During January of this year, Nickelodeon aired 20 episodes of a teen comedy called “Every Witch Way.”
The show focuses on 14-year-old Emma Alonso, who moves with her father to south Florida and, while starting at a new high school, discovers that she’s a witch. The show’s premise probably sounds like a very familiar one in the post-“Buffy” universe, and it got great ratings for Nick (the average show on the kids’ network in January drew 1.7 million viewers—“Witch” averaged 2.6 million).
But what makes it a true landmark is its pedigree.
It’s based on a Spanish-language teen telenovela named “Grachi” which ran on Nickelodeon’s Latin American arm between 2011 and 2013. In fact, the head writer of both shows is the Miami-based Catharina Ledeboer, who is bilingual. “The story lines translate completely,” she told the Miami Herald recently. “Good versus evil, finding yourself— it’s all universal.”
Even so, there was a significant amount of rewriting that was required. For one thing, Ledeboer pointed out, “American kids are [more] savvy. We had to work a little harder at the jokes.”
There is a sizable entertainment production industry in south Florida, thanks mainly to the Latin American arms of Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon and the MTV networks, and Spanish-language broadcast powerhouses, Univision and Telemundo, both of which have production offices in the region.
J.C. Acosta, Viacom’s top production executive in Florida, told the Herald, “We’re really excited [“Every Witch Way”] might open the door for a combination of producing Spanish-language and English-language content in Miami.”
But there has been concern that production companies may flee the state if a $296 million pot of state subsidies that reimburses up to 30 percent of the in-state expenses of TV productions originally set aside in 2010, peters out.
A show like “Every Witch Way” holds other advantages for Viacom that have nothing to do with subsidies. The network saved production costs by being able to tap into the same studio in Doral, Fla., and many of the same sets, wardrobe, writers, crew and cast that were used for “Grachi.”
Univision/ABC and Telemundo/NBC benefit from similar economies of scale with Latin versions of TV franchises like “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Voice.”
For its part, according to the Herald, Nickelodeon is planning another Spanish-to-English teen series, this one about a chef prodigy. “Once we wrap the Spanish show,” Acosta said, “we can start filming the English-language version.”
The makers of “Every Witch Way,” meanwhile, wait to find out if Nickelodeon plans to renew the show. Given that the Spanish-language version lasted a couple more seasons and all the cost benefits that are still in play, it would seem the decision is a bit of a sin cerebro.