Dec 31, 2007


Today, the last of this year, I'm thankful for all the blessings received in 2007: health, love, family, friends, students, experiences, learning and achievements.

Best wishes in 2008 to all who accompany me in this blog and its version in Spanish.

And for telenovelas, I wish:
-More coherence and less circus
-More archetypes and less stereotypes
-More depth and less superficiality
-More acting talent and less beauty devoid of talent
-More genuine television criticism and less gossip and speculation from the entertainment press and its followers
-More commitment to a better television and less consideration of the telenovela as an easy business deal
-More respect and less underestimation of the audience
-More originality and less repetition/"adaptation"


Dec 26, 2007


Telenovela writers are key for the genre’s existence and survival. For those of us who study telenovelas, it’s essential to learn about these women and men. We read their interviews and their writings as they ponder about the colossal job that writing a telenovela is.

An excellent reference is the recent book by Valentina Álvarez, Lágrimas a Pedido (Editorial Alfa), where we find the voices of some of the best known authors as they detail the process of writing a telenovela.

For me, it’s particularly interesting to find the rare moments in which we can witness an exchange between telenovela writers. One of these occasions is when Venezuelan writer Leonardo Padrón interviewed Cuban author Delia Fiallo (Lucecita, Esmeralda, Cristal, Kassandra, Leonela, Rafaela….to name only a few of her telenovelas) in the first season of his radio show Los Imposibles (Caracas, Onda) on November, 2005.

Like all his interviews in Los Imposibles, Leonardo Padrón begins the conversation by reading a “postcard” that he has written especially for the person to be interviewed. Following is the postcard that Padrón wrote for Delia Fiallo:
(If you understand Spanish and prefer to listen to it, click here)

Fifteen years ago, a massive combination of destiny and randomness placed me in Miami so I could meet the mother of the Latin American telenovela. Her name? Is it necessary? We’re talking about Delia Fiallo. I was about to write my first telenovela and it would be an adaptation of one of her stories. César Miguel Rondón and the legendary Juan Lamata decided that I should meet in persona the queen of telenovelas. I thought it was a ritual moment in my life, a sort of initiation, that was taking me to the major sanctuary of the Latin American telenovela. And there she was, in her house in Miami, petite, beautiful and categorical, willing to share with this unknown man the secrets of the most denigrated and powerful job in the history of television. Allow me to remind you that telenovelas are Venezuela’s most important non-traditional export, and the main responsible for this miracle is Delia Fiallo. When we talk about the illustrious origins of the telenovela we all mention Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and even Balzac. But, no one has written more scenes of impossible love in the 20th Century than Delia Fiallo. For better or worse, depending on who you talk to, she established the aesthetic codes of the most popular massive television genre. Today, fifteen years later, I’m again in Miami sitting in front of a woman who’s impossible to erase from the mind of the Latin American imaginary. Welcome, Delia Fiallo.

The interview details Delia Fiallo’s journey writing telenovelas, her discomfort with the way Mexcian television has “remade” her stories (“they make me sick”), and her considerations about the many telenovelas she wrote: He major succcesses (Esmeralda, Cristal and Kassandra), her best written telenovela (Leonela), her biggest failure (María del Mar), and the one that had to wait for “The End” of its competition to bring out its best plots (Emilia, which waited for the end of Estefanía).

The conversation between these two authors, who happen to have opposite writing styles, was cordial, interesting and very informative. It would be impossible to detail it here. However, there’s a question-answer that is particularly fascinating to me:

Is Delia Fiallo willing to say that the telenovela has reached the point in which it can be called a literary genre?

Yes, of course. There are very good and very bad telenovelas. In the same way as there is good and bad theatre, and good and bad literature. What you can’t do is judge the telenovela with a theatrical play, because you can’t compare different genres. She must be judged within her own genre.

This interview can be read in its entirety in the book Los Imposibles: Conversaciones al Borde de un Micrófono (Padrón, 2006). It’s a jewel because it helps us understand both writers, breaks with speculations about them, and fosters our comprehension regarding the difficult job of writing telenovelas.

