After two years of watching its small slice of the
Spanish-language television market dwindle further, Telemundo is finally on a ratings
comeback, with a new schedule that mixes traditional novelas with American-style sitcoms
and talk shows.
Telemundo programmers turned many heads in the television
industry in 1998. Under new owners Sony Corp. and Liberty Media Group, it dumped most of
its novelas and unveiled a primetime schedule based on remakes of American TV shows from
the 1970s, such as Charlie's Angels (Angeles) and Starsky and Hutch (Reyes
Most of the shows bombed, and Telemundo's share of
Spanish ratings fell to 8 percent, as dominant Spanish-language broadcaster Univision
Communications Inc. saw its stake of the Hispanic market soar above 90 percent.
Telemundo told advertisers it wanted the shows to portray
what life is like for Latinos living in the United States. While the characters in the new
shows were Latino, critics complained that the story lines were originally based on the
lives of white, English-speaking Americans several decades ago.
A management shakeup followed the ratings slide. Last July,
Telemundo replaced CEO Peter Tortorici -- a former CBS Entertainment president who had
spent just 11 months at his new job -- with James McNamara, former president of Universal
Entertainment president Nely Galán resigned from the
network in October, but she continues to produce shows for Telemundo through her Galán
McNamara has returned Telemundo's primetime focus to
novelas, and the strategy appears to be working.
Last fall, Telemundo rolled out a new schedule that
features an afternoon talk show hosted by a Roman Catholic priest and a primetime lineup
consisting mostly of novelas produced in Mexico and original sitcoms featuring characters
based on Latinos living in the United States.
December Nielsen Media Research "Hispanic Television
Index" ratings saw Telemundo post significant increases from the same month in 1998
in nearly all dayparts, including a 206 percent jump with its new Catalina y Sebastian
one-hour novela, running Monday through Friday at 7 p.m.
Most of Telemundo's novelas are produced by Mexican
broadcaster TV Azteca. While the novelas increased ratings for the network, they are a
departure from Telemundo's focus of portraying Latin American characters in its
But that's not a problem for McNamara. "This move
back to novelas is purely and simply a move to reconnect to our audience," he said.
"First and foremost, our audience likes novelas. They like good novelas regardless of
where they come from."
Not only do the novelas drive ratings, but they are also
less expensive to produce than original sitcoms, McNamara said. Telemundo originals such
as its Sunday-night hit, Los Beltran, cost $150,000 to $200,000 per episode to
produce, he said, adding, "To acquire a novela is considerably lower than that."
In January, Telemundo revamped its 10 p.m. weeknight lineup
after ratings for a Discovery Communications Inc. program and a newsmagazine program
dropped. The shows were replaced by episodes of Xica, a new novela.
The network's schedule consists 35 percent to 40
percent original programming, McNamara said, adding that he would eventually like to
increase the amount of originals to 50 percent of the lineup.
One of the more unusual shows in Telemundo's new
schedule is Padre Alberto (Father Albert), a one-hour talk show running weekdays at
4 p.m., hosted by a priest who also preaches at a parish in Miami. The program has been
compared to TheJerry Springer Show -- not for fisticuffs (there are none),
but for some of the topics and the monologue Padre Alberto does at the end of the show.
Recent topics on the show included, "How do I recover
my honor after having been accused of molesting my children?" and, "I want to
separate from my parents and I don't know what to do."
Galán, who interviewed 500 priests for the job, said
people "thought I was on drugs" when she told them she was developing the show.
But aside from the primetime novelas, Padre Alberto is one of Telemundo's
highest-rated shows. December ratings for the time slot were up 7 percent from the same
month last year, averaging a 3.1 rating.
Galán said the typical format for the show focuses on,
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" and the second half includes a
roundtable similar to ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.
Galán left Telemundo in October to relaunch her production
company. She also signed a contract with Telemundo to produce Padre Alberto and two
sitcoms on its schedule, and to develop new shows for the network.
One of those sitcoms, Solo en America (Sundays at 8
p.m.), is based on American comedy One Day at a Time. The only original to survive
the slate Telemundo launched in 1998, the show tells the story of a divorced Venezuelan
immigrant living in Brooklyn, trying to raise two daughters and to earn a living as a
"That's our viewer -- a woman caught between two
cultures, and the kids are becoming Americanized," Galán said. Solo en America
averaged a 4.6 rating in December, up 77 percent from the movies that ran in the same time
slot in December 1998.
Solo en America leads into Los Beltran,
Telemundo's most popular new sitcom, which premiered last fall. The show is based on
Cuban immigrant Manny Beltran; his wife, Letti; their daughter, Anna; and her husband,
Miguel. He is Mexican-American, which sparks some friction between Anna and her parents.
"It reflects not just my mission, but when I watch it,
I feel like that's me. That's how I grew up," said Galán, who was born in
Cuba. "Who else can tell the story that Latinos don't like each other and
don't get along other than Telemundo?"
Los Beltran averaged a 4.9 rating in December, up 113
percent from what was running in its time slot last year. That has some media buyers
"Los Beltran is one of the best new programs in
Spanish-language television," said Millie Almodovar-Colon, a media buyer at New
York-based Siboney USA. "I like the fact that the humor is relevant to life in the
United States. It's just well-written."
Initially, Telemundo mixed a small amount of English
dialogue into Los Beltran, saying it wanted to portray the way some Latinos in the
United States speak at home. But McNamara killed that strategy.
"It's really only a small slice of society that
is able to dominate both languages sufficiently to speak 'Spanglish,'"
McNamara said. "My mandate was to eliminate the English and go back to Spanish. Even
a few words of English alienates that vast majority out there that only speaks
Telemundo is stepping up its sports-programming strategy,
which focuses mostly on soccer, and it plans to acquire more sports rights, McNamara said.
Last April, the network recruited Univision sports director Jorge Hidalgo, naming him vice
president of sports.
The network is also increasing the number of specials it
runs. In August, Telemundo acquired the Spanish-language broadcast rights for Ricky
Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca Tour," which it ran several specials on.
"Because of the Sony association, they have the best concert series going,"
Galán said Telemundo is considering three to seven new
shows for the 2000-01 season, which the network will unveil at its upfront presentation in
May. She added that the new slate will include more comedies, describing the shows as
"some cross-genre, interesting, high-concept ideas that are pretty original."
McNamara said the network is also considering producing
three to six "movies of the week" for its new schedule.