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Telemundo Takes a Cue From ‘Survivor’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The inevitable has occurred on Spanish-language television.

This fall, Telemundo, the country’s second-largest Spanish-language network, will feature a staged, unscripted show about 16 aspiring actors who are locked up in a Miami television studio for several weeks. The “survivor” of the Saturday night show, “Protagonistas,” will land a role on one of the network’s telenovelas next year. The announcement came Monday in New York as the network unveiled its prime-time plans to advertisers.

“I have to confess. We jumped on the bandwagon,” said James McNamara, Telemundo’s president and chief executive. “I think we have a different twist on it, though. They’ll have to dance and act out and then go off the set and do things that would challenge the actor in them.”

Other than adopting the unscripted programming that became so popular last year on the large, English-language networks, Telemundo has rolled out a lineup similar to the one that salvaged their ratings after a series of missteps several years ago. For the most part, Telemundo’s fall schedule is stacked with fresh telenovelas, original news programs and afternoon court shows.

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“We’re sticking with what works,” McNamara said.

The Miami-based network has solidified its audience base, but it still plays second fiddle to Univision, which is seen by 83% of all Latino adults in the country during prime time. Telemundo’s competition will intensify in the coming year as Univision’s parent company launches a second national network.

But Telemundo executives insist they have successfully carved out an identity as a network that produces alternative hit telenovelas. This past year, it was the Colombian soap opera, “Yo Soy Betty, la Fea,” (“I am Betty the Ugly,”) that drew countless new viewers to a story about an ugly duckling heroine. The year prior, a lush Brazilian telenovela, “Xica,” became the standard bearer of ratings for the network.

This year, the network has high hopes for another Brazilian telenovela, “Uga Uga,” which McNamara described as having a sort of “Tarzan in the city” story line. The main character is an orphan raised by Indians who is unaware he is the sole heir of a fortune. The Portuguese-language Brazilian programs are dubbed into Spanish for Telemundo.

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These type of breakout telenovelas look and feel different than the product airing on Univision, all of which comes from Mexico’s monstrous Televisa.

“Univision has a very good supply line [of telenovelas], but it’s a single source: Televisa,” McNamara said. “It’s the same four producers doing the same 10 story lines over and over again. They’re good, but it’s the same. We go after the Brazilian stuff, the funny stuff, the fresher young stuff.”

Although the network has raised its advertising rates from last year, they remains far below the cost of any time slot on the main, English-language networks.


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