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What NATPE Says About Turner’s Ambitions in Mexico

John Hopewell

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MADRID  — Mexico is a magnet. Netflix produces near twice as many originals there (40) as in France (23) or Germany (23), according to Ampere Analysis. Among Latin America’s biggest cable powers with a 2019 24% audience share in Latin America, and five of its top 10 channels , not so long ago Turner Latin America hardly produced Mexican series.

Now it is now hunkering down in the U.S. neighbor, its NATPE slate of new originals led by a trio of Mexican titles, romantic dramedy “Amarres,” “The Cleaning Lady,” a thriller, and “Las Bravas,” about a women’s soccer team. Caught just before Natpe, Tomas Yankelevich, Turner Latin America’s EVP & chief content officer, General Entertainment, drilled down on its Mexican drive and what the slate says about Turner Latin America’s ambitions as parent company Warner Media prepares to launch OTT service HBO Max this semester. Variety notes five key points:

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1.Why Mexico?

Turner’s Mexico drive is no coincidence, As Yankelvich pointed out to Variety in a Mipcom interview, Mexican TV series remain “highly valuable” now not just on free-to-air or cable but global platforms as well for the close-to-40 million Mexicans living in the U.S. The double market is a much bigger pay proposition than Mexico alone. Spanish-language content “travels well, and particularly travels well to the U.S. Hispanic population with which Mexican production, actors and production settings will particularly resonate,” agreed Guy Bisson, at London-based Ampere Analayis. “Geographic proximity to continental USA is also key here in the choice of Mexico, it’s simply closer and easier than many of the other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.”

2.Women Rule

Another non-coincidence: All three series focus on women. In “Amarres,” a 10-part family dramatic comedy and the first of three series with Mexico’s Dopamine, Ana (Gabriela de la Garza) battles to avoid her ex-husband gaining custody of her three children. In post-production, and a remake of Jaque Content’s hit Argentine original, “The Cleaning Lady” (“La muchacha que limpia”) stars Damayanti Quintanar as a mother who channels her obsessive compulsive disorder into cleaning up crime scenes for the mob. Produced with The Mediapro Studio, and set for TNT Mexico, ”Las Bravas” turns on a lowly women’s soccer team struggling to win its regional championship. “We began to develop these series quite a long time before MeToo. Female protagonists have a special attraction, as can be seen from Hollywood movies, and not just for us. Making a woman’s soccer series is a pretty clear message of where Latin America and the world is going,” says Yankelevich, proudly citing TNT Sports in Argentina, which is airing Argentina’s first Women’s Soccer First Division Tournament from September.

3.Producing in an OTT World

One potential – but not inevitable – buyer for Turner’s series for the U.S. is now HBO Max. Cable viewers are usually over 35-40, and ever more similar to free-to-air audiences, Yankelevich says. Yet, its viewers are no longer content to see shows which target this demographic. “We’re beginning to think of shows which are broad and sophisticated enough to screen also on direct-to-consumer platforms”, he adds, recognizing that ”part of our shows in development, which won’t be finished until mid or late 2021, might even go straight to OTT, thinking about the launch of HBO Max in Latin America.”

4.Innovations

So innovations abound. Produced with Mexico’s BTF Media (“Hasta que te conocí,” “El secreto de Selena”), “Amarres” is the first time a Mexican woman screenwriter, Fernanda Eguiarte, wrote all the episodes and served as show runner, Dopamine’s Fernanda Navarro pointed out in a presentation in December in Mexico City. The series also sports a harder, more realistic edge. Ana, in “Amarres,” has sired three children by different fathers, has two lovers. “She’s not the typical heroine of a telenovela. She could be any woman. Before, she might have been a virgin, far lighter as a character. The difference is in the force that these new women protagonist have,” says Yankelevich. In “The Cleaning Lady,” Rosa starts cleaning up for the mob, desperate to get together the money to save the life of her son, who desperately needs an hospital operation. Also, because a mafioso is putting a gun to her head.

4.Hiking the Melodrama

Some, constants, however, remain.”I always say to the development team that if you have a horror story, you need horror and love, and melodrama. Love works in any story and any territory. Especially for Latin American audiences, however,  if there isn’t a quota of melodrama, audiences will turn off,” says Yankelevich. Love stories, however, can now be told a different way. The narrative of modern Spanish-language fiction, from “Grand Hotel” onwards, is the creation of modern melodramas which appeal to audiences whose parents might have watched telenovelas.

5.Back to One’s Roots

Also, there a sense -and again no coincidence – in two of Turner’s three new Mexican titles of characters returning to their roots. In “Amarres,” that’s case of family tradition. To make ends meets, Ana returns to her grandmother’s art, after her death, creating love potions, though she herself has been unlucky in love. In “Las Bravas,” the team’s trainer is Roberto Velarde, a soccer star in Spain, forced into retirement by a heart condition, who returns to a native México he had once left behind.

Nostalgia works. Bronco, the legendary norteño band, first broke through in the 1980s. Released last year, Turner Latin America’s bioseries of the same title, positioned TNT in Mexico as its No. 1 pay TV, and one of Mexico’s top 5 channels when the series was airing.

(Pictured: “Amarres,” “The Cleaning Lady,” Tomás Yankelevich)

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