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Hispanic TV Increases U.S. Productions, But Not Without Surprises

April 18, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ More ″Made in the USA″ programs are airing on U.S. Hispanic TV stations these days, sometimes packing surprises for producers, performers and viewers.

For instance, last year singer Linda Ronstadt was approached for a Spanish- language TV interview after she lustily sang a concert of the Mexican corridos she learned from her father.

″She couldn’t say three words in Spanish,″ producer and host Luca Bentivoglio said of the singer, who was raised in Arizona. His entertainment news program, ″Desde Hollywood,″ reaches 85 percent of the nation’s estimated 20 million Hispanics on the Spanish-language Univision network.

Raquel Welch, also with Hispanic ancestry, had Spanish problems too, Bentivoglio said. Other entertainers with no particular Spanish links, such as actors Ted Danson and Charlton Heston, have tried speaking the language, and Chevy Chase surprised Bentivoglio with a rapid-paced patter sounding like Spanish.

Language isn’t the only surprise facing Univision and rival Telemundo, which reaches 65 percent of U.S. Hispanics. Producing more programs in this country means developing new formats and paying higher costs.

About 40 percent of Telemundo’s network shows are U.S.-made, up from about 20 percent a year ago, said Peter Roslow, network marketing director. Univision’s U.S. production share is now 31 percent, a 450 percent increase from 7 percent in 1988, said President Joaquin Blaya.

Blaya says U.S. productions cost six times more than imports from Latin America, long Hispanic TV’s main source.

Both networks use English-language TV producers, borrow American formats and look for ways to cut costs. In the process, Spanish-language TV is looking more like TV in English.

New shows include music videos, game programs similar to ″Pantomine Quiz″ and ″Candid Camera″ and audience talk shows resembling ″Oprah″ and ″Donohue.″ This spring, Univision rolled out ″El Juez,″ a courtroom drama, ″Portada,″ a magazine show, and ″Cristina,″ an audience talk program.

But it takes more than simple translation to take a show theme from English to Spanish.

″When we have a show on impotence (for example), it’s harder to get a man to talk about his sexual problems than on Anglo TV because of machismo,″ said Maria Laria, hostess of Telemundo’s audience talk show ″Cara a Cara.″

″We had a show on sexual fantasies,″ said Ms. Laria. ″A lot of the Hispanic community complained. Latin women are not supposed to have sexual pleasure.″

To cut costs, Bentivoglio does his two Univision shows, ″Tu Musica″ and ″Desde Hollywood,″ without sets. The fast-paced music, hot graphics, video clips and interviews are edited on a table top with VCRs and TV screens at a cost of $5,000 per half-hour show.

But cost cutting is not applauded by all. Performers in ″El Juez″ were paid less than in the English-language version of ″The Judge″ after the Screen Actors Guild approved lower wages to boost Hispanic productions and jobs.

″I’m not getting rich. I make more in the American market,″ said former ″Hill Street Blues″ star Rene Enriquez, who plays the judge. ″Yes, it is less money than the minimum. Right now the important thing is to have it done. Later on we have to evaluate and be fair.″

Instead of the standard $398 per day, ″El Juez″ performers were paid a $250 minimum. Reruns are paid at 25 percent of the actor’s applicable minimum, rather than the standard declining percentage running from 40 percent to 5 percent after the 12th run.

″The viewing audience for the Spanish-language networks is much smaller,″ said SAG official Rodney Mitchell. ″The advertising dollars would be much smaller for the Spanish than for the English-language version.″

Like Enriquez, some Hispanic union members favored the pact, believing it is helping bring Hispanic TV production to the States. Others disagreed.

″We were split 50-50,″ said Victor Contreras, one of 12 Hispanic performers attending a SAG meeting. ″I will not work for less than scale. Here we’re demonstrating an additional skill and then asked to discount our fee.″

If the pact had not been approved, the show could have been shot in Mexico, where actors are paid $50 a day, or Puerto Rico, where pay ranges from $100 to $150, SAG’s Mitchell said.

Ratings figures show people are watching Spanish-language TV, but not all of the U.S.-produced shows draw as well as Telemundo’s two game shows or Univision’s Saturday night extravaganza ″Sabado Gigante.″

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