Dec 21, 2007


Contrary to what those who denigrate telenovelas as simplistic shows believe, this television genre is fascinating because of its many facets which beg analysis. There isn't a boring angle to the study of telenovelas. It's a highly competitive genre that generates passionate debates and discussions among its followers.

There are many Internet message and discussion boards focusing on telenovelas. Below, some of them:

Foro de Puerto Rico

Foro Telenovelas en España
Foro Univisión
Foro Televisión Venezolana e Internacional (TVVI)
Foro Recordar es Vivir: Las Telenovelas del Ayer

These communities have their own rules of coexistance and communication. Their participants sometimes are under the misperception that they are representative of the population at large. However, we must always remember that each message board is only representative of its active participants.

These message boards offer a wide range of content. From valuable information to the repetition of gossip and press speculation of the worst kind. We can also find in them specialized voices coexisting with small campaigns designed to manipulate these virtual communities. Participants range from those who see telenovelas as an art form, to those who consider it exclusively as a source of entertainment gossip. Here we will find polite and impolite people.

In these communities there are enlightening in-depth discussions. At the same time, we often observe how contradiction and speculation reign. Some times arguments generate more heat than light. For me, however, the observation and understanding of these boards is essential because these inflection points help me deepen my knowledge about telenovelas. Furthermore, it's in contradictions where the paradoxes inherent to this genre live, and where the questions that need to be answered are hidden. And, it's in these message boards when I can find and read people from around the world who are passionate about telenovelas.

There's a delicate and important aspect of these boards that I need to touch on. When one observes them we need to be aware that behind the participants' pseudonyms and nicknames there could be anyone. For personal and/or professional reasons, some participants feel the need to hide their true identity. They usually lurk and participate very little. It's rare that they would do any harm. There are others, however, who take advantage of the anonymity that their "nick" provides them, to carry a particular agenda: either promote/defend or denigrate/attack a particular telenovela product, network, artist, etc. These latter kind of pseudonyms merit close attention. If you follow them through time, their agenda is eventually evidenced. And these agendas are great pointers to the strong competitive undercurrents present in the telenovela world. (Sometimes in time even their true identity becomes obvious).

These people who hide behind a "nick" to promote their agendas are part and parcel of these virtual scenarios where we can also find the true lovers of the telenovela genre. For those of us who study telenovelas (and those who participate in these boards), it's essential that we learn to distinguish between agendas and genuine opinions, and between those who use a pseudonym to manipulate and those who honestly and generously exchange opinions and knowledge about telenovelas.

Dec 18, 2007


Last night in Venezuela RCTV (now international) broadcast the final episode of Mi Prima Ciela, written by Pilar Romero as a remake of two of her previous telenovelas, Elizabeth and Maite.

In Mi Prima Ciela the elements of a good telenovela worked successfully together:

-A good script. The author adapted and mixed well her two previous scripts. The only weakness I felt was in the way she administered the dramatic knots of her story.

-Protagonists with terrific chemistry and "angel:" Mónica Spears and Manuel Sosa.

-Talented actors in almost all key roles.

-A nice mise-en-scene.

- A story that has worked well ever since Erich Segal wrote in 1970 his Love Story, which made a whole generation cry as they read and watched the film version with Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal:

Later, other books and other movies have told similar stories. For example: A Walk to Remember (Mandy Moore and Shane West), Sweet November (Charlize Theron and Keanu Reaves), Autumn in New York (Winona Ryder and Richard Gere), Here on Earth (Leelee Sobieski and Chris Klein), among others. In all of them, as in Mi Prima Ciela, the protagonist dies, but love conquers all and leaves lessons for the living.

There are stories that are perfect for telenovelas because they are so emotional. Death as the antagonist is one of them.

Dec 14, 2007


The semester is over and so is my Telenovelas class. And the last class was a nice final episode about final episodes. That day we moved our class from afternoon to evening, and from the classroom to my living room.

My students had already watched the final episodes of the telenovelas they had analyzed throughout the semester: Rubí, Amor Real, Corazón Salvaje, Amarte es mi Pecado, Pasión de Gavilanes, La Mentira, Piel de Otoño, La Usurpadora, Los Ricos También Lloran and Dame Chocolate. That evening at my house we discussed different types of telenovela endings. From the most traditional with weddings and terrible punishments for the villains, to the less typical (and more contemporary) ends in which the protagonists are together, without a classic wedding, and impunity is present as not all crimes receive punishment.

