Dec 17, 2010


There has never been so much time in-between posts in my blog. But, this semester has been particularly tough given my teaching schedule and my current case study, La Mujer Perfecta.

Last June, I wrote a post titled Is the Venezuelan telenovela dead? Today, December 17, we can say that it isn't dead and that it fights tooth and nail amidst an increasingly difficult and complex context:

  • La Mujer Perfecta is the only Venezuelan telenovela on air in Venezuela. (Canal i broadcasts two older telenovelas: Abigaíl and Señora).
  • La Mujer Perfecta has done an admirable job of recuperating the audience for the Venezuelan telenovela. Even though it competes with telenovelas produced by Telemundo that have a more expensive and sophisticated production. Furthermore, the latter are not subject to the Venezuelan restrictions of exchange controls and media content laws. .
  • In addition to La Mujer Perfecta, Venevisión is producing La Viuda Joven written by Martín Hahn.
  • According to reports, Televén has bought Que el cielo me explique written by Cristina Policastro, the last telenovela produced by RCTV Internacional. Its broadcast hasn't been announced yet.
  • Meanwhile, Televén's program grid is a catalog of telenovelas made outside Venezuela. In some cases, Telemundo telenovelas have premiered first on Televen's screen than in the rest of the world. (Ojo por Ojo is the most recent example).
  • The Venezuelan government has prohibited the broadcast of the so-called "narconovelas".
  • President Hugo Chávez has requested extraordinary powers that would allow him to bypass the new National Assembly's approval. (He won't enjoy absolute majority in that new NA).
  • The government has introduced in the current lame duck, all-chavista National Assembly a revised Media Content Law that would have important consequences for the telenovela industry. (If you read Spanish, you can read the full text here. Note, in particular: Artículo 7, numeral 3. Artículo 29, numeral 3, literal d. Artículo 35, disposiciones transitorias primera y segunda).
  • Frequently, the government interrupts telenovelas to impose a cadena (mandatory broadcast of the government's signal on all radio and TV outlets). This makes more difficult the audience's followup of the dramatic structure. It also interferes with one of the most important characteristics of telenovela consumption: its inclusion in everyday life.

The situation is complicated and worrisome. If you understand Spanish, I recommend you listen to the following interview of Leonardo Padrón, author of La Mujer Perfecta. The interview was done by a Colombian radio station and his words explain the current situation:

Oct 3, 2010


A couple of years ago, I wrote here about the difficulty of finding consensus in anything regarding telenovelas. I still feel the same way. It's almost impossible to find an aspect of a telenovela in which everyone thinks alike.

This week I've been reflecting particularly on the "rhythm" of a telenovela. That is, on the pace of events that make up the everyday life of a telenovela. This reflection came about thanks to my study of La Mujer Perfecta. I asked my study audience participants about their opinion of this telenovela's rhythm. Their answers varied so much that it was impossible for me to conclude anything! From "there are days in which nothing happens" to "too many things happen and too quickly," and every possible answer in between.

I decided then to list every "happening" or event that has been aired in each of the six main plots of La Mujer Perfecta. The list isn't short. Still, the audience's readings stand, begging for more analysis. Hence, I asked more in-depth questions to some of my participants, and arrived to the following preliminary conclusion:

It seems that each one of us has her/his own measuring stick to assess the rhythm of a telenovela. Sometimes, we're waiting for something in particular to happen, and that doesn't allow us to see the other incidents that are going on in the show. The opposite also happens: we think a lot is going on because what we want to happen is actually on the screen and/or things are happening in our favorite plot. Meanwhile, we might not realize that other plots are somewhat stagnant.

This is one of the many difficulties of writing a telenovela. For things to "happen," the dramatic knot must be constructed carefully. If not, when that knot "explodes," it won't have the force it should have had. At the same time, events and incidents must occur constantly (or write them so that the public has that perception). If not, the audience will feel that "nothing is happening" in the show.

Obviously, "rhythm" is a complex and difficult topic for writers, producers, network executives...and researchers.

