MIAMI — Boldly taking on the challenges of TV’s future as it turns 25, Argentina’s Pol-ka Producciones, one of Latin America’s few historic independent TV companies, is turning to the past.
Shooting from Jan. 2, but set in Buenos Aires from 1936 to 1945, “Argentina, Land of Passion and Revenge,” (“Argentina, Tierra de Amor y Venganza”) intertwines the contrasting fates of three emigrants who flee Europe for Argentina. Torcuato mixes in high-society; Bruno, his brother in arms in Spain¡s Civil War before an act of extraordinary treachery on Torquato’s past, suffers far worse luck; and Raquel, a Polish ingenue, even worse, ending up in a brothel.
Starring Benjamín Vicuña (“Vis a Vis”), and requiring 100-meters of 1930s’ Buenos Aires street facades on a 1,200 square-meter set in Pol-ka’s Estudios Baires, plus 100 extras for the arrival of the boat about from Europe, “Argentina” is one of Pol-ka’s big fiction bets for 2019, indeed one of its biggest betsever and a banner 2019 Latin America series, as Adrián Suar, founder of the 25-year-old production house, sets the agenda for an ever more digital future.
Launched in 1994 by Suar and , and now co-owned by Artear, part of Argentina’s Clarín media group whose assets include El Trece, one of Argentina’s two biggest broadcast networks, Pol-ka has traditionally produced for El Trece, Suar serving as its program director.
That arrangement stood Pol-ka in good stead over much of its first two decades. Traditionally, Latin American broadcast networks made most TV series in-house. In its first phase cable TV acquired programming rather than producing it. So there were few market opportunities for independent TV production. With a platform on El Trece, allowing Pol-ka an anchor broadcaster outlet to prove the popularity of its series, Suar’s company could also seize other production opportunities. It was the first company in Latin America, for instance, to produce a limited premium series for pay TV in Latin America, HBO Latin America’s “Epitafios.”
Pol-ka also took charge of making local Latin American versions of “Desperate Housewives” in and outside Argentina. Now, accustomed to seizing market opportunity, Pol-ka has reacted fast to the advent of global OTT platforms. But these have also posed a challenge to its traditional output model.
“25 years ago, we were pioneers of a new TV. We’ve proved we’re not a passing fashion, have become a classic. But we’ve had to improve constantly so as not to be part of the past,” says Suar.
That reaction takes several guises, says Suar. Pol-ka has hiked the number of series – as opposed to telenovelas – which it produces. Ten years ago, Pol-ka’s produced four telenovelas a year for El Trece primetime. Now, it produces two a year and five shorter form series.
To do so, it has struck pedigree U.S. producer alliances. Pol-ka’s 2019 slate takes in “Puerta 7,” for Netflix, “The Bronze Garden 2,” for HBO Latin America, “The Host 2,” with Fox Networks Group Latin America; and “El Tigre Verón,” with Turner Latin America.
Pol-ka and Fox are now mulling another TV series together. “El Tigre Verón” is part of a 10-year production alliance with Turner Latin America.
Pol-ka’s key axis now, says Suar, is “an equation between local and international. Over these 25 years, we’ve tried to create a Pol-ka which is global.”
That can be seen in its upcoming series. ,“Argentina, Tierra de Amor y Venganza” is an “epic novela telling the story of Argentina from 1836 to 1945,” recording the high influx immigrants, from Spain’s Galicia, Italians, Jews. It’s local, but
totally international,” Suar says.
“Argentina” also flashes back briefly to the Spanish Civil War, stars Spain’s Albert Baró and Chile’s Benjamín Vicuña-
To run in El Trece primetime, “Argentina” is conceived as an event series, indeed the TV event of 2018 in Argentina. “We’ve set it as a challenge: To turn 25 with a high-risk bet in production terms,” Suar enthuses.
One supplying free-to-air El Trece, Pol-ka is now creating series designed to stand out in a new TV era where Pol-ka’s rival is not simply Argentine network Telefe but Netflix et al and the potential market for some of its series is not just Argentina but the world.
Tp do so, Pol-ka holds down a “highly important” multi-year production alliance with Turner Latin America, Suar says.
He now hopes to leverage other long term association into longterm partnerships.
“Over the last eight-or-10 years, we’ve tried to function as a good production partner option for the big [studio] players in Latin America. There are many great producers in Latin America. Our ambition is to establish ourselves in the top five. Sometimes we manage that, sometimes we don’t, but in general we’re close to getting there in quality of service and production.”
To consolidate that status, Pol-ka can bring multiple assets to the table.
It owns and operates two dazzling 13,000 square-feet (1,200 square-meter) studios in Buenos Aires. According to Saur, Pol-ka upgrades its technology every two years.
“Argentina has made great TV for a long, long time. There is a very talented production workforce,” says Suar. HBO Latin America’s “Sr. Avila,” which won an Intl. Emmy for Non-English Language U.S. Primetime Program, was produced by Mexico’s Lemon Films, but written by two Argentines, Walter and Marcelo Slavich, the scribes on Pol-ka’s “Epitafios,” which snagged an Intl. Emmy nomination for actor Leonardo Sbaraglia (“Wild Tales”).
Argentina’s cost/benefit ratio, always a factor to bear in mind, has been accentuated by the plunge of its peso, which has lost 73% of its value against the dollar in the last two years.
“Argentina has an enormous opportunity to produce at the same level of quality as in the past, but at a significantly lower price,” Suar says.
And it can bring Argentina ti the talk as well. “Pol-ka produces shows which are close to people,” Suar maintains, trying to explain the company’s longevity.
