VH1's novela idea for series

4:00 AM PST 12/10/2007 by Kimberly Nordyke, AP

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VH1 is beefing up its unscripted slate, greenlighting an eight-episode series featuring aspiring telenovela stars.

The network also has ordered new installments of "Celebrity Fit Club" and "ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show" — both of which will feature a twist. "Fit Club's" sixth season will star former cast members returning to compete with a new group of celebrities, while the follow-up to "Rapper," titled "ego trip's Miss Rap Supreme," will feature a search for the next great female MC.

In the new series "Viva Hollywood!" 12 bilingual Latino and Latina contestants will learn the "7 Deadly Sins of Telenovelas" — passion, lust, charisma, drama, fire, seduction and scandal — in order to impress the judges: actress-singer Maria Conchita Alonso and singer-songwriter Carlos Ponce. Astrologer Walter Mercado will give the contestants guidance.

The winner will land a role on a Telemundo telenovela, representation from management company Latin World Entertainment and a $100,000 prize. The hourlong series, from World of Wonder (VH1's "What Perez Sez"), premieres in the spring.

"Fit Club" also is in production for a spring premiere. Returning cast members Tina Yothers, Willie Aames, Toccara and Dustin Diamond comprise one team, while Sommore, Brian Dunkleman, Erin Moran and A.J. Benza comprise the other.

"Rapper's" MC Serch will return to host "Miss Rap Supreme," which just wrapped production and also is set for spring.

Brian Graden, president of entertainment at MTV Networks Music Group, is hoping to continue building on the success VH1 has seen with such unscripted series as "Flavor of Love" and its spinoff "I Love New York," "Rock of Love With Bret Michaels," "The Surreal Life" and "Hogan Knows Best." VH1, which is on track for 22 consecutive quarters of growth among total viewers, retooled its programming strategy a few years ago, following a ratings slump after its "Behind the Music"/ "Pop-Up Video" heyday.

"Four or five years back, we repositioned VH1 and tapped into something pretty unique in terms of this shared appreciation of collective nostalgia," Graden said. "It was good positioning; the niche only became more relevant as this decade unfolded."

This year, VH1 has launched 18 unscripted series or specials averaging at least 1 million viewers. Topping that list are "New York's" first and second seasons (3.9 million and 3.7 million season-to-date, respectively), "Charm School" (3.3 million) and "Rock of Love" (2.5 million, with the finale drawing 5.4 million to become the second-most-watched VH1 telecast ever).

Graden also is hoping that success will translate to the scripted realm, where VH1 hasn't gotten much traction with "So Notorious," "Acceptable TV" and "I Hate My 30s."

"Both 'So Notorious' and 'I Hate My 30s' were very on brand for us, and I thought they were very funny, but we knew going into both of them that they were very specific in their appeal," Graden said. "They were both very much experimental, but you've got to (take risks) to find the potential next big thing."

Coming up, VH1 is premiering the improv comedy "Free Radio" early next year and just ordered a pilot for "The Life and Times of Marcus 'Felony' Brown," a single-camera comedy from Keenen Ivory, Shawn and Marlon Wayans about an up-and-coming rapper (HR 12/6).

"We'd love to have a big scripted hit, but it really has to be on brand before we make an investment," Graden said. "The Wayanses' project is so obvious because it speaks to music and the ups and downs of fame — all things VH1 is known for."
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