The Latinization of U.S. culture will step into the living room this fall with the debut of two telenovelas in English.


Twentieth Television, a unit of News Corp., has already taped "Desire" in San Diego. Another show, "Secret Obsessions," goes before the cameras this month. For Twentieth TV and sister Fox Broadcasting, the shows represent a major gamble as debut programs for MyNetworkTV, the broadcast network set to launch Sept. 5.


Telenovelas, often called "Spanish soap operas," are the predominant form of primetime programming in much of Latin America. While they possess similarities to U.S.-style soaps dramatic and romantic tales with multiple, intertwining story lines they also have significant differences. For example, they run a finite number of episodes and end with all the story lines dramatically tying together.


"Desire" and "Secret Obsessions" will run 65 episodes each. In keeping with tradition, they will air five nights per week, Monday to Friday, with "Desire" at 8 p.m. and "Obsessions" at 9 p.m. A summary show of highlight scenes will air on Saturday.


"We view this as a mainstream program that will have mass appeal," said Les Eisner, vice president of media relations at Twentieth Television. "With that said, we aren't forgetting that the genesis of the telenovela format comes from Latin America. We're not looking at the first-generation (immigrants), but probably the second and third generations, who speak both languages and have an interest and familiarity with telenovelas."


Robert Rose, a pioneer in English-language TV for Hispanics and chief executive of AIM Tel-A-Vision Group in New York, said the concept is not such a hard sell, given that shows like "The Sopranos" and "Desperate Housewives" share many traits with the novela format. "Sight unseen, the format would seem to lend itself to attract second-generation Latinas who may have grown up watching novelas with their parents or grandparents, but have since turned to more English-language fare," Rose said.


The shows target the adult 18-49 demographic, and specifically, women aged 18-49. To reach that mainstream segment, the producers of "Obsessions" have signed film star Bo Derek to play Maria Zianni, a sophisticated but iron-fisted chief executive of a family-owned fashion company. At the same time, to reflect the show's Latin heritage, Maxim cover girl Natalie Martinez will play Michelle Miller, an unfulfilled wife who dreams of becoming a fashion designer.


To produce the shows, Twentieth acquired rights to adapt Spanish-language telenovelas. The production team translated the scripts to English, changed names and locations, and "Americanized its sensibilities," in Eisner's words. "Obsessions" is based on Miami-produced "Salir de Noche" (or "Out at Night") while "Desire" comes from "Mesa Para Tres" (or "Table for Three"), produced by Colombian broadcaster Caracol. As the name implies the story deals with a love triangle, in this case involving two brothers.

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