Aug 17, 2010

About Celebrity Gossip

Today, for the first time, the English and Spanish version of my blog won't be mirror images. The topic of my posts, however, will be the same: The problem with celebrity gossip.

I've spent many hours with the talented people who work in telenovelas. They work in an environment that needs the promotion that the entertainment press provides. However, we frequently see how gossip and speculation are prioritized over news and real criticism in order to sell more newspapers, magazines, or to raise the ratings of a show.

Regarding this topic, here are two items to read:

The case against celebrity gossip by Allison Samuels, published in Newsweek

The column that Cuban-Venezuelan actor Beatriz Valdés (in the picture) wrote for daily Tal Cual. You can read it in the Spanish version of this blog (Part I, Part II)

Celebrity gossip cheapens the entertainment industry and is unfair to those who work in it. As part of the audience, we should want no part of it.

Jun 25, 2010


For the first time in decades, yesterday there wasn't a single Venezuelan telenovela broadcast by Venezuelan networks.

I've received many emails requesting my opinion on this sad moment. (I've also been wanting to write about it here, but haven't had the time to do so because of my classes). Therefore, following is an interview I answered via email. It's in Spanish, but I hope you'll get the gist of it. (The moment is critical. Venezuelan telenovelas are competing at a disadvantage because of the political environment and its consequences. I don't think the Venezuelan telenovela is dead, there's just too much talent in the country's industry. Network executives should conduct some serious research and support our talent with salaries and working conditions according to their experience).

Here is my point of view:

- ¿Por qué cree que las telenovelas colombianas han desplazado a las venezolanas en el mercado internacional?

Hay varias razones: 1. La asociación entre las productoras colombianas y Telemundo (cuyo dueño es la cadena norteamericana NBC) ha logrado una poderosa mezcla de creatividad con altos presupuestos. 2. La telenovela colombiana no se produce bajo las restricciones de una Ley de Contenidos. 3. La telenovela colombiana no se produce en el ambiente que ha dejado en la TV venezolana la no renovación de la licencia de RCTV y la posterior salida del aire de RCTV Internacional. Estas medidas han traído como consecuencia aprehensión en la otra estación de televisión que produce telenovelas en Venezuela. El resultado de las razones 2 y 3 es una telenovela menos atractiva, menos arriesgada y menos contemporánea porque es excesivamente escrupulosa. 4. Las telenovelas colombianas no se producen bajo el esquema cambiario y con las devaluaciones que existen en Venezuela, las cuales inciden en la actualización de nuestros equipos y el entrenamiento de nuestro personal. 5. Las telenovelas colombianas han sido mejor mercadeadas en el mercado internacional que las venezolanas.

- Algunos autores aseguran que en Venezuela pasa lo mismo. La telenovela colombiana irrumpió con creatividad y por eso ocupa los horarios estelares en Venezuela. ¿Qué comentario tiene al respecto?

La telenovela colombiana co-producida con Telemundo ocupa el horario estelar actualmente porque Televén descubrió que les resultaba mejor que las telenovela brasileñas que habían colocado por años en su prime time. Las telenovelas de Brasil eran aceptadas en Venezuela sólo por las clases altas, las Telemundo-colombianas sí “suben cerro”. Esa es una razón, pero hay otras. El cierre de RCTV saca de circulación a uno de nuestros dos grandes productores de telenovelas. Eso empobreció tremendamente a nuestra televisión y a nuestra industria de la telenovela. Primero, porque es una opción menos. Segundo, porque al no tener aparente competencia, bajó la calidad de las telenovelas de Venevisión. Hubo una falsa sensación de seguridad en el mercado nacional y una priorización del mercado internacional que, aunado a los problemas de ambiente político, leyes y presupuesto explicados en la pregunta anterior, le bajaron paulatinamente la calidad a las telenovelas de Venevisión y las desconectaron del gusto de nuestro público al punto en el que estamos ahorita, en el que el mismo canal no tiene otra alternativa que colocar novelas hechas en Colombia en su prime time.

- ¿Cómo calificaría el momento que atraviesa la telenovela venezolana en este momento en el país?

