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BUENOS AIRES — Telenovelas have lost ground in Argentina as viewers look for edgier and more complex comedies and dramas.

This year, Daniel Hadad’s Canal 9 is introducing wrestling comedy “Gladiadores de Pompeya” (Gladiators of Pompeya), and Grupo Clarin’s Artear-Canal 13 will air murder series “Mujeres asesinas” (Women Killers). Telefonica’s Telefe is preparing “Alma pirata” (Pirate Spirit), a drama about three friends seeking justice for their murdered parents.

“Viewers are cultured and demanding in Argentina. They want deeper content,” says Gonzalo Cilley, head of formats and international production at top exporter Telefe Intl.

The intense themes, quicker tempos and unusual character/story twists have become a selling point for exporters, differentiating their programs from rivals such as Brazil’s Globo and Mexico’s Televisa, known for more traditional telenovelas.

“We are selling comedies and suspense series that aren’t just about a couple finding happiness,” says Cilley.

Telefe Intl. is seeking partners to adapt fiction formats, particularly for France, Germany, the U.S. and U.K. Fox recently acquired rights for an English version of “Resistire” (Forever Julia), a love story loaded with risque scenes.

Imports haven’t vanished. In fact, adaptations of U.S. sitcoms are the rage on primetime, and nets are expected to scout American programming to remake.

Telefe began the trend in 2004 with “The Nanny,” followed by “Married … With Children” and “Who’s the Boss?” last year. This year it’s giving local treatments to “Bewitched” and “Charlie’s Angels” while Canal 13 will air an adaptation of “Desperate Housewives.”

“It will be a tight race for first place between Canal 13 and Telefe, with Canal 9 keeping pace close behind,” says Marcelo Fedele, a marketing director at Buenos Aires media-buying agency EPM.

Canal 13 may have an edge. Last year it signed Marcelo Tinelli, a popular host-impresario, to emcee several shows and is planning to air a dance contest hosted by Diego Maradona, the soccer hero who’s debut program last year was a hit.

Other than sitcoms, nets will continue to import films, telenovelas, docs and reality formats for nonprimetime slots, buoyed by a rise in ad coin. Yet production money, acquisition managers say, is focused on domestic fare.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “Casados con hijos” (Married … With Children), Telefe

2. “Sos mi vida” (You’re My Life), Artear-Canal 13

3. “Se dice amor” (They Say Love), Telefe