Apr 23, 2008


Frequently,  Produ.com publishes an  Excel file that is a database of all the telenovelas on the air in Spain and the Americas. The data in this file allows us to get a clear idea of which are the dominant producing countries in the international telenovela market. You can download the file by clicking the button NOVELAS AL AIRE, located in the left-hand column of Produ's webpage. 

As a visual communication's person, I believe that a chart can say more than 1,000 words. Hence, here are two charts I prepared with Produ's data. (If you want to see the charts more clearly, please click on them. Also, please forgive that their titles are in Spanish).

Consider the following when you look at the charts:

1.- The data file includes telenovelas broadcast in the Americas an Spain during the week of March1-7,  2008.

2.- I tallied the data from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela because these are the countries that produce and sell more telenovelas. I didn't add Chile and/or other countries because according to Produ, their participation in the international telenovela market doesn't reach the levels of the countries I included. I decided to add network Telemundo (even though it isn't a country), because of its undeniable presence and influence in the market.

3.- The pie chart is organized by countries. 

4.- The second chart lists the most important telenovela producers in the countries mentioned in the pie chart.   

5.- If you would like to examine the data more in depth, I recommend you download the file from the Produ website.

The instant photograph that these charts give us is pretty clear. It's one more reason why I believe (and fear) that the globalization of telenovelas means their mexicanization. And, if we consider the undeniable dominance of Televisa in the international arena, and the fact that it has been producing only remakes...you can understand my concern that the fundamental ingredient of telenovelas--creativity--is being curtailed. (See my post about remakes). 

It would be very interesting to access the data for the rest of the world and see if it follows the same pattern.

Apr 18, 2008


Last Sunday, April 13,  VH1 premiered its new reality show Viva Hollywood, where 12 aspiring actors compete for a role in one of  Telemundo's telenovelas. María Conchita Alonso is "la diva de la casa de los locos" "the diva in the house of the crazies" and the main judge. She's accompanied by Carlos Ponce and Walter Mercado.

To assume this show as a positive sign of the increasing Latino presence in U.S. English-speaking TV, or to perceive it as good news for the future of telenovelas in U.S. mainstream networks would be irresponsible optimism. Viva Hollywood, just like the defunct MyNetwork TV  telenovelas,  is a catalog of the worst stereotypes regarding telenovelas ...and the Latino culture. Just read the text in the VH1 website that recruits participants for the show: 

"Latin telenovela stars are so hot, so sexy, so emotional, so extreme...don't you wish you knew what the hell they were saying?"

And here are the first two segments of the first episode, which are plagued with simplistic and stereotypical depictions of Latinos, Latinas and telenovelas. Look at them carefully...from the toast with tequila, to the dress wore by María Conchita Alonso in her introduction to the contestants, Viva Hollywood drips a dangerous mix of the elements that perpetuate Latino stereotypes: 



Judge for yourselves. Personally, I think this is very damaging for telenovelas and for the emergente concept of Latinidad in the United States. 

Apr 13, 2008


One of the most fascinating aspects of studying telenovelas is the amount of diversity of paradoxes that are part and parcel of this television genre. Some examples:
  • Distributors believe that 120 episodes is the magic number to sell telenovelas in the international market. However, when non-Latin American cultures produce their own telenovelas, those are generally longer than 120 installments, as is the case of the many versions of Yo Soy Betty, la Fea.
  • Telenovela actors are frequently dismissed as second class talent. However, their names are often the ones that attract audiences to theater and movie theaters. 
  • Even though there's an increasing number of scholars studying telenovelas, we still have to justify sometimes our interest in one of the most watched (if not the most watched) tv genre in the world.
  • Telenovela writers who come from the literary world (theater, film, narrative and poetry) spend a good time of their lives explaining why the write telenovelas. 
I believe that these and other paradoxes have their roots in which I like to call "The Central Paradox":

Telenovelas are products of mass consumption and mass disdain.

And it isn't rare to find people who both watch and scorn telenovelas. This is the source of most of the contradictions and paradoxes associated with telenovelas.

What do you think?

Apr 9, 2008


On April 2,  Venevisión premiered its new telenovela, Torrente, written by Benilde Alvarez and Neida Padilla. The press wrote extensively about the first episode (El Universal, El Nacional, Ultimas Noticias, El Mundo), highlighting the beauty and proliferation of exterior shots in Venezuela's Gran Sabana region, and the central plot of surrogate motherhood.