El momento es crítico. Nuestra industria está empobrecida y todos los que trabajan en ella están en una situación laboral dificilísima. Pero eso no significa que no hay futuro.

- ¿Qué futuro le vislumbra a la producción dramática nacional?

Tenemos inmenso talento tanto a nivel de autores como de actores. También en nuestros estudios de televisión hay una serie de héroes y heroínas anónimos que trabajan detrás de las cámaras en la producción y dirección. En todos esos grupos hay capacidad y entrega. Yo confío en que el talento se impondrá sobre el contexto adverso en el que trabajan.

- Como estudiosa en la materia. ¿La telenovela venezolana debería evolucionar, es decir tomar un nuevo rumbo, que ya no sea ni rosa ni de ruptura?

Hoy en día las historias originales tienen elementos tanto del género rosa como del de ruptura. No están en ninguno de los dos extremos. La telenovela venezolana en mi opinión tiene que volver a hablarnos a los venezolanos primero y recuperarnos como público. El mercado internacional vendrá después, y sólo si tenemos una estrategia de mercadeo más eficiente y honesta. Es clave que nuestra industria telenovelera nunca subestime la inteligencia del público y luche contra la fuerte tendencia de la cultura popular a repetirse a sí misma.

- ¿Algún mensaje para los escritores de dramas venezolanos?

Sería absolutamente pretencioso de mi parte decirle nada a nuestros escritores. Conozco de cerca las dificultades, esfuerzo y angustias del trabajo de escribir telenovelas. La mayoría de la gente no tiene idea del número de horas que pasan ideando, escribiendo, revisando y cuestionando los detalles de unas historias que tienen que ser escritas a velocidad industrial. Mi mensaje más bien es para los que toman las decisiones del negocio. Para obtener buenos resultados hay que diseñar estrategias basadas en la investigación y observación rigurosa del género y su público. También hay que apoyar más a nuestros escritores, actores, directores y trabajadores del área de la producción con salarios y condiciones de trabajo acordes con su trayectoria.

May 14, 2010


This week Venezuelan daily La Verdad dedicated its anniversary issue to telenovelas. The 50+ pages issue includes interviews with actors and writers. A plus in this publication is the inclusion of the timeline of Venezuelan telenovelas. This issue is a great contribution to the study of this TV genre that has marked my country, and that is going today through its worst crisis.

Following is a list of links to some of the interviews and stories (in Spanish, unfortunately):





Other actors interviewed: Raúl Amundaray, Daniel Alvarado, Jonathan Montenegro, Ruddy Rodríguez, Carmen Julia Alvarez y Daniela Alvarado.

Hope you enjoy it!

Apr 27, 2010


In the recent 5th Congress of the Spanish Language, Jorge Ignacio Covarrubias, secretary of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, presented a paper about telenovelas and the diffusion of the Spanish language. You can read here an article in Spanish about this. You can also read Mr. Covarrubias' presentation. For this research, Mr. Covarrubias interviewed telenovela writers, actors and producers. He also interviewed me and some of my students in my "Telenovelas, culture and society" class.

Apr 6, 2010


It's almost impossible to watch Venezuelan telenovelas in Univisión. Programming is designed to attract the U.S. Latino population, which is dominated by people of Mexican descent/origin.

The days in which Univision broadcast El País de las Mujeres (1999) at 2 p.m. are long gone. The Venezuelan "quota" is now the 1 p.m. slot, which is now destined to telenovelas produced by Venevisión-Miami (Venevisión Productions). Never by Venevisión-Venezuela. And telenovelas produced by RCTV are not even in the mix. Hence, we rarely find Venezuelan telenovelas in Univisión. And when we do, it's in some terrible time slot like 1 a.m.

For these reasons, I was happy to hear that my most recent object or study, La Vida Entera, is being broadcast by Univisión at 6 p.m. The time slot is somewhat problematic since it coincides with local newscasts in some cities. For instance, in Miami and San Diego the telenovela won't be seen. But, there are plenty of cities and urban centers in which the affiliated Univisión station doesn't have a newscast. For example, Atlanta. Notwithstanding this issue, the 6 p.m. slot is a big improvement compared with the wee hours of the morning, as was the case with telenovela Torrente.