We watched several interesting final episodes. Among them, Juana La Virgen's, which like this whole telenovela, was mostly "rosa" but with an interesting twist. In its final episode: the use of memories and recollections by the protagonists who are now elderly.

We watched the terrible and lesson-laden end to the important Colombian series Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso, which has many of the elements of a telenovela--melodrama, love triangles and secrets--but it's too short, in my opinion, to be considered one.

We also had a chance to watch on the screen (and read the script) of the last episode of Cosita Rica, which blurred the line between reality and fiction until the very end, by having the character Nixon presenting on the stage of a filled theater the end of each character/subplot.

(Pictures courtesy of Dani, foro Cosita Rica)

We were able to compare the script and mise-en-scene of Ciudad Bendita's last episode, which occurred in the tragic context of the murder of actor Yanis Chimaras, only hours before the last key scenes were taped. This time reality bit fiction. Throughout these examples, we talked about the distance between the script and what we saw on the screen, and the way these episodes were received and read by the public and the entertainment press.

And to honor that this class was an approximation to Latin American culture through its telenovelas, I cooked for my students a typical Venezuelan meal consisting of pabellón criollo and arepas. For dessert, we had what is now my best-known recipe--a Tres Leches cake, which we accompanied with the reading of a letter that actress Marisa Román wrote especially for my students.

It was a great final episode for a semester that enriched us all. Teaching and learning always go hand in hand. As a professor, I'm immensely satisfied and grateful for this experience.

Dec 11, 2007


A few weeks ago the students in my Telenovelas class turned in one of their assignments: to write an introspective essay about any (or several) of the aspects of the production of Venezuelan telenovelas that we have studied in class. In other words, I wanted them to reflect on telenovela production from a very personal perspective.

Their essays were honest and enlightening for me, both as a teacher and as a person who's now very familiar with the process of producing a telenovela. As a researcher I know well that it's always important to be able to see the familiar with unfamiliar eyes, and my students allowed me to do just that.

Below a summary of two of the topics my students focused on (in their own words):

* The industrial rhythm and complexity of the production process:

I have enjoyed going behind the scenes of Venezuelan production as it has given me immense insight into the world of telenovela creation. Each aspect of production holds its appropriate place in the successful execution of the show. I realize that without the careful attention to detail and collaboration of each group, the telenovela would suffer. Each member of production, from the writer to the actors to the production assistants, is essential in the success of the telenovela (Jackie).

When you view an episode of a telenovela, you are witnessing a small miracle. Before taking this class, I never could have fathomed the complexity and rapidity of a single episode’s production (Amanda).

I am so impressed with everyone in this process’ ability to work under pressure, especially with the actors being able to memorize their lines in only a few hours. I loved hearing the stories about the actors hiding their scripts seconds before “Cinco y acción!”. I was astonished to hear how close some novelas are written to their actual air time. I would not be able to work under that kind of stress! (Alli)

Producers are faced with a difficult task that has potential to create tensions with actors as well. They must know where to draw the line between being a compassionate leader and a strong leader. Being a strong leader without any compassion can lead to a power hungry producer who misplaces their priorities and leading skills. However, being overly compassionate can result in the individual being walked all over and underproductive (Megan).

I found it very interesting to learn about the process by which actors are notified of their taping schedule because scenes are so rarely taped in their final order. As a consumer and someone who sees a telenovela only in its final form with scenes placed in their correct order, it was difficult for me to imagine taping them out of order for the sake of convenience. Learning about the roles of the script as well as the importance of the “pauta” also really amazed me. I had no idea that the sheer taping of a show could be so complicated. Prior to this class, I thought that most programs were taped in order on a set, which seemed much easier than the actual process of bringing certain actors together at very specific times to tape an array of varying scenes, all with the same props, make-up and accessories to ensure that the coinciding scenes are cohesive. To be honest, I felt very overwhelmed when learning about all of the necessary actions that are taken to make sure that each scene comes together as it is mapped out by the writing team.

