ONE YEAR LATER: THE CLOSING OF RCTV

May 27, 2008

One year later:
  • We're still mourning.
  • We still have one eye closed.
  • We lost the mechanism of internal competition, essential to the evolution of Venezuelan TV.
  • Nobody watches the government network TVES.
  • The job sources for actors, producers, directors and technical crew members have been severely diminished.
  • Writers in RCTV are adapting classic works or remaking old telenovelas.
  • Writers in Venevisión are being directed to write for an "universal" market, not for Venezuelans. This international market seems to like telenovelas made in Miami, and those produced by Televisa and Telemundo. 
  • Telefutura has a say in the casts of RCTV telenovelas, but then moves those same productions to humiliating slots in its schedule.
  • Actors have seen their few work sources invaded by political polarization.
  • In a modern twist of the witch hunts, some Venezuelans decided to judge actors and writers not by their talent, but by their workplace. 
  • The wound hasn't healed. It's a wound in our freedom of expression, a hole in our remote control, and in our Venezuelan essence.

HOW BIG IS A CHARACTER?

May 24, 2008


I've written before (1, 2) about the differences in perception between Internet message board participants and the public at large. 

There are also important differences regarding the appreciation of the challenges associated with certain roles. Having been able to see the insides of telenovela production has allowed me to follow the creative process of writers and actors, and has given me a privileged and more complete view regarding the perception differences between the audience and the makers about a particular character. Through the years I've seen how the press and viewers measure "how big" is a character by the number of scenes or dialogue it has. Meanwhile, real actors measure the character using the performance challenge it represents, and the quantity and quality of nuances that the writing of this character enables. 

Recently in the TVVI message board there was a short discussion about the characters written by Leonardo Padrón.  The conversation was centered on two talented female actors: Nohely Artega and Caridad Canelón. Some message writers considered their two roles in telenovela Ciudad Bendita  small and without transcendence.  Other message board participants disagreed.

The discussion moved me to review again this telenovela's ratings, and my field notes and interviews while I was studying Ciudad Bendita. In my conversations with Nohely Arteaga and Caridad Canelón I found these actors to be very satisfied with the challenges that their respective characters,  Doble M and Peregrina, signified. They were also happy about the possibility of saying something about women who have lost their individual identity because of oppression that renders them as only spouses and mothers (Doble M),  and the everyday life of an Alzheimer patient (Peregrina). 

Those audience members who participated in my study appreciated Doble M, a character that spoke about "the experience of many Venezuelan women who lose their identity because of the expectations associated with traditional gender roles."  

Here is one of Doble M's first scenes with her husband Puro, where we see the emblem of their relationship: his obsession with her weight...with a twist--Puro likes chubby women:

(Important: if the youtube version seems to have video and audio out of sync, please click on the second version that requires Flash) 





Here, you can read (it's in Spanish) a fragment of another emblematic scene in which Doble M confronts her daughter's reaction when the latter learns that, unbeknownst to her father,  her mother is working outside her home. 

Ciudad Bendita enjoyed excellent ratings. The audience was particularly interested in Peregrina's storyline. When she, because of her Alzheimer's, gets lost for two days and is finally found by her son, Juan, the episode had a 47.8% share and an average rating of 14 pts. That night, Ciudad Bendita had 8.4 ratings points of difference with its nearest competitor. My study participants also were outspoken about how important they felt this plot was. They liked that Peregrina was "not just the protagonist's mother."

Here's a brief video summary of some of Peregrina's key moments:
  1. When she asks La Diabla to tatoo on her forearm the name of her loved ones, so that she doesn't forget them.
  2. When her son Juan finally finds her after two days. 
  3. The final resolution to her storyline, one that could not have a traditional happy end.





I believe that in both cases-- Doble M and Peregrina, it's easy to appreciate what can be accomplished when a good script meets performance talent and commitment. 

Telenovelas rarely achieve unanimous approval or appreciation. Hence, the question remains: How big is a telenovela character? Or, in other words, how do we measure the "size" of a character? 

Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso, based on the book authored by Colombian investigative reporter Gustavo Bolívar, tells the story of siblings Catalina and Byron, who chose the paths of prostitution and sicariato (paid hit man) to escape from poverty. Both paths are inextricably linked to narco traffic. This mini-series (I think it's too short to be called a telenovela) was originally produced by  Caracol in Colombia. Sin Tetas is a  show with a clear lesson dispensed after its "The End:" 



Translation: One may think that just by being pretty or by having a gun you can reach paradise. That money makes you somebody, that a kiss is a coin, and a checkbook is a hug. That to study is a waste of time. As if becoming a prostitute and becoming someone else's merchandise, or living from killing others, were better than finding an honest job. The truth is that to be somebody in life, you don't have to be rich. To be somebody is to be, increasingly, owner of our own destiny. To read, write, substract, add, to study, to understand. To be able to fly and be proud of ourselves, of the struggles and triumphs that we have lived through without damaging others. The truth is that to be somebody in life you need to love, love yourself and be loved. To be somebody you don't need to elicit envy because you have money. No, to be somebody means to walk straight with your head up and without the need to hide. It means too live without nightmares and to be able to sleep soundly. The truth is that one can believe that just by being pretty, of by having a gun, you can reach paradise. But, money isn't paradise. And for paradise there aren't any shortcuts.


In similar fashion as the case of Yo soy Betty, la fea, the international market has fallen in love with this story, which has been broadcast in many countries. Its rights have also been acquired to produce several remakes. Each country that has broadcast Sin Tetas, or one of its remakes, has had to decide whether to leave the title unchanged or not since the word "tetas" ("tits") is considered vulgar in several Spanish-speaking cultures. For example,  here's a promotional for the series in Puerto Rico. The word "tetas" is never said. In its place, there's a graphic:



Here, in the United States, Telemundo (owned by NBC) bought the rights for Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso with the idea of producing it in Spanish with English sub-titles for the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking audiences.

