TV Upfront

Telenovela format takes on a decidedly Anglo look

General-market networks experiment on hybrid business model whose time has come

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Broadcasters are hoping the success of the highly popular Hispanic telenovela format will translate into English.

The major broadcast networks-ABC, NBC and CBS-as well as News Corp.'s new My Network TV have made significant plays in the adapted short dramatic series genre. While some industry executives are reluctant to discuss specific plans, they all acknowledge the concept's potential.

"You can't ignore the success they've had in the Hispanic marketplace," says Steven McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment.

"Everyone is seriously looking at it," says Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming with Katz Television Group. "It's a proven scheduling strategy around the world. ... there's an opportunity for this to happen."

Limited-run content from Latin America has already had success on general-market cable. HBO recently wrapped up its own 13-week series with a Latin influence, but one much darker than a telenovela. "Epitafios" ("Epitaphs"), about a serial killer, ran on the HBO Signature channel. Originally produced in Spanish in Argentina, the show was subtitled for the general market. But the move doesn't represent the start of more efforts to import Latin American content, a spokesman says.

News Corp.'s Twentieth Television is adapting five Latin shows to run on My Network TV. At least two of them, "Desire" and "Secret Obsessions," will debut this summer.

The concepts tested well with both general-market and Hispanic viewers across various demographic, socioeconomic and viewer groups, especially among women aged 18-49, when presented in a 13-week cycle, says Bob Cook, president-chief operating officer of Twentieth Television.

ABC is considering an English-language adaptation of the popular Colombian telenovela "Yo Soy Betty La Fea" ("I Am Betty the Ugly"), though the network hasn't formally announced its plans for the show.

NBC Universal Television Group has signed a two-year deal with Galan Entertainment to develop several of sibling network Telemundo's telenovelas in English.

As much as adaptation of content, business models will have to evolve to make the concept successful, says Barbara Bloom, senior VP-daytime with CBS Entertainment. The network is developing five original "telenovela-style" dramas, one of which is slated to air this summer.

a cinderella story

CBS has taken the "basic precepts of the novela," including its aspirational, Cinderella-like love story, and its closed-arc run and multi-episodic showings each week, to create new material that Ms. Bloom likens to a "romance novel for television."

Episodes will air fewer than five times a week, as CBS doesn't have enough prime-time holes available. The result will be a "hybrid business and production model," Ms. Bloom says. The marketing messages-and whether outreach will target only general-market viewers or also Hispanic viewers-have yet to be determined.

"If we do it right, it will be a great companion to established programming," Ms. Bloom says. "This isn't just about creating a story but creating a whole new way of looking at production."

ABC is considering a multicultural cast for its products and rightly so, given the multicultural nature of the U.S. market, Mr. McPherson says.

But attracting multicultural viewers could be both a boon and a challenge. In the U.S., roughly a quarter of adult Hispanics note English as their language of choice, and 28% indicate they're bilingual, according to the Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation 2002 National Survey of Latinos. Some 76% of Hispanics born in the U.S. watch English-language TV, while only 29% watch Spanish-language TV, according to the 2003 Simmons National Consumer Study's review of Hispanic adults and language of TV viewing.

For networks adapting existing Spanish-language telenovelas into English, the hope is to lure younger Hispanics who might have been reluctant to watch shows popular among the older generation. With higher production values and English content, shows could draw Hispanic and general-market viewers alike.

Luring second-generation Hispanics likely will be easier than bringing in third-generation viewers, says Nancy Tellet, VP-director of media services with Hispanic shop Siboney USA, New York. The familiarity of the novela format will draw the second-generation Hispanics who likely grew up watching traditional, Spanish-language telenovelas with their parents and grandparents. Stats reveal that second-generation teen and young adult viewers skew high in viewership of telenovelas, she says.
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