TVG hooks viewers with docudramas

Format helps Galicia pubcaster reel in audiences

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELLA — Thirty-seven-year-old Vicente, an endearingly novice angler, plunges into the river. He’s got the tackle. Pity about the moves. He casts. His line drifts haplessly past a passing trout. He cringes red-faced at the camera.

The Filmax-produced “Hai que mollarse” (literally, “Wade In”) is an unlikely ratings juggernaut. But it’s also part of a docudrama explosion that has baited much of Galicia and given regional pubcaster TVG a shot of ratings Botox.

By June, “Mollarse” had fly-tied 1.9 million viewers for a 20.9% share, way above the channel average. “Criaturas,” a pet docusoap, took 1.65 million viewers and a 19.2% share.

Redoing Blighty’s “The 1900 House,” Continental/Fimanova’s historical reality skein “A casa do 1906” averaged a 20.2% audience share for its first season, according to series producers

Timeslot and format are crucial.

Given a “Big Brother” edge by the presence of two contestant families, “Casa” airs in 9:30-10 p.m. block, sidestepping Spain’s big primetime dramas.

Humorous and snappily edited, these skeins hardly outstay their welcome.

They’re character-driven, with built-in suspense. In “Mollarse,” Miguel Anxo finally lands his first catch: a tiny troutlet. His childlike glee is the episode climax.

“The audience curves are strong, but begin a bit lower and then build,” says Xose Manuel Barreira, head of Filmax Galicia.

Also, the docusoaps are all rural. “Galicia has a deep-rooted historical identity. Its reconstruction is attracting new urban generations, even 4-12s,” says Filmanova prexy Anton Reixa.

TVG traditionally skews old and rural. In 2005-06, new management tried taking the channel younger, urban and upscale. Ratings sagged. With this season’s docu realities, however, they’ve hit on a formula.

Over 2006-07, despite rampant market fragmentation, TVG lost less share than any other regional pubcaster, dipping just 0.2 percentage points to 14.9%.

Other factors are at play, too. “TVG’s ratings hold is driven by the new docu formats, a corporate image revamp and strengthened newscasts,” says Daniel Salgado, CRTVG head of marketing and audiences.

But TVG has also brought back staples: Saturday soccer (ratings up 21.8% in June) and bumpkin comedy “O show dos tonechos” (up 20.3%) are good examples. And fiction, led by “Libro de familia” (up 31.1%), has held supreme.

Set in the cozy hamlet of Santalla in 1968, the mellow family drama’s second season has heroine Maria, a laborer’s daughter, dickering over having sex before marriage. (She doesn’t.)

Meanwhile the rapscallion mayor is leaching local soils with his eucalyptus paper business.

Like Santalla, TVG seems best suited to cautious modernization rather than radical change.

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