MIAMI (Billboard) - It's trashy. It's racy. It's deliciously over-the-top, with lots of bare-chested hunks, bikini-clad women and plenty of catfights, fistfights and dramatic deaths.
Welcome to "Viva Hollywood," the first Latin-themed show on music channel VH1.
A reality show where contestants vie for a role in a Telemundo soap opera as well as a cash prize, "Viva" is a loud celebration of soap opera culture, featuring singer/actors Maria Conchita Alonso (dressed in brazenly provocative outfits) and Carlos Ponce as hosts and Latin fortunetelling icon Walter Mercado (who is known to Latinos everywhere for his flowing cape and lipstick) as sidekick.
The soundtrack to "Viva" is mostly reggaeton, and its theme song has Spanish lyrics, but it's not a music-themed show. Its absolute embrace of Latin culture, however, is compelling and noteworthy for a channel that has generally been closed to Latin content, Spanish-language fare in particular. In the past decade, VH1 has played only a handful of Spanish-language videos in its rotation.
"We realize that every time we tap into an audience that hasn't seem themselves in mainstream television, we win," VH1 executive vice president of programming and development Jeff Olde said. "And there were 12 million viewers that didn't see themselves in the network. We were looking for something."
"Viva" was developed by Miami-based entertainment company Latin World Entertainment and Los Angeles-based production company World of Wonder, whose productions include "The RuPaul Show."
"We're obsessed with pop culture and very much in love with Latin culture and the intersection of the two," said filmmaker Randy Barbato ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye," "Inside Deep Throat"), who's a partner in World of Wonder and executive producer of "Viva." "And we're very aware that while so much of Latin television is hugely popular in America, it isn't always translated into mainstream channels."
Barbato partnered with Latin World and developed "Viva" for the Oxygen network as a reality show for actors with crossover aspirations. But its content changed dramatically when producers pitched it to VH1.
Now, "Viva" is the "only show where you have Latin stars who are known in the mainstream -- like Perez Hilton, Daisy Fuentes, Charo and Cheech Marin -- together with eminently Latin celebrities like Christian de la Fuente, Angelica Vale and Sofia Vergara," Latin World president Luis Balaguer said.
"Viva" also stands out because many of its contestants speak heavily accented English. And its telenovela scenes are in Spanish, with English subtitles.
"We wanted that crossover MTV/VH1 audience that has grown up watching telenovelas at home and can feel them and identify," Balaguer said.
But, perhaps because it reflects an increasingly culturally diverse American mainstream, the show manages to strike a balance, attracting viewers who aren't Latin as well as those who have never seen a soap. According to Olde, "Viva," which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. and has entered its third week, has already garnered a 21 percent jump in viewership.
If the audience for "Viva" continues to build, Barbato said, "the hope is to begin a franchise that not only celebrates telenovelas and Latin stars but most specifically Latin music."
Already in the works is a reality show based on Mexican American singer Jenni Rivera's life. "She's fabulous," Barbato said.