Dec 3, 2011


The history of Venezuelan telenovelas can't be comprehended without paying attention to the indelible mark left by the intellectuals who have authored them. They live between two worlds that don't always see eye to eye: literature and popular culture. These writers experience the paradox of mass consumption and deprecation that writing telenovelas elicit.

Here, two conversations that illustrate this (audios are in Spanish):

Ibsen Martínez and Leonardo Padrón in Los Imposibles
Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Leonardo Padrón in Los Imposibles

Nov 8, 2011


The IX Telenovela Summit took place last week in Miami and generated some news stories. Here are a couple:

Creators aim for the world at US 'telenovela' summit (AFP)
MIAMI — Creators of telenovelas -- the dramatic Latin American incarnation of soap operas -- from 22 countries gathered this week in Miami to champion their genre as "more alive than ever" as they aim for new markets in Asia, eastern Europe and even Afghanistan. [Read more...] 
Note: Telenovelas are not "the dramatic Latin American incarnation of soap operas." Statements like this blur the important differences between telenovelas and soap operas (1, 2), and dismiss the fact that telenovelas constitute a genre whose origins are in Latin America. 

Telenovelas face challenge of reaching young people (EFE via COMTEX) 
Miami, Nov 7, 2011-- The lucrative world of telenovelas faces the challenge of attracting young people through new platforms, experts in the sector agreed at a meeting in Miami.  [Read more...]
Note: The challenge isn't to reach young people. They're already watching telenovelas. The real challenge is to realize that "to watch television" doesn't mean anymore "to sit in front of a TV set." And telenovela fans around the world have known this for a while. But, are producers and distributors catching up?

Another story worth noting appeared on Slate Magazine and focused on Univision's recipe for success:

Noches con Telenovelas: What’s behind Univision’s remarkable success?

One of Univision’s secrets is consistency. No one needs to consult a schedule to know what’s on: Every weeknight from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern, the network runs the same three telenovelas back-to-back-to-back. [Read more...]
Note: Consistency is a key factor in telenovelas' successful consumption. But, it's also important to mention that the genre is embedded in cultures originating in Latin America, which make the majority of Univision's audience. 

Nov 1, 2011


Telenovelas are habit. And to that end, they must be broadcast regularly. That's how they become an ingredient of the everyday life of those who watch them. 

Regarding the desired regularity in their broadcast, (and in addition to the constant interruption of the mandatory presidential broadcasts--cadenas presidenciales), we can say that Venezuelan television has two clearly defined seasons. And these present different levels of difficulty for the regular transmission of telenovelas

Season 1--March-August: 

  • Telenovelas can be interrupted because of Mardi Gras (if it happens to fall on March), and because of Holy Week
  • But, the main difficulty that this season presents is that during school vacations in July and August, the audience tends to lack constancy in its daily schedules and habits. 
  • I should also mention that in the years in which the FIFA World Cup is played in a country whose time zone requires evening broadcast in Venezuela, telenovelas suffer interruption in their transmission during June and/or July.

Season 2--September-February: 

  • September means back to school and to the daily routine. 
  • However, from October to February, telenovelas broadcast in Venevisión suffer from many interruptions due to the Venezuelan baseball season and, later, the Serie del Caribe. When these telenovelas aren't broadcast, the audience turns to the competing melodramas and Venevisión telenovelas' numbers suffer. 
  • Christmas and New Year festivities also interrupt regular programming in Venezuela. 
  • If there are elections (presidential and regional elections are traditionally held in the last quarter of the calendar year), telenovela transmission is further interrupted by special election and pre-election coverage. 
  • In addition to these many interruptions, we should mention that media space pre-sales (preventa) also occur in the last quarter of the calendar year. This, coupled with the premiere of the new season of all U.S. and European series broadcast in cable, heightens the level of competition and difficulty of the September-February season for telenovelas. 

Oct 27, 2011


It's been months since I last blogged. It seems I'm not the only one who has abandoned her blog. Nor am I the only one worried about the possibility that blogging is on its way to extinction. The truth is that I'm writing a lot these days, but not here. I'm writing something that wants to become my next book. This, plus a demanding academic term, leaves me without time to blog. I should also mention that I'm pretty active on Twitter, so I do feel that I'm expressing myself. Having said this, I don't want to abandon my blog. So, from now on, I'll write shorter posts and place links to interesting articles related to telenovelas. Here are two related to Telemundo:

Telemundo to launch in Venezuela via cable operator Inter.
Will this change Venezuelans telenovela consumption habits? Will it change their appreciation/taste/perception of Venezuelan telenovelas?

Telemundo blends English into a mostly Spanish lineup
Is this a real reflection of Latino demographics in the US? How will this affect the Spanish language? How will it affect telenovela consumption in the US?

