Telemundo schedule high on humor

May 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

It’s “Uga Uga” ahead at Telemundo-the perennial No. 2 in the Spanish-language network ratings wars-which has been making gains on powerful ratings rival Univision by trying funnier content.
First it was “Betty la Fea,” the Colombian telenovela that was a sensation in the Hispanic TV world because it leavened the traditional three-hankie melodramatics of the genre with comedy. Now, Telemundo is importing “Uga Uga,” a Brazilian telenovela about a boy, raised in the jungle by Indians, who returns to civilization as a young man who inherits a fortune.
“It’s Tarzan in the city, George of the Jungle,” said James McNamara, president and CEO of Telemundo Communications Group, and like “Betty,” it’s meant to bring humor to the telenovela.
“We knew that `Betty’ was good,” Mr. McNamara said of the phenomenon about the ugly secretary who falls for her movie-star-handsome boss (and wins him, of course), “but we didn’t know it was that good.”
Now with “Uga” (pronounced “ooga”), from the same producer as “Betty,” Telemundo thinks it will catch the fancy of the audience that tuned in for the latter telenovela. “It’s the most different novela ever made,” Mr. McNamara said.
Also new to the Telemundo schedule is a reality show that takes the telenovela form in a different direction. “Protagonistas,” a cross between “Big Brother” and “Popstars,” follows 16 aspiring actors who are locked in a television studio for six weeks, with the two winners of acting “challenges” getting on-air roles in an actual upcoming Telemundo telenovela.
“I confess, we’ve jumped on the bandwagon,” Mr. McNamara said. “I’m not going to try to spin this one.”
Other new programming set to be announced at Telemundo’s upfront presentation Monday in New York.
* “Solterita y a la Orden” (“Single and Available”), a one-hour telenovela dramedy that Mr. McNamara called “Our `Ally McBeal.”’
* “Pedro el Escamosa” (a colloquialism that translates as “Pedro the Slimy” or “Pedro the Slippery”), another comedic telenovela from Colombia, which Mr. McNamara characterized as the male version of “Betty.”
* “Buscando a Rita” (“Searching for Rita”), an original animated series that Mr. McNamara likened to “The Simpsons.” The show’s logline, according to Mr. McNamara: A boy and a girl fall in love, move to the States and get separated. “The reason Latinos are going to like this is that it does poke fun at gringos,” he said.
The network is also “opening up a Disney franchise,” Mr. McNamara said, with a slate of dubbed Disney family films added to its weekend theatrical mix of Hollywood action-adventures and Latin American classics.
Other news from Telemundo: Its network news program, “Noticiero Telemundo,” is going to seven days, adding twice-daily weekend newscasts for the first time.
“Protagonistas” is envisioned as a limited-run nightly series for the November sweeps, and “Buscando” and “Solterita” are set for Sundays. The network’s latest crop of telenovelas is produced under the co-production joint ventures Telemundo has with Brazil’s Globo TV, Mexico’s Argos Communications and Colombia’s Caracol TV and RTI.