Telemundo’s Marcos Santana on the Challenges of COVID-19 Production & Shifting Tastes

Anna Marie de la Fuente
·4-min read

As president of NBCUniversal’s Telemundo Global Studios, Marcos Santana has spearheaded the U.S. Hispanic network’s headlong drive into a challenging era where global streaming platforms dominate and legacy networks are reassessing their place in the television universe.

A raging pandemic has also spiked production challenges. His previous positions as president o f production unit Telemundo International Studios and of distribution arm Telemundo International has given him a holistic perspective on the biz.

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Telemundo International Studios, which Santana founded in 2016, took on the shifts in international viewing habits and demands by creating high-end short-form scripted formats and launching big-budgeted Spanish-language premium series, which invariably call for more special effects and locations.

Reigning above the latter now is “Queen of the South,” starring Kate del Castillo, which is in pre-production on its third season, which Netflix will again co-produce as it did the second season.

“This will be shooting by May in at least eight new countries, and will have an even bigger budget,” he pointed out. Season two, reportedly made for $10 million, was shot in Russia, Romania, Italy, Spain, Washington D.C., Belize, Mexico and Colombia. The series, based on the eponymous novel by Spanish novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, follows Teresa Mendoza, who rises to become the most powerful trafficker in the intercontinental drug business.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Telemundo’s production this past year?

People don’t want to see dark, violent shows, not while they’re stuck at home and when there’s so much bad news. Dramedies, action and thrillers are more in demand. We managed to produce four shows despite the pandemic, with strict health and safety protocols in place. These were romcom “Cien Dias Para Enamorarnos,” a great hit on Netflix; dramedy “La Suerte de Lol”; and suspense thrillers “Buscando a Frida” and “Falsa Identidad 2.” We’ve learned a lot during this period. “La Suerte de Loli” was shot in Miami but set in Los Angeles.

What’s heading your new lineup at NATPE?

We’re launching “La Suerte de Loli” and “Buscando a Frida,” among others. “La Suerte de Loli” focuses on a career woman who finds herself a reluctant mother when her late best friend leaves her children to her. It’s a very fresh, happy and unique story where ‘girl power’ is the prevalent theme. “Buscando a Frida” is a remake of a show we made 11 years ago when social media didn’t exist yet. We incorporated social media elements in this one.

How have tastes in telenovela programs changed?

People are not willing to watch shows with low production values and sub-par performances. The conventional telenovela, shot within three walls, are seeing their audiences wane. We moved away from that a long time ago.

Co-production has proven to be a smart way to meet the challenges of a more demanding viewership. Which companies is Telemundo collaborating with?

Aside from Netflix and Argos, we are working with Underground in Argentina and Spain’s Movistar Plus, where we’re making “Tel Me Who I Am,” based on the eponymous novel by Julia Navarro, and “El Inmortal.” Other co-production deals are pending.

How do you feel about this year?

With a new government in the U.S. and the advent of a vaccine, I feel very optimistic about 2021: Better times are coming. This year, we’ll be working on seven shows, approximately. It’s an ambitious plan but we’re confident we can pull it off. We’ll be shooting “Malverde: El Santo Patron,” finalizing “Buscando a Frida,” and while in Argentina, we’ll be making seasons 4 and 5 of “El Marginal.” There are four other projects brewing. We’ve learned how to work with the challenges of the pandemic, generating and maintaining many jobs. We made few cuts even though our production level slowed down. We’ll be rehiring as our production pace picks up. There’s still a great demand for more Latino content, which remains inadequate.

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