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RIO DE JANEIRO — For 10 years, telenovela scribe Tiago Santiago drove along Bandeirantes Road in Rio’s western outskirts to the studios of TV Globo, Brazil’s dominant broadcaster and one of the world’s leading telenovela producers.

Now Santiago and other former TV Globo talent drive a few extra miles on the same road to rival net TV Record’s studios.

In a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” TV Record is churning out a telenovela, “Prova de amor” (Proof of Love), that challenges Globo for ratings.

“Globo has had a virtual monopoly on telenovela production for 30 years. Since last year, for the first time, we have a second true production center in Brazil,” says Santiago, who wrote “Proof of Love.”

Webs SBT, TV Record and TV Bandeirantes, ranked second, third and fourth behind TV Globo, have learned the hard way that the only way to pump ratings in Brazil is with telenovelas.

But TV Record is the only one that has gone as far as setting up its own production center Recnov, short for Record Novelas, based on TV Globo’s studios Projac, short for Globo de Producao.

Recnov has three studios the net bought in mid-2005. It is building six new studios, which are due to be ready by the end of 2007.

It has hired a permanent production team, which already has about 100 actors, 20 writers and more than 300 technical staffers, according to Santiago.

Santiago’s telenovela, which is directed by Alexandre Avancini and stars three former TV Globo actors — Lavinia Vlasak, Marcelo Serrado and Leonardo Vieira — is the first to come out of Recnov. And it’s already a hit.

“Proof of Love,” which opened in Oct. 2005 and airs Monday-Saturday from 7:40 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., scored an average rating of 20.6 Jan. 18, against 25.9 for TV Globo and just 5.7 for SBT and 3.2 for TV Bandeirantes, in Brazil’s top market, Sao Paulo, according to ratings firm Ibope.

That’s way up on TV Record’s usual 7 to 8 point average in that slot.

“Proof of Love” pushed TV Record to second position in most of primetime, even though rival SBT continues to be No. 2 in overall ratings.

The high ratings allowed TV Record to up the price for each 30-second commercial during “Proof of Love” by 120% to $79,000.

Bolstered by these results, TV Record plans to produce three telenovelas simultaneously once the new studios come on stream in 2007.

“Telenovelas are part of life for Brazilians, as much as soccer is,” says a spokesman for TV Record.

But “Proof of Love” will be up against stiff competition — Globo is adding the U.S. version of “Desperate Housewives” to its arsenal and will unspool a local version later this year.