Riding the range and dancing salsa with starlets

Week in the Life Alfredo De La Lama, Television Producer and Ranchero

WHOEVER THE television producer Alfredo de la Lama is ringing, his calls go through immediately. He became used to such alacrity while working in Asia, where most receptionists would quiver in excitement to tell their bosses that the Dalai Lama was on the line. He rarely bothered to correct them. But in the flesh, there's no mistaking the two. Senor de la Lama - a Mexico City impresario, producer of situation comedy and part-time ranchero - certainly is no ascetic. His colleagues describe him as a sybarite, and few can match his pace at work or play.

On Monday, Alfredo goes out on horseback with a surveyor to check new property he is planning to add to his spread of 60 hectares in Morelos state. He grows rice, sugar, papayas, mangoes and lemon grass at the hacienda, which also boasts an 18th-century sugar refinery.

At his favourite bend in the River Chalma, he tries to get his mare to cross as usual but the rains have swollen the waters and they are out of their depth. They drift 500 metres downstream. Just as they manage to reach the far bank, Constanza, the mare, rears and Alfredo drops his Panama hat, spectacles and cellphone into the swirling green water. The phone is retrieved, with much cursing, but he is incommunicado for the night.

Warm milk, straight from one of his 26 dairy cows, mixed with a shot of vintage rum is his nightcap.

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TUESDAY: Up with the birds, Alfredo, 41, is driven for two hours back to the capital. He says little to his new chauffeur and goes through files. With no mobile phone the commute is preternaturally peaceful.

Alfredo checks out the thoroughbreds at the Mexico City racetrack because he is looking for a possible stud among the polo ponies.

He must hurry to TV AZteca studios to tape the 40th episode of Una familia con Angel, his Mexican remake of Who's the Boss?, a role reversal comedy where the wife is the breadwinner. Five actors do a read through at 11am, followed by a final run through in the afternoon then taping before a live audience at seven sharp. As producer, Alfredo takes a bow in front of the audience.

Today the networks insist on product placement, which requires one extra taping session with brightly labelled detergents. The innovation enrages one of his actresses, an edgy redhead with long lashes and longer talons, who is anxious to get to Miami. From his office, Alfredo watches her on a video screen, fury mounting with each retake. "Yeah, she's going like water for chocolate," he observes, tugging his goatee. "How you say in English - boiling mad?"

He takes calls on the speakerphone to keep both hands free for signing a thick pad of pay cheques. The pay roll is twice monthly, and he has at least 100 employees.

The phone calls are continuous: from starlets wanting an audition to his asthma doctor. Although he has a pied-a-terre in Coyoacan, the artsy south suburb of Mexico City, Alfredo rules out nightclubbing tonight because his latest girlfriend has broken her toe.

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WEDNESDAY: a closed-door brainstorming session with his trusted Hungarian partner on money and strategies for their next meeting with Disney. To present a treatment for a children's programme will be breaking new ground.

The stack of cheques is noticeably thinner and considerable hiring and firing is taking place. A chance encounter with two starlets, whom he fondly terms "my temptations", leads to squiring them to a cocktail reception. After a staid embassy party, they both want to salsa, so he obliges and stays out at until 4am.

Alfredo reaches the hacienda at sun-up. "I can see which ranch hands show up on time," Alfredo crows, then gets some shut-eye.

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THURSDAY: Switching to free-range cattle ranching is not without its insurance hassles. Alfredo has cover against horse thieves but cattle rustling is taken as read in these parts and no company seems willing to give him a policy.

One of his new lambs has been mauled by a frisky Alsatian, and his plans for a distillery and a cheese-making project have to be postponed while the vet is fetched.

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FRIDAY: Time to tape another episode. Creating two shows a week is one of Alfredo's brainwaves, and it is catching on with the competition so there is no let-up. "We pretty much have this one on automatic," he says with pride, "The networks hate novelty."

When Willy Colon, a salsa legend from Cuba, agrees to consider a joint project after the crew wraps up the Friday session, Alfredo is delighted. He spontaneously invites Colon for a gourmet supper on the hoof out at his hacienda and starts whistling in anticipation of the weekend.

Jan McGirk

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