Arizona Republic
May 21, 2006

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)
May 21, 2006
Author: Yvonne Wingett, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 6

Maria Zianni is a cutthroat fashion mogul who rules the industry atop Jimmy Choo stilettos and runs her company with an iron -- but impeccably manicured
-- fist.

She's accustomed to getting what she wants and, until now, has spared no one from her ambitions. But she has suddenly found herself in a tangled love triangle, thrust into a world of uncertainty, blackmail and despair amid gold diggers, supermodels and vindictive but charming designers.

For 65 episodes of the new drama series Secret Obsessions, Maria will twirl her way through salacious scenes riddled with seduction, sex and cliffhangers.

And she's dropping the Spanish.

Telenovelas, over-the-top soap operas wildly popular in Latin America and Eastern Europe, are crossing over to U.S. English-speaking audiences.
Networks are hoping the plots, which usually hinge on passion, betrayal, murder and deceit, will succeed in America, just as they have worldwide.

"There seemed to be quite a phenomenon building here with these novelas,"
said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television, which is overseeing MyNetworkTV's novela rollout.

"The more we looked into the story lines, we found them to be quite good.
There are love triangles, with all the kinds of drama and jeopardy, and people getting killed."

The rags-to-riches Cinderella stories have heated up prime-time Spanish-language TV for years, driving up ratings of Univision and Telemundo networks. Their novelas typically run each weeknight, for up to six months.
The plots have distinct beginnings, middles and ends, unlike typical American daytime soaps, and they're very much a part of the lives of audiences, who live vicariously through the characters, their dilemmas and upper-crust lifestyles.

Now CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox are hoping the novela will translate to mainstream U.S. audiences and are either adapting Spanish scripts to English or developing new scripts around the format. Network executives and media experts say it was inevitable that U.S. networks would adapt the telenovela format, due to its tremendous popularity and the constant need for new programming.

MyNetworkTV, a new prime-time channel operated by Fox Television Stations Inc. and Twentieth Television, will be the first to hit the airwaves with English novelas. Its two scripted shows, Secret Obsession and Desire, will launch the network Sept. 5 in Phoenix (on Channel 45, KUTP-TV) and other U.S. metro markets. The channel has three more novelas in development.

Secret Obsessions stars former sex symbol Bo Derek as Maria Zianni. Desire chronicles the destruction of a family when two brothers on the run from the mob find themselves in love with the same woman. Each show will run 65 episodes Monday through Friday for 13 weeks, with recaps each Saturday.

Network executives hope the shows will seduce people like Rosa Cardenas, 31.
Born in Mexico and raised in Phoenix, she's bicultural and bilingual. The novelas on Spanish TV are too cheesy for her tastes. Instead, she flips on Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City.

She might give Secret Obsessions a try because Maria Zianni sounds like a no-nonsense businesswoman -- just like Cardenas, who owns an interior-design company.

"I'd like to see the power women," she said. "My main thing is ... not seeing the typical Mexican maid (and) not seeing the typical woman always under control of the husband."

Cook said Secret Obsessions and other MyNetworkTV novelas will alter some of the defining characteristics of Spanish shows. For example, instead of setting them in Brazil, they could be set in New York or Los Angeles. The mother-daughter relationships wrought with cattiness and jealousy in Spanish could be softened. And the over-the-top promotion of crime and violence could be played down.

Craig Allen, an Arizona State University media expert, says the networks have their work cut out for them. Other than Dallas and Dynasty, he says, English-speaking U.S. audiences have not been trained to invest large amounts of time in prime-time soaps, which could work against the English crossover.

"They're going to have an uphill battle," he said. "The biggest advantage of this is it's something new and this is what English TV has been dying for:
something new, and something seemingly original."

