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How MundoFox Will Find Its Niche

Javier Szerman knows a thing or two about television content
for Latin American audiences. The Argentina native has written or produced TV
projects for companies including Sony Pictures Television, Disney/Buena Vista
Productions, MTV Latin America, Fox Kids, FX Latin America, Telemundo and
Univision, among others. Earlier this month, Szerman was appointed vice
president of content development at MundoFox, the Spanish-language
broadcast-network joint venture of News Corp. and Colombia's RCN Television set
to launch Aug. 13. As MundoFox puts the final touches on its content strategy,
Szerman spoke to Hispanic TV Update contributor
Laura Martinez about how the upstart plans to snatch eyeballs -- and advertising
revenue -- from Univision and Telemundo, and why he thinks MundoFox has a chance
to succeed in the world of Spanish-language TV. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: You are
originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. What brought you to the U.S. and how
did you end up at Fox?

Javier Szerman: I
came to Los Angeles many years ago after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to
obtain a Master of Fine Arts in film. That was in 1990, and I've been in the
U.S. ever since. In the past few years, I've been working for Fox International
Channels, working specifically for Latin America from L.A. During this time,
I've overseen and executive produced many drama series, including Kdabra, Tiempo Final and our first comedy, Exposos.

MCN: MundoFox says it
will reach 75% Hispanic households at launch. What type of programming can
viewers expect?

JS: We are going
to have a mix of original and acquired programming. With regards to acquired
programming, we'll take a look first at what the partners are bringing to the
table, namely teleseries and novelas from [Colombia's] RCN and shows from Fox
International Channels, including its weekly dramas Kdabra and Tiempo Final.
We also want to program action and family movies and, of course, we'll have our
own national newscast to be produced in the U.S. for U.S. Hispanic audiences.

MCN: What is the
difference between a teleseries and a telenovela?

JS: Both are
programmed Monday through Friday, but I'd say the main difference is that
teleseries have bigger production values; they usually have less episodes than
an average telenovela and are usually shot on location. It is a mix between a
telenovela and a series, that's what we called them teleseries and RCN has
become a master of the genre. El Capo
is an excellent example of what a teleseries is.

MCN: What do you plan
to do with your primetime?

JS: We are going
to launch with Los exitosos Pérez, a
romantic comedy from Mexico. RCN's El
Capo 2
is also scheduled for our primetime. We'll have a first phase, at
launch, and then we'll be tweaking things based on how the audience responds.
Right now, the strategy is to run a telenovela, then local news, a teleseries
and then a weekly drama. Part of the plan includes dubbing into Spanish
successful Fox series, including Bones.
But again, I'm sure we'll be tweaking this as we go along.

MCN: What about
original productions?

JS: We are
already working on an original production, Minuto
para ganar
(Minute to Win It), a
game show hosted by Marco Antonio Regil and produced with Shine America that is
scheduled to air Monday through Friday. That will be the first production for
and by MundoFox, and we believe it will be ready at launch. However, we are
still discussing if it will air at launch.

MCN: Will you be
producing in the U.S.?

JS: There are
plans to develop fiction series [in the U.S.] and to actually shoot here,
whether L.A., Miami, New York. Because of our experience developing these
American-style shows at a fraction of the cost in Latin America, we are
confident we can accomplish this here. We have the expertise. Of course there
are going to be many challenges.

MCN: Budget

JS: Yes, budget
might be one of the challenges. But also we've noticed there is a lack of
experienced fiction writers in Spanish here in the U.S., compared to Latin
America. There are a lot of great Latino writers here, but they mostly write in
English. That is something we need to develop.

MCN: Speaking of
language, what is your take on the explosion of English-dominant and/or
bilingual Latinos?

JS: The thing is,
these bicultural Latinos are not consuming more English-language media simply
because it is in English. They are doing so because there is a lack of
high-quality programming in Spanish; they do have an appetite for
Spanish-language programming but the problem is that most of the times they
can't find it, because it doesn't exist.
We know from research and focus groups that there is a
market for high-quality content; there is a market for MundoFox. And we think
we will be addressing the needs of this acculturated audience. If you build it,
they will come.

MCN: What would you
say MundoFox brings to the table?

JS: We always say
we think Univision and Telemundo are doing a great job and we are not saying
that what they are doing is not right. We want to offer Hispanic audiences
another alternative, and I think that the way to do it is offering a product
that hasn't been shown in those networks before.
We don't aspire to reach Univision's rating levels in the
first year or two, but I know there is room for another player in the market
and that is going to be us.