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Televisa’s youthful complexion

Network's primetime formula adds series and sitcoms to soaps

MEXICO CITY — Mexican media conglom Televisa is embarking on an ambitious shift in programming in 2007 in an attempt to draw young auds back to broadcast TV.

Under the direction of veep of television Jose Baston, Televisa has been planning to revamp primetime on its two main channels with an unprecedented move into producing weekly series and sitcoms, as well as creating a new roadmap for telenovelas.

It’s a complete shift in Televisa’s normal production style. Telenovelas air five days a week, their stories run for a set time and duration — so no additional seasons — and are shot as close to their airing date as possible to allow producers to tweak storylines based on audience response. The new shows are a series of 13 episodes each that will run once a week and are being developed with an eye to second and third seasons.

In May, Televisa will bow dramatic series “Mujeres” (Women) a Mexican “Sex and the City” meets “Desperate Housewives”; comic action series “La Pantera” (The Panther), based on a Mexican comicbook; horror/suspense series “13 miedos” (13 Fears); and “Y ahora que hago?” (Now What Do I Do?), a comedy series in the vein of “Seinfeld,” starring popular Mexican comic/variety show host Adal Ramones.

The shift has been orchestrated by Eduardo Clemesha, Televisa’s director of new formats.

“These series have an entirely different visual language…, they have a new texture and taste,” Clemesha says. “It was clear a year and a half ago that we had to bring out new product, but this has been a trend everywhere. The only thing for us to do was raise the bar in every way.”

Clemesha put together the teams producing each show, many of which include fresh blood from outside the Televisa factory. Production company Lemon Films is co-producing “13 Miedos.” The series is to be shot on 16mm by directors from Mexico’s film industry. The other three series are being shot on HD.

Unidentified U.S. veterans are working as consultants on the shows.

“We want Televisa’s first venture in this area to be vaccinated against failure, so we are turning to experts in these genres,” Clemesha says.

Televisa is prepping its “vanguard telenovelas,” which move away from traditional melodramatic conceits toward more reality- inspired stories.

“Televisa during its 50 years has always been an innovator,” says producer Rosy Ocampo. “But recently we have seen more competition from other Spanish-language producers in Argentina and Colombia, and that has pushed us to again move in new, original directions.”

U.S. Hispanic broadcaster Telemundo similarly has experimented with its telenovelas, but Televisa is aiming to go it one better.

Ocampo is prepping “Si muero lejos de ti” (If I Die Far From You), a telenovela based on migration to the United States.

Telenovela is based on real-life stories collected by Televisa writers who were dispatched to the U.S.-Mexico border to conduct interviews and research. “This is marking a whole new style of producing telenovelas,” Ocampo says.

The second, “Salida de emergencia” (Emergency Exit), focuses on stories of divorce and the pressures that lead to couples splitting up.

The third axis of Televisa’s current renovation project is revamping its comedy lineup with sitcoms under the direction of producer Roberto Gomez Fernandez.

Other Latin American broadcasters have remade versions of U.S. sitcoms pushed by Sony Pictures Television Intl., such as “Married … With Children.” Televisa is getting onboard with “The Jeffersons.”

Gomez has already produced the pilot for “The Jeffersons,” dubbed “Perez eres y Perez seras” (Perez You Are, and Perez You Will Be).

Gomez says the format seems “more Latin American than American.”

For Mexico, the racial element has been exchanged for class divisions. Instead of the successful drycleaner, the Mexican version is based on the sudden rise to wealth of a taco-stand owner who moves his family to one of Mexico’s City’s wealthy enclaves.

Gomez says the shift to producing U.S.-style series was driven by the goal of making local hits that had have a better chance of being exported.

“The comedy of Mexico is very particular, and it has been difficult for our comedy shows to travel,” Gomez says.

Gomez knows what he’s talking about. He is the son of Roberto Gomez, creator and star of “El chavo del 8,” the hit ’70s children’s comedy show that continues to run in syndication today.

Mexican comedy has been defined by sketch comedy written by one or two writers. On “Perez” a team of writers work together, just as they do Stateside.

Mexico’s market — dominated by Televisa, which draws around 70% of broadcast auds and a similar chunk of ad revenue — has only a handful of indie producers.

“In Televisa, decisions about transmission are taken at the same time as production decisions,” Gomez says. “We are opening up the number of productions being developed so executives have a real gamut of pitches to choose from, making it more like the process in the U.S.”