COVER STORY : A Hit in L.A. Latino Homes, Xuxa Is Working on Her English

<i> Daniel Cerone is a Times staff writer</i>

On any given weekend morning when most kids in Southern California are watching “The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show” or “Captain Planet,” the vast majority of Spanish-speaking children are tuned in to Xuxa, whose one-hour “El Show de Xuxa” on KMEX-TV, Channel 34, Saturday and Sunday mornings has become a sensation.

During the February ratings sweeps, Xuxa commanded an 80% share of Latino viewers watching television between the ages of 2 and 11, according to Strategy Research Corp., a Miami-based ratings service that conducts door-to-door interviews at Spanish-speaking households.

“In a sense it’s vote-casting, as opposed to actual television behavior,” said Maureen Schultz, research director for KMEX, one of 13 Univision stations nationwide that airs “Show de Xuxa.” “But it says that she’s incredibly popular, considering that half of all Hispanic kids recalled watching her on TV over the weekend when they were questioned on Monday.”


When Xuxa made her first North American public performance in downtown Los Angeles at the Fiesta Broadway last year, the people in the crowd elbowing one another to get a glimpse of the flashy Latin American superstar on stage stretched for almost two city blocks. And that was in April, four months before her show began airing on KMEX.

“There’s two distinct groups who watch her,” Schultz said. “One is kids 2 to 11, because Xuxa sings and dances and invites the audience into what she’s doing. And the other is adults 18 to 24, because she comes out in hot pants.”

Although Xuxa appears to be a hit in Latino households across America--Univision is the nation’s largest Spanish-language TV network--and a phenomenon throughout Latin America, her name drew blank looks at several TV studios in Hollywood.

“Nobody in this whole place even heard of her,” said Kim Reed, vice president of advertising, promotion and publicity for MGM Worldwide Television Group, which expressed interest in Xuxa for a children’s TV series, according to reports in the Brazilian press. “An agent may have poked around trying to make something happen, then the next thing you know, there are reports that MGM is interested,” Reed explained.

Sources at Globo Group Inc., a Sherman Oaks record company that represents licensing and TV program sales for Xuxa outside Brazil, said that two independent production companies--MTM Productions and DIC Enterprises, which creates original cartoons for Univision--have offered Xuxa proposals for an American TV series based on her Brazilian show.

For the moment, the only barrier preventing Xuxa from spreading her kisses to children throughout the United States is the English language.

“At this point Xuxa decided not to accept any invitations to do anything in English because she thought she should be better in English before going on television,” said Helio Costas Manzo, managing director for Globo Group, which holds more than 200 product licenses for Xuxa. “She could be here right now, but she decided not to.”

Xuxa had to learn Spanish before she hit the market with the Spanish-speaking version of the Brazilian show that made her famous, which is taped in her native Portuguese. Now Xuxa is taking English lessons. In the next couple months, she plans to use English-speaking children in Buenos Aires to tape the pilot for an American version of her show. She is producing the pilot independently to help her assess the level of her English skills, Manzo said.

“Xuxa does not work with a script. She’s very natural in front of the camera, and speaks naturally to the children in her studio audience,” Manzo said. “So her show is easy to do in Portuguese, but it’s a little bit difficult to do in Spanish and much more difficult to do in English.”