TV turns Miami into 'Hispanic Hollywood'

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) ÄThe look is familiar, but the language may not be.

Pizza Hut is shooting a television commercial for its new stuffed-crust pizza on a fishing pier, near a fountain, in a shopping arcade and at a city park for its Spanish-speaking U.S. audience.

The sunny backdrop easily translates to Hispanic pizza lovers. The Miami scene, indoors and out, also happens to be a growing center for Spanish-language television productions of all kinds.

''This has become, for lack of a better adjective, the Hispanic Hollywood,'' says Deeny Kaplan of Miami International Studios Inc.

MTV Latino hosts Argentine singer-actor Diego Torres and British crossover artist Bryan Ferry at a Miami Beach studio for its ''Hora Prima'' live show. The converted theater is down the stylish Lincoln Road Mall from the network's architecturally edgy headquarters.

Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo generate much of their news and entertainment productions from antenna-edged studios in suburban Miami and Hialeah.

Hero Productions produces and transmits programming from a studio and satellite uplink center in the warehouse district of Medley for Discovery Channel-Latin America, Canal Sur, the Gems women's channel and others.

The networks may be foreign to millions in the United States, but they are household names in the Spanish-speaking world. The potential U.S. audience is 24 million Hispanic households.

MTV Latino, including a subtitled ''Beavis and Butt-head,'' reaches 5 million subscribing households in 20 nations.

Miami took the spotlight after an almost evolutionary process. The climate has always been inviting for outdoor work, which generated $200 million in English and Spanish location shooting last year.

With its air travel connections, Miami in recent years attracted the Latin American headquarters of major U.S. corporations and the U.S. offices of Latin American companies. Reliable telephone service, often spotty abroad, was a given in Miami.

Ethnically, the city is best known for its Cuban exiles, but pockets of Nicaraguan, Dominican and Peruvian communities have grown to make the region the unofficial capital of Latin America.

The cultural, technical and talent ends grew coincidentally with Miami's Latin base and production houses. Latin American economies improved, television diversified from government-owned networks, cable service was born, and businesses on both sides of the equator became more aware of the Hispanic market potential.

Univision and Telemundo are the veterans, dating back to 1982 and 1988, respectively. MTV Latino debuted less than two years ago, and Gems turned one April 1.

Why not Los Angeles or New York, the traditional homes of U.S. TV productions?

''They don't have the location that is as convenient to Latin America as Miami is,'' said Richard Arroyo, senior vice president of MTV Latino and a Los Angeles transplant of Mexican descent. ''You don't have as much air service from Los Angeles, and it takes you longer from New York.''

The network's staff of 100, featuring recognizable face Daisy Fuentes, pulls from 17 countries, and its headquarters represents a $17 million investment.

''We found whatever we need. Whether it's building a set, there are artists who can do that,'' said Peruvian-born Barbara Corcoran, the network's executive producer. ''From every aspect, the service has been there to get the job done. All the elements for production are in place here in Miami.''

But why not locate in Latin America?

National rivalries are one factor. ''Miami seems to be a neutral ground for all these actors to unite in and work in,'' said Hero President Bob Behar, former senior vice president of Telemundo.

Earl Falcon of Falcon Productions, maker of the Pizza Hut commercial, has been doing TV shows, commercials and music videos in Miami for 20 years. He estimates 70 percent of his business last year was in Spanish, and clients included JC Penney, Target, Ryder and Wesson.

''Yearly, you do see that the budgets do improve a little bit at a time, and you can do more,'' Falcon said.

As Latin America's infrastructure improves, the region seems like a natural for grabbing its own productions. But Miami has established itself as a strong production platform.

MTV Latino experimented this winter with guest hosts broadcasting from seven Latin American beaches for its ''Playa MTV'' show.

''The plan is to produce more and more in Latin America and to produce more outside of Miami,'' Corcoran said. ''But Miami will always be our base of operations, so even as we expand more and more out of Miami, our studio base will always be here.''

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