Looking for Telenovela Success with 'Desire'

The new television network MyNetworkTV is debuting a series Tuesday evening called Desire — one of several new series this season that are based on Spanish-language telenovelas. Television critic Andrew Wallenstein reviews Desire and the trend to copy the success of the wildly popular and sometimes wildly melodramatic soap operas.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

Fall is not quite officially here, but the new TV season is, with new shows and even new networks. Starting tonight MyNetworkTV comes to the airwaves. Here is TV critic Andrew Wallenstein with a look at one of its new series, Desire.

(Soundbite of TV show, Desire)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): Well, my, my, my look who it is.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): Is this a start of a new era of you being here all the time?

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: That's a scene from the new drama series Desire. And her question works on many levels, really. Will the new channel Desire calls home, known as MyNetworkTV, make it's mark with this kind of sexed up drivel? I'm praying not.

You're probably wondering how MyNetworkTV got there in the first place. If you haven't already heard, The WB and UPN are no more, having merged into a new entity called the CW.

Many of the stations that didn't get onboard the CW train are banding together under the MyNetwork banner. Now I find myself in the awkward position of uttering a sentence I never thought I'd say: God, I miss UPN.

This new network doesn't play by television's usual rules. Instead of an assortment of weekly series, MyNetworkTV will play episodes of a pair of shows six nights a week for 13 weeks. The strategy is modeled on a format known as the telenovela that's insanely in Latin America.

It's a pretty ambitious gamble. American viewers have shown loyalty to daily afternoon soap operas, but prime time is a different playing field. What is even more audacious is the tone and style of the MyNetworkTV show, a spicy mix of PG-13 sexuality and violence that makes Desperate Housewife's look like Masterpiece Theatre.

Take this scene from Desire, a pulpy mess of a drama about brothers on the run from the mafia who fall in love with the same woman. If that doesn't sound realistic enough, take in the dialogue from this scene of betrayal featuring a man in a wheelchair sitting precipitously close to a swimming pool.

(Soundbite of TV show, Desire)

Unidentified Male #3 (Actor): I couldn't watch you marry Louis(ph). I'd give anything if he died and not your father.

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): I know.

Unidentified Male #3: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #3: What's that?

Unidentified Male #3: I love you in Italian.

Unidentified Woman #3: I do know one word in Italian...

Unidentified Male #3: Yeah, what?

Unidentified Woman #3: Arrivederci.

Unidentified Male #3: Cara!

WALLENSTEIN: I won't trouble you with the particulars of the plot or even the actor's names; something tells me they'll be leaving Desire off their resumes. But as bad and bottom feeding as the shows on MyNetworkTV are, I'm loathed to dismiss them entirely. That's because the man behind MyNetworkTV is Rodger Ailes, president of Fox television stations and a creator of a little cable network you may have heard of - Fox News Channel.

I despair that there may be an audience out there for this garbage. And if anyone can find that audience, it's him.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and a regular television critic here at DAY TO DAY.

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