May 2011
Volume 31 No. 3

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Fewer, But Hot Telenovelas Steam Up the L.A. Screenings

By Erin Somers

As a market, the purpose of the L.A. Screenings is mainly to show new series, and the telenoveleros are eager not to disappoint their buyers, so they’re bringing as many new series as possible on their annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles. But, like the U.S. studios, telenovela distributors are at the mercy of stations that commission them and, lately, TV outlets in Latin America seem to have increased the number of reality shows to the detriment of the genre.
So, this year telenoveleros are alerting buyers to expect fewer new series, but also that visiting them in L.A. in advance of the studios screenings will be well worth it.

At the Screenings telenoveleros depend mostly on pre-scheduled appointments and very little on floor traffic, and are well aware of the demand that they impose on Latin buyers who go to L.A. earlier to spend some quality time with telenovela distributors at breakfasts, lunches and dinners before the U.S. studios monopolize their time.

Together with NATPE and, increasingly, MIPCOM, the L.A. Screenings is one of the most important — if not the most important — events in the Latin program market calendar. For the telenoveleros and other independent distributors, Latin America has become the L.A. Screenings’ main focus, while the studios cater to all buyers indiscriminately.

This year, the Latin Screenings for the telenoveleros and other indies who, for the first time in many years, will camp out exclusively at the Century Park Hotel, stretches from May 18 to May 20. Venevision International kicks off the Latin Screenings with a traditional party, while Telefe closes it before May 20 when 20th Century Fox takes over with the start of studios’ screenings, which will last until May 27. A significant event for the Latin contingent is Telefilms’ May 21 50th year anniversary celebration cum screenings at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Of the some 80 telenovelas that are now produced annually in Latin America and the U.S., most are first introduced during the L.A. Screenings, with NATPE marking the second best and MIPCOM the third market in terms of quantity.

At the L.A. Screenings all the key telenovela producers are represented, mainly from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Perú, Venezuela, Mexico and the U.S. These seven countries house some 16 telenoveleros and 12 distributors, each selling anywhere from one to 12 telenovelas per year. And even though this time the telenovela output is less than in the past, those screened promise to leave buyers satisfied.

When it comes to the ingredients that go into a hit soap, Patricia Jasin of Perú’s Frecuencia Latina International put it best: “Although there is no set recipe, I believe that a good story and a good script continue to be the key to a successful telenovela.” It is these types of strong stories that Latin executives will be banking on at the Screenings. VideoAge got in touch with a cross section of distributors from all over Latin America to find out which new novelas are being debuted here in Los Angeles, and what trends programmers should watch for within the genre.

Among the Latin distributors VideoAge spoke to, many content slates for the Screenings seemed to be comprised of a list of tried and true titles topped by one or two new hot entries. Bogota, Colombia-based Caracol Television has just such a roster. This time around, international sales director Lisette Osorio and her team are premiering two brand new titles: The Witch and Yellow Team. With its emphasis on witchcraft, The Witch is on trend with the worldwide craze for the supernatural. Meanwhile, Yellow Team follows five street warriors as they take on a myriad of conflicts and adventures.

Mexico’s Televisa has also come to L.A. with a raft of new soaps. Said a sales rep, “Our ‘star’ product is The Power of Destiny, however, Rafaela; With You, Without You and A Fortunate Family are also new titles.” The Power of Destiny centers on a man who was framed for a gangster’s murder, and returns from 11 years of exile to seek revenge. Also from Mexico is TV Azteca/Comarex, which is bringing just one new title to market: Cielo Rojo.

Venezuela’s Venevision International is also unveiling a new title. Venevision’s president and COO Miguel Dvorak is bringing along a delegation including VP and CFO Manuel Perez and president of Sales César Díaz, who will, like many others, be camped out in a suite at the Century Plaza throughout the week. Said Dvorak, “Armed with the extraordinary success of Eva Luna, we are headed to L.A. Screenings with a lot of enthusiasm and high expectations as we present for the first time the telenovela La Viuda Joven.” La Viuda Joven, which took the English title of The Black Widow, is a thriller and a mystery with a love story at its core. Asked what makes for a hit novela, Díaz had this to say: “Recently, we have seen how some telenovelas based on criminal activities or drug lords capture the attention and interest of broadcasters. However, no matter what setting or plotline you may add to a telenovela there is no mistaking that the classic ‘Cinderella’ or rags-to-riches story continues to be the underlying theme of any successful trend.”

Frecuencia’s Jasin, who is the company’s director of International Sales, is bringing Against the Rope. This drama follows a young prize fighter whose life changes when he refuses to deliberately go down in the ring. As boxing stories have proven perennially popular with telenovela fans, Jasin and company are hoping for a knockout. Jasin also noted that in addition to being a great forum for selling novelas, the Screenings also provides invaluable networking opportunities. “L.A. Screenings gives us a chance to consolidate our relationships with our current clients and to keep expanding our presence in the international market,” she said. “It is an opportunity to present our new products and also to identify new partners for our original developments.”

Miami’s Telemundo Internacional is constantly adding new novelas to its slate. This market will be no exception: Mi Corazón Insiste, La Casa de al Lado and Sorpresas del Destino are set to make their international debuts. The latter title is set in Korea, in hopes of cashing in on the telenovela craze that has swept Asia. Meanwhile, Mi Corazón Insiste follows the story of two lovers who elope to Las Vegas and La Casa de al Lado reveals the many secrets one family is concealing.

Although it is not a telenovelero, Miami, Florida-based indie movie and televovela distributor VIP2000 is bringing two new titles: En Nombre del Honor (In the Name of Honor) produced by Romania’s MediaPro and Luna Roja produced by Portugal’s SIC.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s TV Globo is promoting two new titles. Passione deals with the secret past of a powerful family and involves classic novela themes like mystery, envy and passion. And in a second soap, The Buzz, two fashion designers face off for runway dominance.