TV tacks in new direction

World Report: Spain

Over the 2010-11 season, Spain’s entry into original series production has been one of the biggest steps forward for local TV in a decade.

For starters, Paybox Canal Plus plowed into quality TV fiction production with two skeins: David Trueba’s black comedy series “Que fue de Jorge Sanz?” and Jorge Sanchez Cabezudo’s withering social portrait of modern Spain, “Crematorium.”

Turner’s TNT bowed Mariano Barroso’s edgy series “Todas las mujeres” last October. And since June, TNT has been airing “Adult Swim Made in Spain.”

Fox Intl. Channels Spain co-produced “Mentes en Shock” with Fox Latin America, a Spanish redo of U.S. drama “Mental,” which launched in April.

Such moves have raised the bar for local fiction series. They’ve been enthusiastically received by Spanish reviewers, who praised the creative freedoms of new pay TV productions in marked contrast to the often-cautious productions of Spanish free-to-air market.

Compared to the rest of Western Europe, Spanish pay TV has a limited impact, given its low 30% penetration, yet the new skeins surpassed channel expectations, reinforcing brand identity.

Operating in Spain since 1990, Canal Plus has traditionally driven subs via its movie and soccer offerings. Now it’s exploring new territory.

“It’s very important to maintain a long-term production strategy for this to make sense,” says Canal Plus director Miguel Salvat. “It’s absolutely necessary for the future of our brand.”

A rare-for-Spain, nearly half-hour six-seg comedy, “Que fue” pictures real-life Spanish thesp Jorge Sanz’s pathetic attempts to reboot a supposedly flagging career, aided by his unflaggingly optimistic tyro agent. Each episode is a litany of disappointments.

Treading a thin line between fiction and reality, “Que fue” was budgeted at around €100,000 ($144,000) per episode and shot with just one HD camera. “Canal Plus encouraged us to respect the original idea. The fact that the channel wanted to do something different was a large boost for us,” Trueba says.

Both “Que fue” and “Crematorium” illustrate a talent influx from cinema into TV production. Like Trueba and Barroso, Sanchez-Cabezudo made his name as a feature film director.

Set in the imaginary Mediterranean town of Misent, “Crematorium” tells the story of a property developer (Spanish actor Jose Sancho), who amasses a fortune by greasing local politicos’ palms.

Unlike previous Spanish TV series, “Crematorium” was shot almost totally on location, using two production units, and, further aiding its theatrical feel, a 4k digital image, capturing the Mediterranean’s colors and light.

It also treats some delicate issues — sex, corruption — with unusual candor.

“The series was produced respecting what the story needed, without conditioning factors,” says producer Fernando Bovaira, founder of Mod Prods. It cost around $720,000 per 50-minute episode — on the higher end for a Spanish drama.

HBO Latin America has acquired “Crematorium” for a 2012 broadcast slot on its premium TV service. Sold by Vicente Canales’s Barcelona-based sales company Film Factory Entertainment, the series has also been bought for Scandinavia by NonStop and Vapet in Czech Republic. Imagina/Televisa-controlled web LaSexta has taken Spanish free-to-air TV rights.

“The international market is proving an important way to recoup investment,” Bovaira says. “But going forward, we should explore new ways of collaborating on projects with European and Latin American broadcasters.”

Recoupment is one thing. Moving into fiction, many pay TV players are making a virtue out of necessity since Spain’s General Audiovisual Law, approved in 2010, obliges private-sector networks to invest at least 2% of their annual revenues in TV series, minis or docus.

Original series can also generate a greater empathy with local audience, which is what we’re looking for, says Pablo Vinuales, head of programming for Fox Intl. Channels Spain.

Co-production also allows Fox to access exclusive dramas, then sell the rights.

“In most cases, Spanish TV series have a great future in markets such as the Hispanic U.S. and Latin America, although some good ideas only have Spanish market potential,” says Turner Spain general manager Domingo Corral.

Teaming with Barcelona-based outfit El Terrat, TNT is producing sitcom “Zombies,” toplining Spanish TV showman Berto Romero. TNT also plans to produce a one-hour TV drama, Corral says.

“Local series productions will occupy a larger space in our schedule, but without sidelining extraordinary current U.S. fiction,” says Corral, while Bovaira notes that “Spain needs distinctive, innovative pay TV production, which is edgier than free-to-air TV production.” In producing it, Spain’s pay TV operators have made a promising start.

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