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Much teen love for 'Isa TKM'

Across Latin America, the main character's kooky antics have spawned a legion of adoring fans. Now, the telenovela's popularity has spread to the U.S., thanks to MTV Tr3s.

November 09, 2009|Yvonne Villarreal

Fall is here, and schools are back in session. The uber trendy teens of "90210's" West Beverly High, the Upper East Siders on "Gossip Girl" and the chorus line on "Glee" are all just getting going. But a group of foreign-exchange TV students has been hard at work since summer.

Meet "Isa TKM." Across Latin America, the Venezuelan-teen telenovela has spawned legions of shrieking adolescent disciples. The show, from Nickelodeon Latin America and Sony Pictures Television, premiered in more than 22 countries last fall and quickly became the No.1 show among pay-TV viewers ages 12 to 17 in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, according to IBOPE Media.

This summer, it caught the attention of young U.S. Latinos with the help of bilingual channel MTV Tr3s, whose programming lineup features lifestyle series, music video blocks and news documentaries. The first season currently airs on the network -- with English subtitles for the Spanish-impaired -- weekdays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

Within five weeks of its U.S. launch, the show ranked second among Latino females ages 12 to 17; Disney Channel remains supreme in the 5 to 6 p.m. time slot.

"We're very happy with the success of the show," said Jose Tillan, general manager of the network. "I think the channel needs a balance between music, reality and the more scripted or drama kind of shows. The subtitling helps . . . but we've realized it's really about content."

Written by Venezuelan novelist Mariela Romero, "Isa TKM (Te Quiero Mucho / I love you a lot)" centers on a charismatic teenager named Isabella ("Isa"), played by Maria Gabriela de Faria, and her wacky schoolgirl antics. Isa, with the help of her bubbly best friend, Linda, tries to win the affection of Alex, the school's resident musician hottie. But he already has a girlfriend, Cristina, Isa's nemesis. Meanwhile, Linda has a crush of her own on Rey, one of the most popular guys in school.

In 2004, Univision scored big with its teen phenomenon "Rebelde," demonstrating an interest in youth-centered telenovelas among Spanish-speaking viewers. The soap even spawned Mexico's super pop group RBD, which released albums long after the show went off air in 2006.

"Isa TKM" is on a similar path. The teen telenovela has even been dubbed the Latino version of Disney's "High School Musical" by bloggers and fans.

The telenovela quartet released an album in July; two singles from the 12 tracks that make up the production have been released already: "Ven a Bailar" and "Vamos a Vivir."

And like its predecessors, music plays a key role in "Isa-mania." At a recent album signing in Bogota, Colombia, thousands of screaming fans and their parents piled into a local mall awaiting a glimpse of the teen sensations.

"That was crazy," De Faria said. "We never expected so many people."

And more fanatical outbursts should be expected. Nickelodeon began shooting the second season of the series in Colombia this summer. The 120 one-hour episodes premiered in Latin America earlier this fall; it's unclear whether the new season also will air on MTV Tr3s in the future.

"It's too early to say," Tillan said. "But the success we've seen so far is a good indicator that we'll see Part 2 of 'Isa TKM.' "

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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