*The writers' limitations regarding the final product:
I understand now that the director’s interpretation is incredibly important. He, or she, has, in some instances, more power than the writer because if he interprets one scene differently than the writer, the whole feeling of the episode could change. (Alli)

There are often times discrepancies in how a character was written to be portrayed and how a character is played out on screen. The ideas held by the writer do not always match up with the actor’s ideas or style of acting. At times ideas can be tossed around without causing tension, but sometimes a party may become defensive about suggestions or criticism (Megan).

From the perspective of the writer, does an understanding of the process trump what he or she wants? Where do you draw the line between the product and the art form? I think it is sad that writers have to tip-toe around what network executives and government regulations want. But I guess that is just one of the prices that a television writer must pay. Making a telenovela requires the work and vision of many people, so it is impossible for the original idea to be untainted. But I think that the writers should try to be as involved as possible in the production process to ensure that their stories and ideas are not watered down and to maintain the integrity of their original ideas. (Tia)

I should mention also that the students' essays touched on other topics such as the importance of music in a telenovela, the production of special effects within a low budget and the importance given to actoral credits in a telenovela. Their writings reflected what I've learned by now: what happens behind the scenes is as interesting and fascinating as what we see happening on the television screen.

(Photos taken during the production of telenovela Ciudad Bendita)

Dec 7, 2007


This will be an unusual post in which I will respond to the emails I've received from people who read this blog.

A large number of emails request two things from me:
  1. A list of my favorite blogs related to telenovelas
  2. The titles and interpreters of the musical themes from Venezuelan telenovela Arroz Con Leche.
So, here's my very short list of blogs that focus on telenovelas with three caveats: 1.- There are many blogs dedicated to telenovelas, so this list is unavoidably incomplete. (I also wanted it to be very short). 2.- I'm including blogs in English and Spanish. But, there are blogs related to telenovelas in almost every language. 3.- I'm NOT including message/discussion boards, just traditional blogs.

Blogs in English:
Telenovela Love Garden
Telenovelas Stories Dot Com
(both by Philomena Ojikutu from Lagos, Nigeria)
Caray Caray! (recaps in English of telenovelas broadcast in the US)

Blogs in Spanish:
Todotnv (Excellent blog from Spain)
Blog de Telenovelas (In one page you will find the links for the latest posts from six blogs in Spanish related to telenovelas)

Now, for the titles and interpreters of the music of Arroz Con Leche:
* Main musical theme of Arroz con Leche, interpreted by el Pollo Brito

* Fabio and Silvia's song, Sin Ti, interpreted by Johnny Sigal

* Amanda and Rodrigo's song, No Me Arrepiento De Nada, by César Román

* Desde que te Perdí, by Roque Valero

Dec 4, 2007


Yesterday we closed our conversations with people who work in telenovelas in grand style. Talented actress Julie Restifo visited my class via telephone. Julie's CV includes more than 20 telenovelas, several series and unitarios, 36 works on the theatre stage and 13 films.

Two of her most remembered roles in telenovelas are:

Josefa "Pepa" Lunar in Viva la Pepa, written by Valentina Párraga:

and Joaquina Leal "Juaca" in La Mujer de Judas, written by Martín Hahn:

Our conversation with Julie centered on the following topics:

1.- The importance that writers have for actors. For her, a good character is one that is well written, a person who has something to say, one that has nuances and interior life.

2.- How she has been able to balance her roles as mother, spouse and actor.

3.- How wonderful it's been for her that her husband, Javier Vidal, is also an actor (and director, writer, professor). It was touching to hear Julie talk about how they have grown together as they've harmonized their professions and lives.

4.- Her satisfaction regarding the opportunities she's received throughout her career. Julie is sure that if she got to live her life again, she would still be an actress.

5.- The importance of beauty and physical appearance for television actresses. In particular the issue of age. Actresses not only have to look good, but they also must be eternally young. Julie told us that the first time she had to personify an grandmother on television, she was only 29 years old!! She feels that Venezuelan TV has improved a bit regarding this, but also believes that there's a need for more authors who write good characters for women who are 40-50 years old. She mentioned how in Brazil, writers consider actresses in this age range as key to what they're writing. These women are considered stars. Meanwhile in Venezuela, we have in Leonardo Padrón sort of an exception, since he usually writes characters for actors of all ages, and he particularly writes for actresses that are in their 40s and 50s.