Whether the camera’s creeping out between two white marble-stone buildings at huge height looking down on an teeming ant-like Buenos Aires below in “The Bronze Garden,” Buenos Aires’ railway system, featured in “The Fragility of Bodies,” Pol-ka shows reveal an unknown Argentina to an ever more interested world.
“Argentina’s made great TV for a long, long time,” Suar concludes. “We’re now in a beautiful position.”
POL-KA PRODUCCIONES, 1994-2019
*1994 Adrián Suar and Fernando Blanco join forces to produce a pilot episode of TV series project “Poliladrón” for channel El Trece. A technically innovative production, written, starred and produced by Suar, “Poliladrón” focused on a cop-thief relationship with doses of comedy, becoming Pol-ka Producciones’ successful TV debut.
*1998 “Gasoleros,” Pol-ka’s first soap opera, launches on El Trece, marking a game changing production in the Argentine TV primetime. It meant the replacement of classic love novelas – often about a rich boy falling in love with a poor girl- by deeper stories about ordinary people lives that massively connected to TV audiences from the impoverished Argentine middle class.
2000 Grupo Clarín’s Artear takes a minority 30% stake into Pol-ka shareholding. Eight years later, Artear rises to a controlling 55% its presence in the production house.
2001 Artear names Adrián Suar as El Trece programming director.
*2002 Suar backs Juan José Campanella’s “Son of the Bride,” starring Ricardo Darín, which, acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, snags a 2002 Academy Award nomination – a wake-up call for the world to the virtues of Argentina’s now hallmark crossover movie production
*2003 Pol-ka produces Latin America’s first premium pay TV series, 2003’s “Epitafios,” for HBO Latin America. It goes on to win a Intl. Emmy nomination.
*2012-15 Broadcast in over 140 countries over 2012-2015, series “Violetta” proves a pioneering hit TV fiction co-production for Pol-ka and Disney in Latin America. “The opportunity Disney gave us with the ‘Violetta’ production helped Pol-ka to be known on the international market,” Suar has said.
*2015. Pol-ka and El Trece’s romcom “Esperanza Mía” becomes Argentina’s most-watched TV series of the year. Created by Suar, turns on the love between a trainee novice and a priest. Handled by co-producer Dori Media, it was widely acquired abroad, taking in deals with MTV Latin America and Atresmedia in Spain. This production was also pioneering in bringing Ultra High Definition format to Argentine TV market.
*2016 Bowing Jan. 11, the 225-episode telenovela “Los ricos no piden permiso” consolidates on El Trece as one of the most-watched fiction shows of the year.
*”The Fragility of Bodies,” a steamy corruption thriller, initiates a strategic co-production and co-distribution alliance between Pol-ka, Turner Latin America and Cablevisión, the series airing on El Trece, TNT one day later, TNTGo and, for binging, Cablevisión Flow.
*”Love Divine” kicks in a four-year, four TV drama production deal with Mexican TV giant Televisa, aimed at children and teens contents. “Simona” slots into the deal in 2017.
*2017 After four years in development and two years of works, Pol-ka co-owner Artear bows in downtown Buenos Aires its imposing Production Center, facilitating access to and distribution of contents, including three newscasts, eight channels, four apps and Pol-ka shows.
*June 2017 — Starring Eva De Dominici, “The Fragility of Bodies” bows on El Trece, sparking social media waves for a steamy sex scenes and praise for some reviews as a cretonne thriller with a woman investigator
*July 2017 Netflix’s first Pol-ka order, and its third Argentine Netflix Original, “Puerta 7,” a soccer created by “Ozark” and “Narcos” writer Martin Zimmerman, an “unflinching exploration of Argentina’s infamous (and world famous) soccer “barras bravas,” Netflix announces.
*August 2017 New HBO Latin America Original “The Bronze Garden,” bowed out after eight episodes on Sunday, Aug. 13 hailed by HBO as its most-watched Latin American series of the year.
*June 2018: The best reviewed of Pol-ka’s 2018 productions, “The Lobbyist,” a political series noir, tanks on free-to-air, but proves the most-watched Argentine show on pay TV operator Cablevisión, a sign of its cable edge.
*August 2018. Hyper hyphenate Suar produces and debuts as lead of paybox Fox Channel’s “El Host,” a big show co-produced by Pol-ka and Fox Networks Group that combines musical comedy, fiction and real-life people.
*August 2018 Pol-ka and HBO Latin America initiate production in Buenos Aires of “The Bronze Garden” Season 2.
*October 2018: Pol-ka teams with El Trece, Cablevisión Flow and Oficina Burman-Mediapro on an untitled high-end thriller series project, turning on the campaign of a man who runs for the presidency of his country. Written by Humberto Ortega (“El Barco,” “Los Serrano”), the project marks a milestone collaboration between companies from Latin America and Europe.
*January 2019. Televisa’s family channel Canal de las Estrellas launches melodrama “Ringo, la pelea de su vida,” the Mexican adaptation of Suar-created Argentine telenovela “Sos mi hombre,” who, produced by Pol-ka, aired on El Trece in 2012-13 season.
*January 2019 “Argentina, tierra de amor y venganza,” an ambitious intrigue and love period series starts to roll in Pol-ka-owned Estudios Baires. It follows two young friends getting out of the horror of the Spanish Civil War, departing to Argentine in search of their promised land. Toplining Benjamín Vicuña (“Vis a Vis”) Gonzalo Heredia (“Me casé con un boludo”) and China Suárez (“Abzurdah”), it’s scheduled to a 2019 release on El Trece primetime.