How do you handle the title of this novela when Latinos in the United States come from a number of countries in which the acceptance of the word "tetas" varies? 

What title do you use in English? "Without Tits, There's No Paradise"? Or, "Without Breasts, There's No Paradise"?

Look at the teaser from Telemundo productions. It's narrated in English and uses English sub-titles:



In this teaser, we can read the title in Spanish,  "Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso" without the narrator ever saying it (0:51). At the end of the teaser, (2:40) author Gustavo Bolívar, himself says: "Llámalas como las quieras llamar, pero ya basta de tabúes. Tetas son Tetas y ya". The sub-titles read:  "No more taboos! 'tetas' are 'tetas'". In this way,  "tits" (a word that I don't think is acceptable for the average U.S. network television viewer) is never mentioned. The word "tetas" is shown and said only in Spanish, while the author instructs Spanish-speaking audiences to dispose of the "taboo" associated with the word "tetas."

It's going to be really interesting to follow the case of Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso in the United States. 


Today, Mother's Day, I bring to this blog two of the telenovela mothers I know better: Mamasanta and Patria Mía from Cosita Rica. I also bring some excerpts from my book about this telenovela, Venezuela Es Una Telenovela with a video where we can see these two Venezuelan mothers with undeniable universal character.


Mamasanta:

Traditionally, blind characters in telenovela are represented as victims, if they're "good". If they're "evil," then they're faking their blindness for some evil purpose. In any case, blind characters in telenovelas elicit pity and compassion. In Cosita Rica, however, Mamasanta (personified by the marvelous Tania Sarabia), is blind but fends for herself very well. She loves intelligent humor and is a luminous, intuitive and optimistic character whose presence is inspiring. She is a universal mother, more perceptive than anyone who can actually see. 

Patria Mía:

Personified through the credibility of actor Gledys Ibarra and supported by a script plentiful in references to Venezuelan reality, Patria Mía is simultaneously woman and country. 

Unfortunate in love, she has two children from different and absent men. While she struggles to educate, dress and feed her children, she insists that they have a better life than hers. 

Patria Mía is a Venezuelan woman searching for a partner that will love, understand and support her. She's Venezuela in its eternal search for a messiah that will liberate it from the pervasive cycle of economic ups and downs and extricate its poverty. 


Classes have ended and I'm in the midst of the delicate and difficult job of grading. This has kept me away from my blog for a whole week.

One of the recent happenings in the telenovela world that has stirred some commotion is that Telefutura has moved RCTV's telenovela Mi Prima Ciela from 5 p.m. to a half-hour slot at 9 a.m. This is a worse time and it also messes up the one-hour dramatic structure of each episode. In the place of Mi Prima Ciela, Telefutura is now broadcasting the decade-old version of La Usurpadora produced by Televisa. (An abridged version of this telenovela can be bought in DVD format).

In Univisón's message boards there were adverse reactions to this change as participants clamored that Mi Prima Ciela wouldn't be moved in the schedule: 1 y 2. Some bloggers, like Tania Azevedo also mentioned their unhappiness. Meanwhile, both in the message board TVVI and in Recordar es Vivir (1, 2, 3) participants theorized about the reasons behind Telefutura's decision. Some advanced conspiracy theories involving Cisneros, owner of Venevisión, RCTV's direct competitor in Venezuela.

Personally, I dislike both the change in the schedule and the treatment that Mi Prima Ciela has received in Telefutura. But, I'm not surprised at all. I disregard conspiracy theories about Venevisión having part on this, because Venevisión's telenovelas have also been victims of similar abuses in the Spanish-speaking TV here in the United States. The tendency by Univisión and its associated networks, (Telefutura and Galavisión), to treat Venezuelan telenovelas as second-class products is, by now, old. We know that prime time is reserved exclusively for Televisa telenovelas. But, through the years we have witnessed the invisibility of Brazilian telenovelas in their schedules and the rough and disrespectful way in which they have edited Venezuelan telenovelas such as El País de las Mujeres, Sueño con tu amor (Los Querendones), Amor a Palos and Amantes. We've also seen how Amantes de Luna Llena was broadcast in the humiliating 1 a.m. time slot. And, of course, we know they don't provide any space for any Venezuelan telenovela they classify as "localista". This fluid term is now equal to telenovelas made in Venezuela. (The main love story in Mi Prima Ciela is as universal as it gets--death as the antagonist--a plot we've seen and will keep seeing both in film and literature).

Of course, the background of this is the agreement between RCTV and Telefutura that allows the broadcasting in the latter of telenovelas produced by the former, albeit in the terrible conditions I'm discussing here.

Many will argue that if Mi Prima Ciela didn't garner good ratings at 5 p.m, it had to be taken out. However, I've seen my share of telenovelas at 5 p.m. with poor ratings that were never moved from that tiem slot. Of course, none of them were Venezuelan or Colombian. .

Mi Prima Ciela's schedule change is symptomatic of some of the worrisome trends I see in the market. In the U.S. there's a sort of re-education of the spectator in which audiences are only exposed to a particular type of telenovela. I know well that the Latinos of Mexican descent make up the majority of the Hispanic market. But, similarly to what happens in Mexico, these audiences only watch the same type of telenovela (and their remakes). Telenovelas deemed "different" are either stigmatized as "localistas", edited to the point of destroying their essence, or moved to terrible time slots, as in the case of Mi Prima Ciela.


This is not a good situation or a desirable one.