Apr 30, 2011


Yesterday I had a special experience. I was invited to speak to a group of Latino students at  W. R. Coile Middle School. The invitation came from a pilot program organized by the University of Georgia's Institute for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACSI). The program's name is Affirmation of Cultural Identity. Speakers are chosen "for their content knowledge related to bicultural identity and because they served as top-tier Hispanic role models for the children or otherwise had significant interaction with and knowledge of the local Hispanic community."

It was touching for me to return to Coile after many years. You see, my three children went through their middle school grades there. I found a school with changed demographics. In the period of 1996-2002, when Gustavo, Carolina and María Teresa were at Coile, the number of Latino students was exceedingly small. Today, about 20% of the student body is Latino.

The students that participate in this LACSI program had been told that I study telenovelas. Therefore, they wanted to talk about these shows from the beginning. They even told me about the ones they watch (Triunfo del Amor-Univision, and some of them watch La Reina del Sur-Telemundo). I started the session, however, by asking them questions. I wanted to know their origins and personal stories. Most of these students were either born in Mexico or are the children of Mexican parents. (This is one of the explanations of their loyal consumption of Televisa telenovelas in Univision).

I asked them if there is something that they don't like about living in the U.S. They answered "when we're treated bad just because we're different," and proceeded to give me examples of the times they've felt excluded or segregated in their everyday lives. I decided, then, to show them videos of Micaela, the protagonist of the latest telenovela I've studied in-depth, La Mujer Perfecta. Micaela has suffered from exclusion because she has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. In particular, I showed the scene in which Micaela delivers a speech on World Autism Awareness Day:

Día Mundial del Autismo-Micaela-LMP from Carolina Acosta-Alzuru on Vimeo.

Micaela's words had a magical effect on these students. "I'm not inferior, I'm just different" generated a group in-depth reflection about why we exclude those that are different from us. We talked about how exclusion is a two-way street. Sometimes we're the excluded ones, and sometimes we exclude others. To divide the world into "us" and "other" is particularly bad when we assume  that "we" are somehow superior to, or better than, "others," and we don't welcome our differences. This is how intolerance and exclusion begin.

For me, it was certainly a sentimental trip to return to Coile and a great privilege to be chosen to speak to these Latino students. More importantly,  yesterday afternoon showed me, one more time, how the universally melodramatic telenovela can be more than a "simple" love story delivered in daily installments. Telenovelas are entertainment. But, there's an undeniable transcendence in a genre that partly defines many Latin Americans and Latinos who live around the world. Telenovelas are a also a business enterprise. And, even though network executives and other decision makers could care less about what happened yesterday at a middle school in Athens, GA; for those students, these telenovela scenes could be a flashlight illuminating the thorny path of belonging to a social, cultural and ethnic minority.

Apr 6, 2011


The last time that telenovelas produced by RCTV and Venevisión faced each other, was on Saturday, May 26, 2007. The next evening, RCTV was silenced

Tonight at 9 p.m., Televén premieres the last telenovela produced by RCTV (RCTV Internacional, as it was renamed once it went into paid TV, where it isn't present anymore). Que el cielo me explique is an original story by Cristina Policastro, starring Marianella González and Carlos Felipe Alvarez

Que el cielo me explique will face La viuda joven by Martín Hahn, starring Mariángel Ruiz, Luis Gerónimo Abreu and Verónica Schneider. The contrast between styles warrants a study. We will observe the verist style of Policastro's social telenovela, versus Hahn's postmodern suspense. 

For the Venezuelan telenovela industry, that has been so affected by the country's politica and economic contexts, it's crucial for its recovery to have two Venezuelan telenovelas competing on primetime on open TV.  (Read my two previous posts Is the Venezuelan telenovela dead?  and Is the Venezuelan telenovela dead?-Part 2). And, given the unfortunate absence of RCTV, it's now necessary that Televén produces its own telenovelas, and that Venevisión continues its commitment to produce with Venezuelan talent. In this way, the Venezuelan telenovela's health will improve. And, with it, Venezuelan television will have better days ahead.  

Jan 10, 2011


María Elena Walsh has passed away. Her poems, novels, stories, songs, essays and articles were enjoyed beyond the frontiers of her native Argentina.

I assume she never knew this. But, her children's song "Manuelita la tortuga" was a key ingredient in one of the most moving telenovela scenes I've ever encountered in my research.

In "La Vida Entera" written by Leonardo PadrónOlimpia Duque (Beatriz Valdés), is facing the worst and most lonely night of her life. Unexpectedly, it's her daughter Tata (Marisa Román) who puts her to bed, in an inversion of roles between a mother and daughter, who've had a difficult relationship throughout the telenovela. The scene was touching in the script. But the two actors  moved it up several notches by using their talent and deep knowledge of their characters. And, of course, thanks to María Elena Walsh's Manuelita la tortuga.