The conversation with Julie was deep, sincere and touching. It was a great way to close our series of exchanges with people who work in the telenovela industry. To all of them--Marisa Román, Daniela Bascopé, Leonardo Padrón and Julie Restifo--our genuine gratitude for contributing in a special way to our learning about the fascinating telenovela genre and its insertion in culture and society..

Nov 30, 2007


My telenovelas class is having some special experiences these days. This week we also had a phone conversation with writer Leonardo Padrón, author of the following telenovelas:

Ciudad Bendita (2006-2007)
Cosita Rica (2003-2004)
Amantes de Luna Llena (2000-2001)
El País de las Mujeres (1998-1999)
Contra Viento y Marea (1997)
Aguamarina (1997)
Amores de Fin de Siglo (1995)
Gardenia (1990).

His work goes beyond telenovelas. He's a well-regarded poet:

El Amor Tóxico (2005)
Boulevard (2002)
Tatuaje (2000)
Balada (1993)
La Orilla Encendida (1983)

And film writer:

Miranda (2006), dirigida por Diego Rísquez
Manuela Saenz (2000), dirigida por Diego Rísquez
La Primera Vez (1997), dirigida por Luis Alberto Lamata

In the last two years, Leonardo Padrón has also worked on radio with Los Imposibles, a show organized by seasons in which he interviews 20 personalities that are "impossible to ignore."

I must mention that Los Imposibles 1 and Los Imposibles 2, turned into books, are now editorial successes.

These recognized writer had a very interesting conversation with my students. Among the topics we discussed were:
  1. The way he has explored the feminine through characters that break the traditional telenovela stereotype of the submissive and suffering woman who waits for, or needs, a Prince Charming who will rescue her from poverty, or from a loveless or senseless life. In contrast, Leonardo Padrón creates female characters that are warriors, with a will of their own, and who have agency over their destiny. (For example, Miranda in El País de las Mujeres).
  2. How he constructed Olegario in Cosita Rica, a character allegorical to President Hugo Chávez. He shared with us his intention that this character would elicit reflection in the audience. We also discussed how the Venezuelan audience read this character, and how the "villain" was in their eyes the most charismatic character of this telenovela.
  3. His reasons to choose Roque Valero as the male protagonist of Ciudad Bendita, and the calculated risk he took by having a protagonist that broke the stereotype of the traditional "galán" and a love story that transgressed the established telenovela codes.
  4. His interpretation of how the U.S. Latino market is changing the telenovela genre. And his concern that this market, dominated by Mexican immigrants from the popular classes who are used to traditional telenovelas, is beginning to determine the way telenovelas are written and produced in countries like Colombia and Venezuela. (I share this concern as I've expressed before in this blog: 1, 2).

At the end of our conversation, Leonardo Padrón congratulated my students for the level of the questions they asked. My students and I thanked him for the honesty of his answers, and for visiting our classroom. Our telenovelas class would be incomplete without the voice and presence of this recognized author.

Nov 27, 2007


The semester's end is fast approaching and there are only two weeks left in my Telenovelas class. Yesterday we had a special guest via phone: talented actor, director and writer, Daniela Bascopé, who shared with us her time and experiences.

A few weeks ago, Daniela received the Best Actress Award in the Venezuelan Film Festival in Mérida for her role in film Al Borde de la Línea:

Below, a list of the telenovelas in which she has appeared and the names of her characters:
Ciudad Bendita (2007)- Fedora
El Amor las vuelve Locas (2006)- Rosaura
Engañada (2003)-Gabriela
La Soberana (2002)- Cherry
Toda Mujer (1999)- Elízabeth
Samantha (1998)-Anabella

Daniela talked to us about the hardest character she ever played (was in film), how her acting experience is a great asset for her work as director, and the way real life inspires the films she writes and directs.

