Failing to re-create the success of "Today" on its Spanish-language television network Telemundo, NBC Universal on Friday abruptly canceled its morning show "Cada Dia."
The decision underscores the difficulty Telemundo faces in competing against the more powerful Univision Communications Inc., which dominates the Spanish-language market in the U.S. The Latino broadcasting business, which a few years ago was booming, is facing the same weak advertising conditions as English-language media.
The move also highlights the continuing struggles of NBC Universal to crack the code for Spanish-language TV six years after parent General Electric Co. paid $2.7 billion for Telemundo. Attempts to borrow winning formulas from NBC haven't done the trick, analysts said.
"The markets are really different," said Hector Orci, chief executive of La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, a marketing agency. "You can't go in there with arrogance and say, 'We've done it all of these years in English and so we will make it work in Spanish too.' "
"Cada Dia" was modeled after "Today" with a frothy mix of news and lifestyle segments on food, health and relationships. The show, which strove to be a cultural touchstone, regularly featured appearances by popular bands. Co-anchor Jose Diaz-Balart even interviewed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in March.
But NBC Universal found that "Cada Dia," launched in October 2005, could not compete with Univision's morning show, "Despierta America." The powerhouse Univision program averaged 801,000 viewers, compared with 138,000 for "Cada Dia."
"We had to make a very tough call," said Don Browne, Telemundo president. "It's gut-wrenching. We tried different ways and different approaches to make the show work, but it reached a certain plateau in the ratings, and we could not get it off that plateau."
The network confirmed that nearly 50 employees, or 3% of its workforce, were let go Friday, including about 40 who worked on "Cada Dia." Employees learned of the layoffs after taping the final episode, produced at the network's Hialeah, Fla., headquarters.
Browne said Telemundo was "going back to the drawing board" to come up with a replacement morning program. For now, Telemundo plans to fill the time period with local news segments, reruns of the news magazine "Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste" and the talk show "Rocio." It also will expand its morning telenovela block to two hours.
The retrenchment follows the cancellation of Telemundo's late-night comedy show, "Mas Vale Tarde con Alex Cambert," which was broadcast from Universal's CityWalk. Although it featured a promising young comedian, the show, which launched in November, could not gain traction and guests with broad appeal.
"We took a good swing, but it didn't work out," Browne said.
This is not the first round of cutbacks for Telemundo. Only 18 months ago, the network shed 5% of its workforce and consolidated much of its TV station news operations.
Telemundo is not alone.
This week, competitor Azteca America terminated 30 people, mostly at its Glendale headquarters, and moved the bulk of its news production to Mexico City. And in early May, another upstart, Houston-based LAT TV, folded after it couldn't get financing.
Azteca, a subsidiary of Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca, and Telemundo said the weak ad market was partially responsible for the restructuring.
Julio Rumbaut, a Miami media consultant, said one of the reasons Telemundo struggled in the morning with "Cada Dia" was that viewers' TV sets were still set on Univision from the evening before, when they watched its popular telenovelas.
But the prospect of more telenovelas is dispiriting to some.
"There certainly are already enough telenovelas on TV," said Felix Gutierrez, a USC journalism professor. "I would have hoped that NBC would have set a higher standard, not a lower one with less information and more canned escapist entertainment."
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Telemundo separately confirmed that two executives who were caught up in last year's scandal at the NBC Universal-owned KVEA-TV Channel 52 station in Los Angeles over political reporter Mirthala Salinas' affair with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have left the company.
Al Corral, the longtime KVEA news director, was let go earlier this spring.
Ibra Morales, the highest-ranking executive among the four people disciplined for violating Telemundo's journalistic standards, served as president of the Telemundo station group. Morales' last day was Friday. The company declined to renew his contract, and it said his position would not be immediately filled.
A Telemundo spokesman said the departures of Corral and Morales were not related to the Salinas scandal.
Salinas resigned last fall rather than accept a new assignment as a reporter in the station's Inland Empire bureau. Salinas now is a co-host of the Los Angeles talk radio show "Hoy Por Hoy" on W Radio XETRA 690 AM.
Manuel Abud, who was removed as general manager of KVEA in Los Angeles, has since been reassigned as general manager of the Telemundo TV station in Dallas.
Sources: Times reporting, NBC Universal, Telemundo