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‘Angelica’ With an Americano Flavor

Times Staff Writer

For weeks now, a barrage of posters glued to storefronts and bus stops in Latino neighborhoods of Los Angeles have brazenly announced tonight’s TV debut of fresh-faced Laura Fabian as the ravishing ingenue of “Angelica, Mi Vida” (Angelica, My Life).

Telemundo, the nation’s second and very aggressive Spanish-language network, isn’t just trying to turn heads with flashy posters, however. It is making television history by producing domestically the first novela, or Latin soap opera, based on the lives of U.S. Latinos.

The network’s six owned stations and one dozen affiliates nationwide have blocked out two hours for the first episode of the five-night-a-week series, which will thereafter stick to an hourlong format. In Los Angeles, “Angelica, Mi Vida” airs on KVEA Channel 52 at 8 p.m.

The premise of New York-based Telemundo’s bold departure from the staple diet of Latin American-produced novelas that Spanish-language TV traditionally has relied on is logical enough. The millions of Latino immigrants in the United States have been changed by their journey northward, and have thus acquired new interests and appetites. What better way to entice this 20 million-member audience, especially its second-generation viewers who have drifted toward English-language TV, than with

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shows created and acted by U.S. Latinos?

Frank Cruz, KVEA’s general manager and an early “Angelica” proponent, hopes the novela will reflect the personal and cultural changes that occur when Latinos move to the United States.

“I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and dad--(who were) from Mexico--in Tucson, listening to Mexican music on the radio, talking with them in English and Spanish about going to school to become a doctor or a lawyer,” Cruz said. “If we could capture that kind of feeling in a novela, that would be very relevant to our viewers.”

“Angelica,” initially slated for 140 episodes, tries to do that on several levels.

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With its base in New York and having shot additional exterior scenes in Miami and San Antonio, the soap opera has an Americano flavor. It also tries to reflect positive role models by casting its characters in mainstream professional and business roles. Angelica, for example, is a special education teacher, and the family of her romantic interest (Carlos Montalvo) runs a flourishing food business.

The show tries appealing to regional Latino differences by weaving the lives of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrant families into a web of passions and intrigue revolving around Fabian’s angelic character. Finally, the producers have tried whenever possible to cast U.S.-born Latino actors, such as Gloria Torres Hayes, in prominent roles.

Still, Telemundo President Henry Silverman isn’t looking for a financial hit.

“The costs of (Angelica) are significantly greater than the cost of buying a novela made in Mexico or Venezuela,” Silverman said. “This is why we are not expecting a return on our investment. We are making an investment in the future of Spanish-language TV.

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“The good news is, advertising for the show is basically sold out,” he added. “Having said that, I have to say that the ad pricing in Spanish-language TV is still so low that, even with a fully sold show, ‘Angelica’ may only do a little better than break even.”

But the show satisfies other company objectives. Besides helping to boost the network’s amount of domestically produced programming from the current 40% toward the 50% goal that Telemundo has for this fall, Silverman said, the network hopes the soap opera will attract new viewers away from English-language TV to Spanish-language television.

Telemundo, which also will air “Angelica” in Panama and Venezuela, isn’t the only Spanish-language network increasing the variety and number of domestically produced programs.

Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language network, today unveils “TV Mujer,” a one-hour program in magazine format designed to appeal to female viewers. Locally, the show airs on Univision’s KMEX Channel 34 at noon.

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But compared to many of the new Spanish-language shows based on U.S. television formats, “Angelica” posed special production challenges.

First, the novela’s spring debut was delayed due to script problems. “It was kind of like (the movie) ‘El Norte’ blown up into a TV script,” Silverman said in an earlier interview. “But our view was that it was too negative” and that more romance was needed.

In addition, Angel Del Cerro, “Angelica’s” executive producer, said that the soap’s actors, many with a lot of experience in English-language TV, had some problems adapting to the novela style.

Despite “Angelica’s” U.S. aspects, the novela doesn’t wander far from the genre’s tried-and-true themes. Its heroine competes with two other women for the same man and, to spice things up even more, the romance is tinged with incestuous overtones because he may be her first cousin.

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“Novelas are novelas, " Del Cerro said. “And those are the sorts of things that always happen.”


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