Torrente is a change from the style of telenovelas broadcast in Venevisión. Some press reports have defined it as a return to the rosa style (see, for example,  El Nacional). Personally, I believe that we're facing an involution of the text (script+incidental music), that contrasts with the undeniable technical and directorial advances that allow the extraordinary display of natural beauty that we see in Torrente:

and the mise-en-scene of sequences like the airplane accident depicted in the following videos (10:30 in the first video and the beginning seconds of the second video):

To be specific, when I say there's an involution of the text, I'm not talking about the theme that underpins the central conflict: surrogate motherhood. This is a contemporary and controversial topic that is perfect for a telenovela. (The topic is so current that Newsweek recently dedicated  its cover story  to the topic. When I say involution, I refer to:
  • The flat depiction of important characters (and their stereotypical interpretation). For instance, villain Cayo Gabaldón, interpreted by actor Félix Loreto.
  • The inclusion of predictable and trite dialogues.
  • The backwardness of certain dialogues:  "I'm an incomplete woman who was born with a useless womb", "We, women, need to have children. We were born for that", says the protagonist,  Ana Julia. Those words construct a woman that, even though she has a stable and loving relationship, professional success and beauty, has a microscopic self-esteem exclusively based on her ability to bear children.  It's an outdated depiction of women that denies our struggle for an identity that goes beyond being "so and so's mom" or "the wife of..."
  • There are problems in the connection among scenes and in the handling of the mini-time elipses. The consequence is an irregular rhythm in the storytelling, and sequences that don't make sense. The source of the problem could be in the edition process. But, I think it's in the script's outline. Both the director and editor are trying to minimize this issue, without much success so far.
  • The incidental music consists of excessively dramatic scores, utilized only to exaggerate the melodrama. The result reeks of telenovelas from decades past. 

All of these, coupled with the almost total absence of humor (the only semi-humorous element is the tone of the character Juancho Gabaldón, played by Eduardo Orozco), underpin my perception of  Torrente as an involution.

Having said this, it's still early in the game. The telenovela has the potential of building on many interesting dramatic knots.

I must say, however, that this isn't a good moment for the Venezuelan telenovela industry. With the forced transformation of RCTV into RCTV Internacional, and the changes in priorities of  Venevisión's top management (priority to the international market over the local one), we're beginning to see telenovelas whose best attributes lie on the technical aspects of production (much like the telenovelas produced in Miami). I think this is a loss for the genre because telenovelas are losing their ability to connect with the public not only through the love story, but also through well designed characters and situations that we both recognize and recognize ourselves in since they're ingredients or our dreams and realities. 

Apr 6, 2008


Today I was planning to write about the latest in a string of new Venezuelan telenovelas, Torrente (Venevisión). However, I'm going to postpone my analysis for a few days because I must note a review about my book,  Venezuela es una Telenovela that was published today in Venezuela's most read newspaper, Ultimas Noticias.  The review's author is respected literature and performing arts critic E.A. Moreno-Uribe, who's also the author of one the blogs I visit and respect most, El Espectador.

I appreciate Moreno-Uribe's words towards Venezuela es una Telenovela  (story in Ultimas Noticias, blog El Espectador). More importantly, I appreciate his depiction of my research agenda, the significance of my continuous back and forth between the U.S. and Venezuela as I get closer and farther away from my object of study, and my determination to understand better the fascinating and (generally misunderstood) television genre of telenovelas:

Her tastebuds will never forget the flavors of black beans, arepas and plantains that she ate for decades with her family, even though she cooks them in her home in the United States--Athens, Georgia, where she has lived with her husband and children for the past 14 years. She comes periodically to Caracas, where she was born 50 years ago, to recharge her batteries, test her memories and also her feelings. More importantly, her research on telenovelas also keep her eyes fixed on this city.
She does not want to write a telenovela or to teach how to do it. She is a researcher interested in the links between media, culture and society, which she teaches in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Her book is a polished academic work in which she applies theoretical models to understand the production, representation, identity, consumption and regulation of telenovelas. She does not want to demonstrate anything, but to study the impact and social phenomenon that each telenovela is.
Fifteen months of fieldwork, plus two years of analysis and writing make her book, Venezuela es una telenovela. It is obligatory reading for those who want to know the truth of that fantastic entertainment genre.

Apr 3, 2008


In the past 48 hours the Spanish version of this blog has quadrupled the number of visits it usually receives (click on image to see it more clearly):

Eighty percent of those hits come from search engines using these terms: "novela arroz con leche", "arroz con leche novela", "canciones novela arroz con leche", "telenovela arroz con leche" and "capítulo final de arroz con leche" (click on image to see it more clearly):

The most visited posts also reflect this telenovela's impact (click on image to see it more clearly):

Such effect can also be observed in the comments written by blog readers in a post I wrote months ago about the cultural meaning of the telenovela's title, and in the youtube page where user turocola uploads episodes of Arroz Con Leche.

Given the effect that the followers of Arroz Con Leche have had on my blog, here's a gift for them. A video of one of the most beautiful scenes of this telenovela, one that can only be fully understood by those who followed nightly Arroz con Leche: