MADRID — Until recently the most popular Spanish pics on local TV were trips down a very long memory lane.

In 2002, the highest-rated local pic on TV was 1974’s “El calzonazos,” starring the late comic ham Paco Martinez Soria as a henpecked dad who feigns madness to stop his daughter marrying a neer-do-well.

Broadcast by pubcaster RTVE in the Saturday afternoon snooze slot, “El calzonazos” trailed in at No. 25 in 2002’s Top 40 movies on TV.

But local pics are finally giving U.S. movies a run for their money in primetime.

According to statistics released by the Fapae producers’ lobby group this month, five local pics figured in the top 15 movies aired on TV in Spain between September and April.

Antena 3’s broadcast of “Gladiator” tops the list with 34.3% of viewers. Santiago Segura’s James Bond spoof “Torrente 2” came in fifth with 31.5%; violent father-son art pic “Pellet” came a surprising eighth (28.8%); dysfunctional family comedy “Manolito Gafotas” was 10th (27.9%); period meller “Mad Love,” 11th; and Alejandro Amenabar’s chiller “The Others,” 15th (27.2%).

Fapae prexy Pedro Perez reckons that “when Spanish TV airs local pics in primetime, they can face up to U.S. fare.”

He suggests this is part of a general slide in TV ratings of U.S. movie throughout Europe and is urging broadcasters to invest more in local pics.

Since September, nine out of 14 Spanish pics aired in primetime notched up 20% shares, compared with 104 of the 166 U.S. pics.

Naysayers claim the stats cover an exceptional vintage of local films that bowed theatrically around 2001, taking a hefty 18% of the local B.O.

But Spanish films’ share of the domestic market has held up pretty well even beyond that.

Fapae’s stats coincide with its talks to persuade broadcasters to comply with TV quotas, obliging them to invest 5% of annual revenues in European (mostly Spanish-lingo) films.

However, Fapae’s real battle is with history and fear.

While broadcast management may agree to program more films, programmers are unwilling to sked content that has traditionally failed to attract auds — and low ratings could cost them their jobs.

The simple truth is that Spaniards are not used to watching local movies on TV.

This no-go category extends to Spanish drama and everything outside comedies and adventure/actioners.

One way forward may be for broadcasters to create and market regular slots for local fare, as Antena 3 did successfully a few years back.