When we asked her if, as an actress, she felt any difference between working in a telenovela "rosa" (most of the telenovelas she's worked in are "rosa") or in a more "verista" telenovela (like Ciudad Bendita), Daniela explained that in the traditional telenovela rosa, a character's lines are more farfetched and less realist than in telenovelas like the ones Leonardo Padrón writes. She also mentioned that in the traditional telenovela, actors must handle situations that are even contradictory,  where their characters don't follow a logic line. In contrast, in telenovelas "veristas" or "de ruptura", the words and actions of the characters tend to be more realistic.

Daniela's words resonated with me and echoed those of the many actors I've interviewed during my research. In particular, throughout Ciudad Bendita, many actors told me that their character was a "pleasure" because it was "served" to them.

In sum, it was a special class thanks to our special guest. My students and I sendour sincere gratitude to Daniela.

Nov 24, 2007


Recently, I wrote a post about my concern regarding the loss of local color and flavor in Venezuelan telenovelas due to the lack of competition, now that RCTV is out of the open airwaves.

An important aspect of this no-competition phenomenon is the definition of local "success" or "failure" of a telenovela under this particular conditions.

Traditionally, ratings and shares have been the currency of the television system. Of course, good ratings aren't always accompanied by quality television. But, these numbers are considered by the industry and by advertisers as the measure of tv consumption.

But, what happens with the perception of these numbers when there isn't competition, as in the Venezuelan television case?

I don't think there's a change in the advertisers' perceptions. They know well that now that RCTV is only on cable, Venevisión is the colossus and the most watched tv network in Venezuela. For them, ratings have the same meaning they've always had. It's business as usual.

This is possibly true also for the majority of people who watch telenovelas in Venezuela. Those who don't care about ratings, or who wins, but who just want to be entertained by their telenovela of choice. Their decision-making process every evening is still pretty much the same. They just have fewer options, courtesy of the Venezuelan government.

I note a change in perception, though, in those members of the audience that are most committed to the telenovela genre: bloggers and message board participants. In those spaces politics frequently color the perception of whatever is on the tv screen. Ratings, which are seldom made public, are interpreted, even when there hasn't been access to them. Opinions are created about this or that telenovela, and spirals of silence (Noelle-Neuman, 1974) appear among those who disagree, but who perceive themselves as being in the minority, even if they aren't.

Given Venezuela's intense political polarization and the soon-to-happen important constitutional reform referendum, I'm not surprised by most of what I read in blogs and boards. However, there are some arguments that intrigue me. For instance, there is the generalized assumption that if RCTV wasn't only on cable, that its telenovelas would win on primetime. This, of course, is impossible to know for sure. The most important thing I've learned in all these years studying telenovelas is that the audience is unpredictable. Therefore, RCTV could well win or lose.

There is an interesting paradox that has caught my attention. The most visited post in the Spanish version of my blog is the only one that mentions Venevisión's telenovela Arroz con Leche. (Here the post's version in English). However, participants in message boards frequently say that this telenovela is a failure. Some argue that its share is lower than Venevisión's average intriguing and fascinating argument...That is, that since the telenovela has no competition, then it competes against the network that produces it.

This disparity between the number of hits to that particular post and the opinions expressed on the Internet made me look carefully at recent shares and ratings for the 9 p.m .slot.

Below, a graphic I prepared with the shares of the first two weeks of November. I didn't include Sundays (no telenovelas air on Sundays), or the days where baseball games preempted the telenovela's broadcast.

(Please click on the graphic so you can see it bigger):

A few reflections:
* Because RCTV isn't on the open airwaves anymore, the distance between Venevisión and the rest is immense, in terms of share.
* At 9 p.m., Televén and the Cable (aggregate share of all cable outlets) fight tooth and nail for second place.
* On most days, telenovela Arroz con Leche has a better share that its network average (green line).
* It's still impossible to predict who would win at 9 p.m. if RCTV was still on the commercial airwaves.

So, what can we say about the success or failure of Venevisión's telenovelas, now that there is no competition?

I don't believe we can clasify them as a failure, given the distance between them and the other options offered by Televén and the other commercial TV outlets.

