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Low-Rated Telemundo Gets New CEO

July 08, 1999|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

James M. McNamara was named president and chief executive officer of the flagging Spanish-language Telemundo network on Wednesday, replacing Peter Tortorici, who has led the network since its purchase by Sony and Liberty Media last August. The announcement comes a week after The Times reported such a management shake-up was imminent.

The 45-year-old McNamara, who was born and educated in Panama and speaks fluent Spanish, comes to Telemundo from JMM Management, a Westwood-based new media and international broadcasting firm he founded last year. Before that he was president of Seagram's-owned Universal Television Enterprises, concentrating on domestic and international syndication.

McNamara inherits a TV network in crisis. Since Sony and Liberty Media purchased Telemundo for $539 million last summer, the network's tiny share of the prime-time Spanish-language TV audience has fallen by more than a quarter, to less than 9%. That slide forced it to back off a nontraditional programming strategy that replaced telenovelas, or Spanish-language soap operas, long the core programming choice of Spanish-language TV, with U.S.-style dramas and sitcoms. In the fall, Telemundo returns to telenovelas, an approach also favored by Univision, its only national Spanish-language broadcast rival.

"But programming is about execution," said Jon Feltheimer, the president of Sony's Columbia TriStar Television Group, which oversees Telemundo. "That means . . . making sure the programs themselves are as well made as possible," said McNamara, who added that he'll continue with the new fall lineup Tortorici introduced to advertisers in May.

Feltheimer said that while no further personnel changes are planned, McNamara will spend the next three or four months evaluating Telemundo's management team. Tortorici, a former president of CBS Entertainment, will form his own independent production company to develop and produce shows for Columbia TriStar. He declined comment.

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