Popular plots

Rags-to-riches telenovelas have ruled prime-time Spanish-language TV for
years. A rundown on the plot lines from a few of this season's most popular:

Telemundo, Channel 48 (KDRX)

* Corazon Partido: In Mexico City, Aura returns home in search of the son
who was taken from her at birth. She falls in love with Adrian, who turns
out to be her son's adoptive father. She struggles with how to tell the man
she loves to give her back her child after he has cared for him all his

* La Tormenta: Maria Teresa, a businesswoman used to the city life, has to
leave her comforts behind and move to La Tormenta (the name says it all),
her father's ranch, which she must turn into a profitable business to avoid
bankruptcy. The worst part is dealing with Santos Torrealba, who runs the
ranch. The moment their eyes meet, it's obvious they are too different to
live under the same roof. But no matter how hard they try to stay apart, the
chemistry between them grows and leads to a passionate affair.

Univision, Channel 33 (KTVW )

* Peregrina: Tragedy darkens the household of millionaire Eliseo. His
beloved daughter Marisela has been diagnosed with an incurable illness, gets
pregnant and dies giving birth to a daughter. Eliseo's second wife,
Victoria, is a widow with identical twin sons, Anibal and Rodolfo. Victoria
sees the newborn as a direct threat to the inheritance of her favorite son,
Anibal. The years go by and Rodolfo, who has grown to be a kind, decent man
-- the opposite of the self-absorbed Anibal -- is led by fate to the circus,
where he meets a gypsy's daughter Peregrina, a beautiful dancer who's the
living image of Marisela. When Peregrina shows up at Eliseo's residence
looking for Rodolfo, she meets Angelica, her real mother's sister.

* Barrera de Amor: Maria Teresa Galvan is in love with Luis Antonio Romero,
an older widower whose two small children adore her. Luis Antonio is the vet
at the Valladolid hacienda and is about to marry Maite, but their happiness
is crushed when Adolfo Valladolid, who pretends to be Luis Antonio's best
friend, brutally rapes Maite. In a rage, Luis Antonio beats him up and is
sent to jail by Adolfo's mother, Dona Jacinta, the powerful matriarch of the
Valladolid family. Maite's efforts to help him are useless.

Sources: Univision and Telemundo.

Network telenovelas

Telenovelas, over-the-top soap operas widely popular in Latin America, are
coming to America -- in English. The networks are feverishly working to
bring the passion, the intrigue, the deceit and heartbreak to your living
room. Here's the skinny on their efforts:

* MyNetworkTV, a prime-time network operated by Fox Television Stations Inc.
and Twentieth Television, will launch Sept. 5 on KUTP-TV (Channel 45) in
Phoenix and KTTU (Channel 18) in Tucson. Desire will air at 8 p.m., followed
by Secret Obsessions. Three other novelas, A Dangerous Love, Watch Over Me
and Art of Betrayal, are in development; launch dates will be announced

* CBS: In development. The network is taking the basic concepts of the
Cinderella novela and coming up with its own version for the 18- to 49-
year-old female audience. It could run 15 to 26 episodes and air twice
weekly. "We're creating our own hybrid version," said Barbara Bloom, CBS
senior vice president for daytime programming. "It will have a strong female
protagonist, it will have a love story, it will have a story that begins and

* NBC: In development. The network has come up with an arrangement to
produce novelas shown by Telemundo, its Spanish subsidiary. "The challenge
is to figure our what's the right format," spokesman Alfredo Richard said.
What works for Spanish TV, he notes, might not work for English. "We're
curious about how (the format is) going to translate to an English-language
audience. ... Novelas are the most popular television format around the
world, and the U.S. is coming into the rest of the world. It's inevitable
for it to happen here."

* ABC: In development. The network is adapting a popular Colombian script.

-- Yvonne Wingett

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-4712.

CAPTION: Right: Michele Belegrin as Andrea Zavatti in Desire. Far right:
Mike Begovich as Lance in Secret Obsessions. CAPTION: Bo Derek as Maria
Zianni brings a familiar face to Secret Obsessions. Right: Donna Feldman
digs for gold as Gloria in Secret Obsessions. CAPTION: Tomy Dunster as
George, Michele Belegrin as Andrea Zavatti in Desire.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: a&e
Page: E1