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Telemundo Changes Format to U.S.-Style Dramas, Sitcoms

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a bold move that network officials say will change the face of Spanish-language television, Telemundo has unveiled a fall lineup of game shows, action dramas and sitcoms that differs dramatically from its traditional prime-time fare of imported telenovelas and old Mexican movies.

The announcement came Thursday, just days after Telemundo stockholders voted to approve Sony and Liberty Media’s purchase of the financially troubled network for $539 million. The Federal Communications Commission still must rule on the deal, but Sony officials expect the government to approve the transaction within the next few weeks.

Sony’s involvement was key to Telemundo’s programming overhaul, and the entertainment giant’s imprimatur is obvious on each of the new programs. The action drama “Angeles,” for example, is a thinly disguised remake of a 1970s series to which Sony holds the rights, “Charlie’s Angels”; the sitcom “Living en America” is a Spanish-language version of Sony’s “One Day at a Time”; and “Un Angel en la Casa” closely mirrors another Sony property, “Who’s the Boss?”

Other new programs include updated versions of “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” a “Candid Camera” remake and a police drama, “Reyes y Rey.”

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Telemundo (seen locally on KVEA-TV Channel 52) will also tap Sony’s vast motion picture library for its Tuesday and Thursday prime-time film slot, “Cinemundo.” The films will be dubbed in Spanish.

Meanwhile, its current prime-time novelas (soap operas) will be moved to a three-hour weekday block beginning at 9 a.m., giving the network a daily programming lineup that bears more resemblance to an English-language station than to Univision, its prime Spanish-language rival (seen locally on KMEX-TV Channel 34).

Sony officials said the new lineup will be rolled out slowly beginning in September. Most of the changes should be complete in time for the November ratings sweeps.

“We’re trying to give the quality level of U.S. television--which I think is acknowledged as being at a higher level--but not for the cost of English-language television. That’s our challenge,” says Andy Kaplan, the executive vice president of Sony’s Columbia-TriStar television group.

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“We’re trying to appeal to the American experience of U.S. Latinos as opposed to just bringing in Venezuelan and Mexican programming. A big part of what we bring to the table is our relationship with talent and synergy throughout the Sony company.”

Whether viewers will tune in to see Spanish-language versions of shows that have long since vanished from general-market television is uncertain, but clearly Telemundo had to do something to shake up its programming. The network, which in based in Miami and Glendale, was placed under bankruptcy-law protection in 1995 and has seen its ratings drop by half in the last five years. In prime time, it’s done even worse, claiming less than 15% of the Spanish-language viewership nationwide.

Univision has built its ratings lead largely on the strength of telenovelas imported from Mexico and Venezuela. But with Univision locked into expensive long-term deals to carry those programs, Telemundo’s strategy is to offer counter-programming it considers more relevant to U.S. Latinos.

In addition to the new programs, Telemundo will be shuffling shows that remain from its current lineup, moving the Miami-based talk show “Sevcec” up to 2 p.m. and moving “Al Dia con Maria Conchita” with Maria Conchita Alonso back to 10 p.m., where it will face off with Univision’s wildly popular talk show “Cristina” on Mondays.


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