But, the abuses that Univision commits regarding Venezuelan telenovelas aren't limited to scheduling:
  1. The synopsis of La Vida Entera on Univision's webpage is a faint image of the one written by the telenovela's author. The telenovela's essence is all but lost.
  2. For most of the day today my TV was on Univision. I didn't see a single promotional of the telenovela. La Vida Entera promotionals don't seem to exist. Hence, the telenovela doesn't seem to exist either.
  3. Every one hour episode is being edited so that it's duration is only 30 minutes. Therefore, edition is rough and brutal, and lacks respect for the story. My impression was that the editor only cares for the main love story of Kotufa, Salvador and Cristóbal (this is also reflected in Univision's published synopsis). The rest of the characters only show up in scenes in which they're related to the main triangle. By editing in this way the first two episodes, in which the writer and cast first draw characters and present plots, the telenovela loses coherence, meaning, dramatic structure and strength. In other words, a 120-hour telenovela is being dismembered into 60 meaningless hours.

Given all these factors, should we be surprised if La Vida Entera fails in the ratings? Of course not. When that happens, then it will be said that Venezuelan telenovelas don't work out well in Univision. And, it will be several years before another Venezuelan telenovela is given "a chance," always under adverse conditions that are close to impossible.

This is a sorry state of affairs that disrespects all who work in the Venezuelan telenovela industry and the public. It's also another factor in the current precarious situation of Venezuelan TV, which is caused by government measures intended to stifle dissent and by positions assumed by network administrators and owners.

Feb 21, 2010


Every time I'm asked which is my favorite telenovela of all times, I answer La Dueña (Venezuela, 1984). This novela was written by José Ignacio Cabrujas and Julio César Mármol. The protagonists were Amanda Gutiérrez and Daniel Alvarado.

The telenovela is written as a homage to The Count of Montecristo by Alexandre Dumás. Moreover, La Dueña is The Count of Montecristo, but told in the Venezuela historical period known as gomecista and post-gomecista, and with a female protagonist, who's thrown into a horrid psychiatric ward. She escapes ten years later and deploys her vengeance.

Recently I watched La Dueña again. It was a fascinating exercise since in 1984 I had no plans to study a Ph.D. in mass communication, nor did I imagine that one day telenovelas would be my object of study.

Following my academic discipline, I started watching the telenovela with a series of questions in mind:
  • After a decade studying telenovelas, would I like La Dueña as much as I did in 1984?
  • What weaknesses and strengths would I notice in the telenovela?
  • How different is La Dueña from today's telenovelas?
La Dueña hooked me again. And, in doing so, it reaffirmed what elements are present in the telenovelas I like:
  • Careful character construction
  • Intelligent dialogue
  • Acting talent
  • Coherence in the storyline
La Dueña is a telenovela with a high level of writing and low levels of production, even for 1984. There are very few exterior locations and a limited number of sets. The quality of the wardrobe is exceptional, though. It reflects the historical period depicted in the telenovela and effectively contributes to each character's individuality.

Even though drama is paramount in La Dueña, humor is present throughout in small doses that make the story lighter and easier to digest. Dialogue in La Dueña uses correctly the historical references of the time period. They are typical dialogue written by Cabrujas: rhythmic, poetic and profound. But, most of all, the words are coherent with the character that pronounces them. These dialogues are long and are set in long scenes; way too long if we compare them to current telenovela standards. When you watch La Dueña, you are at a different pace. Things are happening all the time, but the length of the scenes is double or triple the ones we watch today.

The cast of La Dueña merits special mention. It's quite a luxury to watch this cast. With one or two exceptions, everyone did an extraordinary job with their characters.

-Amanda Guiérrez is magnificent as she develops the double character of Adriana/Ximena, using two tones of voice, two gaits, two attitudes towards life. And, she adds to Ximena the detail of the useless hand, the only mark she has from her days in the horrible ward.

