NEW YORK (AP) – Telemundo, the perpetual little brother to Univision in the competition between Spanish-language television networks catering to a U.S. market, is closing the gap this season with the help of fast-paced soap operas involving characters in the drug trade.
So far this season, Telemundo's prime-time viewership is up 23 percent to 1.46 million, while Univision is down 21 percent to 2.29 million, the Nielsen company said. Telemundo has never beaten Univision in prime time, and the margin this year is smaller than it has ever been. Among viewers aged 18-to-49, Telemundo has cut the difference by 54 percent since 2010.
The biggest factor are the so-called "narco novelas" like "Senor de los Cielos" and "Senora Acero." Spanish-language novellas, which air five nights a week in the same time slot, have generally run up to 150 episodes before reaching a conclusion, and Telemundo has been cutting these runs by as much as half.
How quickly do they move? The lead character in "Senora Acero" watched her drug-dealing husband be shot and killed last season, and now she's already juggling two new boyfriends.
"It's about telling stories differently," said Glenda Pacanis, senior vice president of programming at the NBC Universal-owned Telemundo. "It's about telling stories that our audience can relate to ... yet still respecting the genre."
Telemundo is also trying something new this season with a series on musician Celia Cruz.
Univision is taking notice, and is cutting the length of some future novellas. The network is confident about two upcoming series, "Pasion y Poder," that begins next month, and the adaptation of a Spanish series "El Gran Hotel" in January.
Still, could Telemundo be on the verge of toppling the giant of Spanish-language television?
"I'm not even going to go there," Pacanis said. "We've got to keep our eye on the ball and put the best product that we can on the air."
CBS won last week in prime time, averaging 9.8 million viewers. NBC had 8.2 million, ABC had 6.4 million, Fox had 4.9 million, Univision had 2.2 million, Telemundo had 1.5 million, the CW had 1.4 million and ION Television had 1 million.
TBS was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 3.02 million viewers with the help of baseball playoffs. ESPN had 2.74 million, AMC had 1.74 million, Fox News Channel had 1.71 million and USA had 1.54 million.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 8.1 million viewers. ABC's "World News Tonight" was second with 7.8 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.8 million viewers.
For the week of Oct. 19-25, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Philadelphia at Carolina, NBC, 20.61 million; "NCIS," CBS, 17.22 million; NFL Football: Seattle at San Francisco, CBS, 17.12 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pregame," NBC, 15.8 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.68 million; NFL Football: N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia,, ESPN, 13.9 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 13.14 million; "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 12.99 million; "Football Night in America," NBC, 12.51 million; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 12.5 million.