APT syndicates ‘Hijos del Desierto’ for public TV distribution

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Courtesy APT

The cast of “Hijos del Desierto” includes Jorge Arecheta, second from left, as Gaspar; Gastón Salgado, seated at right, as Pedro; and María José Weigel, seated at left, as Eloísa González, the woman they both love.

In a first for public television’s most popular genre, American Public Television is syndicating a Spanish-language drama series from Latin America.

Hijos del Desierto, a telenovela from Chilean screenwriter and producer Rodrigo Cuevas, will premiere on select public TV stations and their PBS Passport video streams Jan. 1.

APT secured the syndication deal through a deliberate effort to fill a gap in its dramatic programming, said Dan Soles, VP of syndication and premium services. “APT has a long history and tradition of distributing quality dramas to stations,” he said. “We look to the United Kingdom, … to Canada … to Australia. We noticed a void — that there really wasn’t a drama available from Latin America.”

The story of Hijos del Desierto begins in 1907, when the Chilean government killed thousands of striking mine workers during the historic event known as the Santa María School Massacre, according to APT’s news release announcing the syndication offer. Brothers Pedro and Gaspar are separated when their parents are killed in the massacre. When they encounter each other again 30 years later, they are living on opposite sides of the law, in love with the same woman and unaware that they are siblings.

APT consulted with several stations and potential partners as it sought a Spanish-language series for syndication, Soles said, and ultimately decided Hijos del Desierto was a good fit for public television. “It deals with social classes, it deals with women asserting themselves not only in the workplace but in society, and it’s an important moment in time — right on the eve of World War II. And it was really strong dramatic storytelling.” All those elements fit well within the mission of public media and its long tradition of providing quality dramas, he added.

In a Q&A with APT, Cuevas described Hijos as a “very universal story” that viewers all over the world will connect with. “[The series] happens within a historical and social context that parallels the times we are living in today: a dangerous world where civilization seems to be much more fragile than we believed it to be,” he said.

The syndication offer includes the first 10 episodes of the series. The first episode runs slightly over an hour; the remaining nine are approximately 45 minutes long. Soles hopes to offer additional seasons.

APT is looking to offer more titles from Latin America, including documentaries, and is talking with TV Azteca in Mexico about potential offerings. “We want to make sure that stations have access to some of the best content from Latin America, and we’re working hard to try to make that become a reality,” Soles said.

Hijos del Desierto has been acquired so far by seven stations, including major-market stations in California and Texas as well as stations in smaller markets in Washington state and Idaho, Soles said.

To help licensing stations promote the series, APT is providing English- and Spanish-language versions of its Q&A with Cuevas. It will also provide a tune-in promo.

“We’re filling a void by providing a strong dramatic series from Latin America that really, until now, hasn’t been available to public television stations,” Soles said. “We want to make sure that stations have access to some of the best content from Latin America, and we’re working hard to try to make that become a reality.”

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