At the same time, their success will always be tarnished by the absence of its traditional competitor, RCTV. It's like those baseball records with an asterisk.

On the other hand, what can we say about the success or failure of RCTV's telenovelas, now that they air only via cable?
We can't say they are successful or failures. We can only compare their numbers with the other options available by cable. Again, in baseball terms, this is like speculating whether an African American player who was never allowed to play in the Major Leagues would have been a record holder. Unfortunately, we can only speculate...

The most important thing is that by being assured (Venevisión) or incapacitated (RCTV) to hold the local market's supremacy, the focus of network executives and owners will shift to the international market. In this way, the terms of the game change. And, maybe, the way Venezuelan telenovelas will be written and produced from now on will change too.

Nov 21, 2007


Just like telenovelas can carry messages that promote health and the improvement of certain sociocultural problems (see my last post), these shows can also include political topics.

In Brazil, the vanguard of realist telenovelas, realism, politics and telenovelas have frequently walked hand in hand (see Realism and Politics in Brazilian Telenovelas by professor Mauro Porto). In Venezuela we have the cases of Por Estas Calles and Cosita Rica. In all these instances, telenovelas actively participated in the political conversation of their country of origin.

It's interesting to note that the serialized melodramatic format of telenovelas is being used in the U.S. not only to promote health and education in the Hispanic community (again, see my last post), but also for political purposes. In particular, the political campaign of Democrat Barack Obama is using a micro-telenovela consisting of three 4-minute episodes titled a Tu Voz, Tu Voto in an effort to win the primary election in the key state of California. In this way, telenovela-inspired formats have become the media format of choice when the goal is to reach U.S. Latinos:

Nov 17, 2007


One of the aspects regarding telenovelas that fascinates me the most is the way these shows can be used to deliver health messages and/or messages related to sociocultural problems and issues, such as domestic violence. In my class we've studied with interest some instances in which telenovelas have presented such topics (see my post FROM MY RESEARCH TO MY CLASSROOM: TELENOVELA RECEPTION)

Recently, the Red & Black, UGA's student newspaper, published an article about doctoral student in Public Health, Leslie Rodríguez, who is focusing on how telenovelas can deliver health messages.

The article underscores the importance of telenovelas for communicating health content to immigrant populations. In particular, it mentions the case of the Telemundo telenovela Amarte Así, which included an overweight male character whose untreated diabetes renders him impotent: Don Pedro personified by Mexican actor Edgar Vivar (Sr. Barriga and Ñoño in famous sit com series El Chavo).

Conscious of the role that telenovelas play in the culture of Latino immigrants, health organizations in the U.S. are using the melodramatic serialized format to educate and promote healthy behavior. For instance, in Boston, the prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center produced Rosa's Story/La Historia de Rosa, an audionovela that teaches basic information about diabetes and its treatment, and dispels myths and misconceptions about this condition that affects Latinos in a disproportionate way.

Another example is Esperanza's Story/La Historia de Esperanza, audionovela that targets Latinas as it delivers empowering anti-domestic violence messages. This novela, recorded in Spanish, was produced by Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication's doctoral student Lenette Golding.

In my next post: The use of telenovelas for political messages .

Nov 11, 2007


Last week we read the publication of the shares of Venezuelan television for the month of October:

Venevisión: 58,1%
Televen: 21,0%
VTV: 6,3%
Globovisión: 6,0%
RCTV International: 4,4%
Tves: 4,1%

Source: AGB. Medición nacional. Total televidentes ABCDE de 6 a 12am. Octubre 2007.

In the message board of Television Venezolana e Internacional (TVVI), the reactions (1, 2) have centered mainly on:

* The fact that, even though it is now on cable only, RCTV International, has a bigger share than the government channel that took over its frequency, TVES.

* Whether Venevisión has capitalized the absence of RCTV. In other words, whether it has increased its share now that RCTV is only on cable.

Since I'm completely opposed to the way the government did away with the opposition that RCTV represented (see my posts 1, 2 and 3), I'm happy that RCTV International has a better share than TVES.

