Jan 2, 2008


Maybe the question that I've answered more times here in the U.S. is about the differences between soap operas and telenovelas. Until recently, it was unavoidable to begin my conference presentations by briefly explaining the similarities and differences between these shows.

In my telenovelas class I've also had to explain the different aspects of telenovelas by comparing them with soap operas, which are well known here in the U.S. I like watching people's faces when I explain that telenovelas have a finite number of episodes and an end. My U.S. interlocutors find this very strange.

Recently, however, I had the opposite experience: to define the soap opera before an audience that only knows telenovelas. For me, a Venezuelan in the U.S. academe who's used to having to "explain" her culture using comparisons and contrasts with the U.S. culture, it was fascinating to go through the inverse process. I discovered that for those who have grown watching and knowing telenovelas, the soap opera, with its unlimited number of episodes, is quite "exotic."

Following is the first of two installments of my version of the similarities and differences between telenovelas and soap operas.

Both telenovelas and soap operas are serial melodramatic genres pitched to popular audiences. In both emotions provide the basis of the spectacle. Also, both are broadcast daily during the week. They aren't governed by the "seasons" system like sitcoms and series are. Both have multiple trade publications, discussion boards, blogs and websites dedicated to them. More importantly, these genres share the paradox of being successful and disdained at the same time.

Nonetheless, there are important differences between them:

- Telenovelas have a finite number of episodes. Therefore, the audience expects a conclusion. The soap opera is designed without an end. For instance, General Hospital has been on the air, without interruption every day at 3 p.m. (ET) since 1963.

- Telenovelas are broadcast both in the afternoon block and in prime time. Soap operas are broadcast in the networks only in the afternoon block. Hence, telenovela audiences are comprised of women and men of all socioeconomic leveles, ages and occupations. While the soap opera audience is still mainly comprised of women who work at home. (For those who want to watch soap operas at night, there is a cabel channel that broadcasts them throughout the night).

-Telenovelas determine the "star system" in Latin America (see a related post). In the U.S. most soap opera actors are perceived as "second class" performers.

-In consequence, most of the Latin American actors that have made it to Hollywood come from the telenovela industry. In contrast, it's a rare event that a soap opera actor transitions well to Hollywood. (A few important exceptions are: Meg Ryan (As the World Turns), Mark Hamill (General Hospital), Demi Moore (General Hospital).


1 comment:

Dimitar said...

This was very helpful explanation, thank you very much!