'Dona' will romance NATPE

4:00 AM PST 01/25/2008 by Steve Brennan, AP

Sony, Telemundo to push telenovela

"Dona Barbara," one of the classics in Latin American literature, will become the next major global telenovela series from Sony Pictures Television International and Spanish-language network Telemundo. The deal will be among the biggest unveilings at NATPE's Conference & Exhibition next week in Las Vegas.

With a commitment for 120 episodes in high definition, the series will be front and center of both groups' conversations with buyers from around the world at the annual confab of the National Association of Television Program Executives, set for Monday-Thursday. The majority of the initial interest in "Dona" probably will come from Latin American buyers, who are expected to be out in force this year. Activity from other major territories, including the U.K. and Italy, is expected to be slower despite the weak state of the U.S. dollar.

That said, much of the action at NATPE likely will involve international elements, with observers pointing to the fact that domestic activity might be slower than in other years.

With "Dona," Latin American attendees surely will have in mind the success that the SPTI and Telemundo partnership had with "Zorro: La Espada y la Rosa," which has become one of Telemundo's most successful original novelas; it was the network's highest-rated novela in 2007.

"This is a real classic novela story with love triangles, good and evil, lots of passion and forbidden love," said Brendan Fitzgerald, SPTI senior vp international production for Latin America. "It is an epic of classic Latin American literature and required reading in Venezuela."

As with "Zorro," the series will be broadcast in the U.S. Hispanic market on Telemundo, with SPTI and Telemundo distributing throughout Latin America and worldwide.

"We started out on 'Zorro' with great expectations, and it turned out to be everything and more that we had hoped for," Telemundo Communications Group president Don Browne said. "Now we want to do another epic, a classic, and that is what we are now able to do with 'Dona Barbara.' When you read the book you can visualize the spectacular countryside. You have jungles and ranches and cowboys and beautiful and mysterious women."

Of the partnership with SPTI, Browne added: "It allowed us both to become greater than the sum of our parts."

The novel by Venezuelan author Romulo Gallegos was published in 1929.
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