Telefe’s Tomás Yankelevich

Scripted series have become a major focus for Argentina’s Telefe, with titles ranging from psychological thrillers to crime stories finding space in its catalogue. One of its most anticipated series is The Return of Lucas (El regreso de Lucas), a co-production with Peru’s América TV about a family whose son seemingly returns home 20 years after being kidnapped. Another recent Telefe highlight is the award-winning miniseries Story of a Clan (Historia de un clan), based on the actual tale of an Argentine family in the ’80s that kidnapped and murdered well-to-do businessmen. Telefe also recently announced a co-production deal with Endemol Shine Argentina for The Great Participant (El gran jugador), a 13-episode series about a young engineer who becomes a Big Brother contestant only to announce on live TV that he will detonate a bomb if his unjustly incarcerated sister is not released. TV Drama Weekly spoke with Tomás Yankelevich, Telefe’s director of global contents and international business, about these new projects, the challenges of co-producing within Latin America and the success of its dramas.

***Image***TV DRAMA: Tell us about the production of The Return of Lucas.
YANKELEVICH: Production took place in Lima, Peru, and we are very happy [because the series] has a great cast. The most interesting thing about all of this is our cooperation with Peru’s América TV. We are working side by side to deliver the best product for all Latin America. [The series] will have 60 episodes and is being shot in 4K. We have new cameras, the same ones used to film Cannibals (Entre caníbales), so we have high expectations, as does América TV.

We screened a trailer at the markets early [last] year, and it stirred up great demand among [buyers]. The Return of Lucas has great producers, heads of casting and even voice coaches for neutral Spanish. We developed the scripts in Buenos Aires and then adapted them with our local team of writers. Obviously, América TV made sure all its operational and technical teams were available. The cast has a mix [of Latin American actors] because our idea is to make a product that works well in Peru, but we’ll then have the chance to take it to different countries, so we are trying to make a universal [story] that isn’t purely Peruvian. The words [used by the actors] aren’t colloquialisms from Peru; they’re a little more neutral. About 50 percent of the talent is Peruvian and another 50 percent is from Argentina, and then there’s Ana María Orozco, who is a Colombian actress. The Argentine actors took neutral-Spanish classes for six months in order to be well prepared. What we did was standardize the accents so that everyone sounds the same; otherwise it’s a hodgepodge [of accents]. The scripts are very good and we have great expectations for this production. The series will be completed by March, and we’ll be delivering the first episodes at NATPE for interested buyers.

TV DRAMA: Story of a Clan has been very successful in Argentina, where its episodes managed to pull in big ratings. How did the idea for this production come about?
YANKELEVICH: We’d been working with Underground Productions, which is the company that came up with this idea. It’s tough betting on a product that has only a few episodes, but we were fortunate that the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) was supporting these kinds of productions. We told them about Story of a Clan and said that if the pitch were approved, we would throw in a slightly higher investment than INCAA in order to have a much larger production, and that worked.

At the same time, INCAA came out with the film [The Clan], which they financed. For the movie, they chose as the lead [Argentine actor Guillermo] Francella, who is the face of Telefe, so we also became involved in the film and ended up with a presence in both productions. Obviously, we wanted the series and the film to be successful. We are very happy because we did very well with both.

For Story of a Clan, we also closed a deal with Turner’s TNT, which acquired first-window rights for the series and it’s going well for them.

TV DRAMA: What led to the co-production deal with Endemol Shine Argentina for the series The Great Participant?
YANKELEVICH: We’ve worked closely with Martin Kweller [CEO and creative director of Endemol Shine Latin America, and CEO and chairman of Endemol Shine Argentina] on various productions. Endemol Shine produces some [of the titles], though the vast majority are made by Telefe, since we’re a major producer and can rely on a large team. Together, we’ve turned out titles such as Laten corazones, Peligro sin codificar, Tu cara me suena and several other products. The last scripted title that we worked on together was La dueña, starring Argentine actress Mirtha Legrand.

We’ve had the Big Brother house up and running for a long time, and since that production is ongoing, I told my creative team to come up with a strong and hard-hitting project that would make use of the house. That’s where the idea for The Great Participant came from. It’s an amazing project that takes place inside the Big Brother house.

The idea is for Argentina to show off this format and then for the format to take on a life of its own and travel throughout the world.