For the first time in its nearly 20 years of existence, Special Olympics' "A Very Special Christmas" music series will be produced in a language other than English. "A Very Special Latin Christmas: No

For the first time in its nearly 20 years of existence, Special Olympics' "A Very Special Christmas" music series will be produced in a language other than English.

“A Very Special Latin Christmas: Noche de Paz" is planned as a star-studded, two-hour TV special to be shot Oct. 5 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It will air in December nationwide on the Telemundo network and in a host of international markets.

A DVD and CD also are expected, but probably not until 2006.

“It's a big departure for us, but we're very confident,” says Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the organization in 1968. “The real message is the music will bring power to the most humble, most rejected people in Latin America-people with disabilities.”

Special Olympics focuses on empowering people with disabilities through sports training and competition. The organization estimates that more than 1.5 million people worldwide and nearly 200,000 in Latin America have benefited from its programs. But that number should be many times higher, Shriver says.

The “Very Special Christmas” series has featured more than 100 acts and raised more than $60 million for Special Olympics. The original album project, released in 1987, remains the best-selling U.S. title in the series at 2.25 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

With “Noche de Paz,” Shriver hopes to build a franchise that will extend throughout Latin America.

“Noche de Paz” began as an album concept. Shriver discussed the project with Venezuelan impresario Carlos Cisneros, who recommended Bruno del Granado, former president of the now-defunct Maverick Musica, to help launch it.

“Piracy and economics have eaten away into the [Latin American] market, so the idea of an album morphed into a TV show,” says del Granado, who now runs Entertainment Media Factory, a consulting firm in Miami.

The last Special Olympics TV special aired on TNT in 2000. Del Granado thought a Latin special called for a Spanish-language broadcaster.

A CD is seen as the next natural step.

“I would like to borrow a page from the original 'MTV Unpluggeds,'" del Granado says, citing Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" session, which was not initially planned as an album and eventually sold millions of units.

Initial acts confirmed for the show include pop/merengue star Olga Tañón and Mexican rock band Jaguares.

“Noche de Paz” will be produced by Telemundo and Tony Mojena. AEG Live will sponsor and co-promote the event. At press time, Bank of America had signed on as a sponsor.