-Daniel Alvarado wasn't the typical telenovela protagonist, but that didn't matter at all. We detest his Mauricio Lofiego when he is arrogant and blindly machista. And we love him when we see him in love and humbled by his mistakes.

Here is episode 19. Go to 46:30 for a scene with the protagonists:

It would be too long to write about every actor in the cast. They are too many and too talented. (By the way, it's quite interesting to see how many characters and storylines La Dueña has, when there are those who currently criticize some Venezuelan telenovelas for having "too many characters" and simultaneously declare themselves admirers of Cabrujas and Mármol).

I will mention only four of those outstanding actors:

-María Cristina Lozada is Purificación Burgos, the great villain of the story. Purificación is a character with no fissures, in the acting or the script. Cabrujas and Mármol served her to María Cristina Lozada who made her grow in front of our eyes, until Purificación became unforgettable for Venezuelans. From an acting perspective, it was a detailed job.

Here is episode 45. Find minute 15 for a scene between Purificación Burgos and her second son, Abelardo:

-Eduardo Gadea Pérez is Manuel Antonio Lofiego. This character is a catalog of some of the most enchanting and troublesome characteristics of the average Venezuelan. Manuel Antonio is charismatic, verbose, a drinker and improvised. His scenes have the right amount of humor amidst the drama that is La Dueña.

Here is episode 78 with a pair of scenes of Manuel Antonio Lofiego. Go first to minute 17 and then to minute 31:

-Carlota Sosa is María Consuelo Tellez, a woman whose intelligence and personality don't fit well with the rigidness of the time period in which she lived. There is a lot of truth in Carlota Sosa's performance. Back in 1984, it was the first time I saw this talented actress on TV.

Here's again episode 78. Go to minute 8 for the final scene of María Consuelo and Adriana Then go to minute 32 for her final scene with Mauricio:

-Fina Rojas is Elvira, the woman who raised the protagonist, Adriana. Until I saw her in La Dueña, Fina Rojas was a comic actress who worked weekly in the humorous show Radio Rochela. Elvira is a character that is 100% drama, and Fina Rojas executed it brilliantly.

Here's again episode 45. Go to minute 36 for a long scence between Elvira and the male protagonist, Mauricio:

La Dueña is a great example that the key elements in a good telenovela are the writing and the acting. This telenovela is also a reminder that betrayal and vengeance are classic elements in these melodramas, and gives us clues as to why the principle of crime and punishment is one of the genre's most enduring codes.

Jan 24, 2010


We have another loss in Venezuela. Less than three years after the government did not renew RCTV's broadcast license and sent the station to cable, now they have created a new norm, especially designed to take the station from the air, even on cable. The new norm classifies cable stations as "national" or "international." "National" stations must comply with the restrictive Media Content Law and broadcast the President's speeches, "cadenas." Not surprisingly, CONATEL, the government's communication regulating body declared that RCTV is "national" to be able to modify and control the oppositional stance in the station's content. RCTV did not broadcast a presidential cadena yesterday. Last night, cable companies, complying with the new norm, took RCTV out of the air.

So, today Venezuela wakes up with less of a voice. We're going towards a silence. Better said, they're moving the country towards a generalized silence in which the only voice that's heard is the President's.

Links with related news stories:

Jan 7, 2010


Studying telenovelas has given me the opportunity to meet interesting people. Among them is Vanessa, who I met while conducting the fieldwork for my last case study, telenovela La Vida Entera. When I interviewed Vanessa regarding her decoding of this telenovela, she told me that she drew several cartoons of some of the characters in the show. Following are some of her cartoons, along with photos of the characters. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I have. It's another way of observing telenovela consumption, and how audience members appropriate the characters, as they follow their storylines.

Kotufa (Anastasia Mazzone):

Facundo (Carlos Mata):

Olimpia (Beatriz Valdés):

Tata (Marisa Román):

Guille (Luis Gerónimo Abreu):

And this isn't a character, but the telenovela's author, Leonardo Padrón:

This isn't a character either :-) Thanks, Vanessa!