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MNT: All Novelas, All the Time

After making a heavy investment in English translations of Spanish-language telenovelas, Fox’s MyNetworkTV (MNT) has abandoned plans to proceed with a slate of reality shows it had put into development in the event the new programming format launching the network fails.

“We will be all telenovelas, all the time,” Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy said.

“We originally did announce reality but now we’re going in this direction,” added Twentieth Television Programming President Paul Buccieri, appearing with Abernethy and talent, including Fashion House stars Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild, at the Television Critics Assn. press tour Thursday in Pasadena, Calif.

Buccieri noted Twentieth, which is supplying programming for the venture (with Fox looking at providing only a small dedicated staff), has been actively acquiring scripts and developing future telenovela slates. It will start production on multiple telenovela arcs prior to the network launch Sept. 5.

The programming executive, who is personally leading the telenovela production effort, serving as the de facto executive producer, also revealed that MNT will no longer use the umbrella titles of Desire and Secret Obsessions for the closed-ended scripted series. Twentieth decided that it would be better from a branding standpoint to develop each under a separate title, he said.  

Pressed about why MNT would stick with the telenovela format if it does not initially work, Abernethy equated the idea of switching gears with Lifetime moving  to men’s programming had its female-only strategy gotten off to a slow start.

Buccieri suggested that other networks, which have retreated from their initial enthusiasm over telenovelas, attributing the delays to a search for the right business models, were “afraid” of the large time period commitments needed to do them in the manner that has made them the world’s most popular programming format. The programs traditionally run as one-hour, closed-ended strips, though none of the networks appear to be going in that direction now (ABC adapted the American version of Ugly Betty as a weekly series).  

The launch of MyNetworkTV, meanwhile, could be hampered by declining ratings this summer for UPN, since Fox now controls the lame-duck network’s affiliates in the nation’s largest markets.

“UPN has been trending down lately, which is a little bit of a concern since we will draw off of this,” Abernethy said.

Since UPN and The WB will not fold into The CW until Sept. 20, there will be a two-week overlap when the Fox stations and other netlet affiliates signing onto MNT will have to carry two networks.

Abernethy said the Fox duopoly stations will run MNT in prime time and stop carrying UPN programming entirely on Sept. 5. The issue is what happens in other markets that are contractually obligated to UPN and WB.

Some stations invested in the success of MNT from financial and branding standpoints may be motivated to shift UPN and WB rerun fare to the overnight hours. Some MNT affiliates have suggested that they are closely examining their contracts to see if they will follow Fox’s lead and stop running the other programming early.

Geared toward adults 18-49, MNT has been cleared so far in 94% of the U.S., including 97 of the top 100 markets. Abernethy predicted that more affiliates will run MNT’s two-hour block of telenovelas in pattern in prime than The CW.