'Collywood' production hub on the map

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MEXICO CITY -- Welcome to Collywood.

On Thursday, Fox International Channels bowed suspense series "Tiempo Final" throughout Latin America. The debut was the first locally produced project under new Spanish-language production partnership Fox Telecolombia and represents a key moment for what execs are dubbing the "Collywood" project.

The Latin American TV production hub is part of a long-term plan to develop U.S.-style series for a fraction of what they would cost in Tinseltown.

Shot entirely in high-definition, Fox Telecolombia produced 26 one-hour episodes of "Tiempo Final."

FIC says "Tiempo Final" marks the beginning of an ambitious strategy in Colombia to produce somewhere in between 500 and 1,000 hours of scripted content over the next three years.

"We are planning to produce three or four series in Colombia next year and we will also do English-language series at a later stage," said Emiliano Saccone, vp marketing and content at Fox Latin America Channels.

The idea is to create new series modeled after such popular U.S. programs as "24," "Nip/Tuck" and "Prison Break."

Fox Telecolombia is developing an as-yet-untitled series with Colombian scribe Gustavo Bolivar, the creator of Canal Caracol's hit telenovela "Sin Tetas no hay Paraiso" (Without Breasts There Is No Paradise).

NBC bought the rights to "Without Breasts" to develop an English-language remake, while NBC's sister network Telemundo will produce a Spanish-language version.

Telemundo also is ramping up production in Colombia. Next year, it expects to churn out about 400 hours of content at its studios there, focusing primarily on telenovelas. Patricio Wills, president of Miami-based Telemundo Television Studios, said that Telemundo's version of "Without Breasts" will come across as a hybrid of a U.S. dramatic series and a nontraditional telenovela.

Hernan Lopez, president of News Corp.'s FIC, sees Colombia as a key Latin American territory due to the universal vision one finds in local productions like "Without Breasts" and the original "Ugly Betty."

"When Colombians write, they are already thinking about exporting the product," Lopez said. "They have been very good at picking up stories that translate into any part of the world."

Agreed Wills: "We have been producing in Colombia for six years now and the talent, creativity and low production costs have been the main components."

Saccone added that Colombia offers another distinct advantage: "A neutral Spanish-language accent" that makes it much easier to export locally produced content to other Latin American territories. In the U.S. Hispanic market, viewers tend to show a preference for Spanish spoken in Mexico or Colombia.

Telenovelas continue to top the ratings charts in Latin America. While soaps will remain widely popular for many years to come, industry experts believe audiences are thirsting for more diversity.

While it may strike some as premature to refer to Colombia as "Collywood," few people doubt that the South American nation has all the right elements to make it a significant production center as time moves on.
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