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Spain Embraces Genres in Search of International Viewers

For years, primetime Spanish fiction TV was monopolized by rose-tinted, four-quadrant visions of family, inner-city communities and liberal professionals. Now, they have been replaced by a groundswell of Mediterranean and Atlantic noir and fantasy.

Local ratings still count, but increasingly operators are looking for projects with international sales and remake potential.

“Thrillers are still a reliable asset on TV, but they’re evolving from a police-inspired register to a more psychological one, with less characters,” says Atresmedia fiction head Sonia Martinez.

Atresmedia’s upcoming “Fargo”-esque black comedy-thriller “Matadero,” produced by Diagonal TV, is set in a remote village where a slaughterhouse owner explores drug trafficking and blackmail.

Mediapro’s Globomedia-produced supernatural cop thriller “I’m Alive” scored a standout 17% audience share and 2.5 million viewers, the best local TV fiction launch in two years at pubcaster TVE’s channel La1. The show follows a police inspector who was killed while pursuing a serial murderer. He returns to life five years later in another agent’s body.

“As a TV genre, the thriller is still the king, but it’s adding some disruptive elements,” says Javier Méndez, Mediapro head of content. In “I’m Alive,” for example, fantasy blends with day-to-day realism and comedic touches.

Continuing a trend of tapping fantasy for primetime TV drama, TVE and César Benítez’s Plano a Plano (“El Príncipe”) are preparing “Sabuesos,” about a detective helped by a talking dog.

Well-received by audiences both at home and abroad, and often event series, historical TV dramas have consolidated backers. These include high-budget “The Cathedral of the Sea,” partnering Diagonal TV, TVC and Netflix, and the Bambu-produced, Beta-sold “Morocco — Love in Times of War,” both Atresmedia series.
Meanwhile, Mediaset España has successfully driven into taboo-busting, book-based event miniseries, such as “Cain’s Father,” about the dirty war against ETA terrorism, and “Hidden Behind Her Eyes,” about a 1940s high-society scandal.

ME and Mod Producciones have boarded miniseries project “An Unfaithful Woman,” re-creating a women’s silent conquest by radical Islam.

“We want to tell real events-inspired situations, with great love stories. Furthermore, relying on well-known books gives us prior visibility that helps audience familiarity,” says Mediaset España fiction director Arantxa Ecija.

Another key TV fiction route for Spanish broadcasters, at least in domestic, is comedy, such as ME’s “Ella es tu padre,” which punched a solid 14.5% audience share.

Broadcast network series, moreover, continue at times to sport a cable edge, whether in genre blending (“I’m Alive”), or the transformation of whodunits into more sophisticated why-dunits, as ME’s Filmax-produced thriller “I Know Who You Are,” created by Pau Freixas, who’s applied “universal narrative structures” to the series.

The cable heft is also suggested by Atresmedia’s Bambu-produced, drug-trade themed “Farinia — Snow on the Atlantic.”

Free-to-air and pay-TV boundaries are growing as well.

Broadcast for two seasons on Atresmedia, season three of hit prison thriller “Locked Up,” produced by Mediapro’s Globomedia, became Fox’s first original fiction in Spain. Now a pay-TV drama, “Locked Up” presents some substantial changes.

“The episodes last 50 minutes [Spanish primetime series used to last 70], which allows a greater agility when writing the scripts, avoiding so many plots opening up during each episode,” says Mendez. Pay TV “also permits us to be riskier in sex, violence or even political or official corruption scenes.”

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