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Univision to Produce a Sitcom in U.S.

Television * The country's fifth-largest network announces its fall schedule, which also includes a game show and many programs made overseas.

May 18, 2000|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Univision, a Spanish-language television network that has grown into this country's fifth-largest network overall, presented its fall lineup to advertisers Wednesday amid self-congratulations for its huge profits (a 55.9% increase to $204.5 million in 1999) and continued dominance in the Spanish-speaking market.

The South Florida network acquired three years of one of soccer's most prestigious tournament, America's Cup. And for the first time, the network will produce an original sitcom in the United States, "Estamos Unidos" (United Always), which will be seen Fridays from 10-10:30 p.m. The show will star 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado as the daughter in a story about a Latino family adjusting to life in the U.S. Well-known Mexican actor Carlos Bonavides co-stars.

Nearly half of Univision's programs originate overseas and are funneled to the network through a deal with Mexico's largest television network, Televisa. But "Estamos Unidos" will be shot here, which means Univision pays for the sitcom's development, casting and filming. Whether Univision took a cue from its only Spanish-language competitor, the much smaller Telemundo network, is unclear, but Telemundo unveiled its first original U.S.-produced sitcom at last year's presentation. That show, "Los Beltran," has received good ratings, and Telemundo announced Monday it will keep the show on its schedule.

"We do not program, or invest or build in reaction to Telemundo," the network's chief operating officer, Henry Cisneros, said. "I can't discern a single decision made because of something Telemundo has done."

Both Univision and Telemundo are keenly aware that their most popular programming still comes from the studios in Latin America that churn out the serial love sagas, known in Spanish as telenovelas. For viewers of Spanish-language television, prime time is a known commodity, with telenovelas airing five nights a week. The only unknowns are who will betray whom and who will fall in love with whose inheritance.

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Among the telenovelas this fall on Univision is "La Casa en La Playa" (The House on the Beach), in which the dying wealthy patriarch seeks peace and reconciliation among his four grown children. He offers them his fortune if they and their families can live in one location for an entire year. In "Abrazame Muy Fuerte" (Hold Me Tightly), a crime committed two decades earlier reverberates across a family dynasty. The other new telenovela entry is "Locura de Amor" (Mad From Love), the story of a boarding school student who falls in love and has an affair with her teacher.

Univision's presentation Wednesday included an appearance by Cisneros, who once served as housing secretary for President Clinton. In January, Cisneros pulled in $7.46 million by selling 66,668 shares of his Univision stock.

Inspired by the success of ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Univision will introduce a new game show this year, "A Millon!" (To the Million), which will air Sundays at 8:30 p.m. In an effort to make it more reflective of Latino culture, there will be two family members at all times next to the contestant. The host will be Daniela Romo, a well-known Mexican comedian, singer and hostess, perhaps best known for her waist-length hair.

While ABC executives were placed on the defensive earlier as a succession of white males got comfortable in the contestant's chair, Univision executives emphasized that "A Millon!" will make them "the first Spanish-language network to produce a game show providing Hispanics with a chance to win a million dollars."

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