As for Venevisión, the network has benefitted from RCTV's absence. Following are the approximate shares during April this year, (RCTV was closed at the end of May):

Venevisión: 35-40%
Televen: 10-15%%
VTV: 5-6%
Globovisión: 2-3%
RCTV: 23-28%

We should note too that both Televén and Globovisión have also increased their shares in the post-RCTV era.

However, and even though ratings and shares are the currency of the television business, I'm concerned tha the lack of competition will change the way television is made in Venezuela.

I'm particularly concerned about telenovelas. I worry that without internal competition, telenovelas will be produced with the sole purpose of international sales. We are seeing it already. Ciudad Bendita, my last case study, is probably the last telenovela broadcast by Venevisión which was designed to win the ratings war in Venezuela. As for RCTV International, it is now co-producing with Telemundo in order to survive and be sure of its international sales. I'm not sure yet what form their productions will take. The first one, Toda una Dama, a fair remake of the extraordinary telenovela Señora originally written by José Ignacio Cabrujas, has a cast in which talent is uneven.

I'm concerned that as priority is given to international sales over local success (which doesn't matter anymore given the lack of competition), Venezuelan telenovelas will lose their local color and flavor. Many believe that there is nothing wrong with this. Furthermore, they think that this is exactly what the Venezuelan industry needs to regain the top place it occupied once in the international market. I disagree. Firstly, because the political economy of the international telenovela business is different to the one that was in place when Cristal and Kassandra conquered the world. Today the global market is dominated by remakes and telenovelas that are both short and formulaic. There is no risk-taking these days. Secondly, because in Venezuela telenovelas and the social formation have a particularly strong dialogic relationship. Without losing the universality of melodrama, telenovelas have spoken to us, Venezuelans, about who we are, how we love and how we stop loving. If we take away the local flavor, we will be closing this important dialogue between television and culture, and we will diminish the space for autoanalysis. We will also ascertain that our local culture isn't good enough to be present in the international arena.

There was a time in which we enjoyed listening to the different accents, words and sayings present in the telenovelas of varied countries. It was a time in which the local conquered the global. We now live the inverse moment: the global imposes itself over the local. And the global is an imposed construction that implies uniformity, repetition and conformity. I believe these three elements are the mortal enemies of creativity, which is the key ingredient that will assure the health and perdurability of this television genre.

Nov 6, 2007

The different versions of Betty

On Sunday, November 4, the Spanish newspaper El País published a story titled Hay 'feas' por todo el mundo (There are 'uglies' all over the world, describing the characteristics and success of the different remakes of Yo soy Betty, la Fea, underscoring the local differences of each of these "Bettys."

This news story generated in me two reflections:

Reflection 1.- The success of Fernando Gaitán's telenovela suggests that there are universal storylines that work everywhere. At the same time, each of these versions is adapted to the local culture that produces and consumes it. Therefore, even though all these "Bettys" use eyeglasses and sport braces, each one of them is a different version that is culturally acceptable in the social formation that consumes it. (Following are: Lisa-Germany, Katia-Russia, Jassi-India, Betty-USA, Lotte-Neatherlands, Letty-Mexico, Bea-Spain and Maria Asximi-Greece)

The success of Betty and its versions begs the question of whether her global success is due to the universal nature of the tale of the Ugly Duckling, or if it's because its versions are tailored to each culture. This question underlines one of the facets of the local-global debate that permeates the telenovela both as an industry and a form of art and ertaintainment.

Reflection 2.- These days the number 120 is frequently used as the standard number of episodes for a telenovela. There is such strength in this standard that many often lose sight of the fact that some stories cannot or should not be told in 120 episodes. As I read the article in El País, I couldn't help noticing that these versions of Betty are way longer than 120 episodes: Spain (300+ episodes), Germany (364), India (556), Russia (700). This presents an interesting paradox: The 120-episode standard is frequently use to gauge the "export-ability" of a telenovela. The argument is that only 120-episode telenovelas sell well in non-Latin American countries. However, when these cultures produce their own telenovelas, they are longer. What is the meaning of this apparent contradiction?

In sum, the success of Betty and its different remakes suggests a set of interesting questions re: the universal quality of storylines and their ideal length, measured in episodes, and highlights some of the paradoxes and tensions inherent to the genre.