- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

Lost in translation?

American television producers often look outside the country for inspiration. Witness the trans-Atlantic switch that gave us “The Office.”

Now, Twentieth Television President Bob Cook tells Associated Press the time is ripe to see if the popular Latin American telenovela format can be adapted for an English-speaking American audience.

Mr. Cook’s personal timing couldn’t be better.

He was touting his company’s upcoming telenovela series, “Desire,” at a convention of television programmers in Las Vegas when word came that the WB and UPN networks would join forces. Suddenly, dozens of jilted TV executives were left with gaping holes in prime-time schedules that they needed to fill.

“We became the belle of the ball,” Mr. Cook told AP.

The first story in the “Desire” telenovela series is scheduled to begin June 19. Mr. Cook says he has commitments from broadcasters representing 70 percent of the country and is negotiating with stations that would cover 20 percent more. Meanwhile, ABC and CBS also are developing their own telenovelas.

Telenovelas are essentially superheated soap operas brimming with lust, deceit, high emotion and attractive actors who work wearing little clothing. Patricio Wills, head of production at Telemundo, joked that telenovelas are love stories with “a couple trying to have kids and a writer in the middle trying to keep them apart for 100 episodes.”

Unlike American daytime soaps, some of which have been on the air for decades, the telenovela is like an extended miniseries that comes to a conclusion.

Each “Desire” story, for example, will last for 65 episodes before a new one begins.

The appeal of the stories and format is something television executives say they can’t ignore.

“We’ve watched an incredible growth globally, not only in the Latin community, but all over the world,” Mr. Cook says. “These things have been successful in over 100 different countries. Our television community is always looking for something new and something different.”

Lillard digs a ‘Grave’

Matthew Lillard, who memorably re-created the character Shaggy for the two big-screen “Scooby-Doo” features, is turning his talents to television.

The comic actor has signed on as the star of the Fox pilot “13 Graves,” Reuters news agency reports.

The drama centers on a retired treasure hunter who — while searching for his missing brother — unintentionally becomes tangled in the quest for Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro’s legendary mass of Incan gold, believed to be hidden in 13 underground chambers buried throughout America.

Dominic Sena (“Gone in 60 Seconds”) will direct.

Mr. Lillard — whose other film credits include the “Scream” franchise and the feature “Without a Paddle” — next appears in Edward Burns’ comedy “The Groomsmen” and “In the Name of the King.”

Going for laughs

ABC is hoping a quartet of new comedies will help keep its momentum alive.

First up: “In Case of Emergency,” a sitcom about four high school friends who reunite unexpectedly when they all hit crossroads in their lives. The tentatively titled show has earned a six-episode commitment from the network.

Also in the works at ABC are three comedy pilots that the network hopes will break the standard sitcom boilerplate. “A Day in the Life” follows a young couple’s wedding day, with episodes focusing on the points of view of the various participants.

The second, “Notes From the Underbelly,” is about a group of friends — as told through the point of view of a married couple who have just found out they are expecting a baby.

The third sitcom, “Help Me Help You,” is an ensemble comedy about a disparate group of people connected through therapy.

Compiled by Christian Toto from Web and wire reports.

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