.

“These have already been filmed and we are finalizing post production,” Luis Peraza, senior veepee of program acquisitions and original productions, told Variety. “The series will premiere on HBO Latin America in November.”

Run by Diego Guebel and Mario Pergolini, Cuatro Cabezas is best known for its long-running news satire show “Caiga quien caiga” (Stop Making Sense) on Argentina’s No. 2 broadcaster, Artear-Canal 13.

More recently, it has had success with reality programming, such as the soccer-talent search “El camino a la gloria” (The Road to Glory) which also aired on Artear. That format sold throughout Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

Next up is a 13-hour series “Epitafio” (Epitaph) from Pol-ka Producciones, also of Argentina. The plot revolves around a serial killer whose victims are all related to an event five years earlier.

The script was penned by brothers Marcelo and Walter Slavich, whose previous TV scripts include suspense-drama “Tiempofinal” for leading local broadcaster Telefe and the terror series “El garante” (The Bondsman) for Canal 9.

“Epitaph” will be co-directed by Alberto Lecchi and Jorge Nisco (“Comodines”).

Pol-ka and HBO are casting, with lensing skedded for September through December, for an April bow.

Though most of the cast will be drawn from local ranks, “we are trying to give this a very neutral accent,” Peraza said, so audiences in other parts of the region won’t be put off.

Julio Chavez, winner of actor honors at last month’s Argentine Assn. of Film Journalist’s awards for his roll in Adrian Caetano’s life-after-prison drama “Un oso rojo” (Red Bear), has been tipped for the lead.

Part owned by Argentine media conglom Grupo Clarin, Pol-ka is run by Fernando Blanco and thesp-helmer Adrian Suar, who doubles as programming chief of Artear, itself a division of Clarin.

Pol-ka has cranked out some of the hottest shows in Argentina in recent years, including soap opera “Son Amores” (They Are Lovers) for Artear.

It has also co-produced critically acclaimed and popular films like Juan Jose Campanella’s Oscar-nommed “El hijo de la novia” (Son of the Bride) and Pablo Trapero’s police drama “El Bonarense.”

Finally, HBO is working with Brazil’s Conspiracao Films on an eight-hour miniseries penned by Ruben Fonseca, one of Brazil’s most important contempo writers, based on stories featuring a character named Mandrake.

The developer and executive on the project is the scribe’s son, Jose Henrique Fonseca. Father and son recently collaborated on Jose Henrique’s feature directorial bow, “The Man of the Year,” for which Ruben wrote the script, adapting Patricia Melo’s novel, “O Matador.”

Jose Henrique Fonseca will direct some of the episodes, with the others to be helmed by fellow Conspiracao directors.

Conspiracao has a growing stable of helmers who work in film, television, commercials and musicvideos. In film, the company has a relationship with Warner, which co-produced “Man of the Year” among other releases.

HBO aims to produce the Mandrake series under Brazil’s tax regime for film and pay TV production.

Foreign pay TV programmers have the option to invest in local productions in lieu of paying a new 3% tax on remittances.

For HBO, this change in Brazil coincided with its plans to increase original programming. “This came at a good time for us,” says Peraza.

HBO’s activities are not limited to South America. Peraza said several other projects are in the early stages of development, with a number from Mexico.