Escobar series scores record audience in Colombia

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A television series recounting the rise of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar is setting new audience records in Colombia, prompting fears that a new generation could come to idolize his murderous ways.

Nearly 20 years after his death, millions of Colombians are tuning in every night to watch "Escobar: Boss of Evil" on the Caracol network. The series looks at how the Medellin cartel chief became the "king of cocaine" in the 1980s.

The first episode in the series -- which is inspired by the 2001 book "The Parable of Pablo" -- attracted 11 million viewers. The series, which has been on the air for two weeks, will have a total of 63 episodes.

"We all can remember a bomb set by Escobar, an attack experienced either directly or indirectly. But what is important is to see the entire picture, how one thing led to another" in his life, explained producer Juana Uribe.

Uribe says the series -- which was filmed in Bogota, Medellin and Miami, and cost $170,000 dollars an episode -- aims to show "Escobar from all sides" and to shed light on those who had the courage to confront him.

"This is an important program for the new generations, who do not really know much about Escobar and who surely will not go to the library to read about him," said actor Andres Parra, who plays the drug kingpin.

One of Latin America's most feared drug lords, Escobar once supplied most of the cocaine to the United States, and masterminded a campaign of kidnappings and bombings in Colombia's capital Bogota and other parts of the country.

Escobar -- who was considered one of the richest men in the world at the height of his power -- was eventually killed by police in Medellin in late 1993. He was 44.

In the northern Colombian city that was once his headquarters, Escobar is still seen as a benefactor, especially among the poor and working class people he showered with narco-dollars.

Parra, who visited Medellin's inner city during filming, said: "In these areas, you can feel the affection and sense of nostalgia... They took photos and thanked me for playing the part."

Juan Carlos Velasquez, a priest who works with troubled youth in the city, however fears that the program will send young people the wrong message.

"One day, a young woman came up to me and said, 'Father, Escobar was really a good man, wasn't he?'" the priest said.

"Of course, Escobar helped build houses, churches and football pitches, but in this TV series, we don't see all the damage he caused. Where a killing is shown, I don't see the pain that it caused."

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