Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Telenovelas get hot as soaps fizzle out

Star of
Kate del Castillo, star of "La Reina del Sur" / El Universal
By:  Michelle Roberts & Veronica Mezzini  
As viewers around the country are mourning the cancellation of two of the most iconic soap operas to hit daytime television, they are tuning in at record numbers to check out the soaps’ Latino counterparts, telenovelas, which are gaining audiences and surpassing the competition. So what gives?  Low ratings from soap operas are pointing towards a younger generation in addition to a growing Hispanic market. 
In recent years, Latin telenovelas have left stale storylines behind for more current and risky programming, while maintaining elements of the popular love stories.  The innocent heroines of ourabuelitas’ shows have been replaced by female drug lords, controversy, violence and complex dramas.  Telemundo’s hugely successful “La Reina del Sur” is an example of the power behind the directional changes being taken in the production of these shows.  “We don’t believe that the typical model is reflecting the society that we live in anymore, and we are looking for these new stronger characters,” says Borja Pérez, Integrated Solutions and Digital Media Vice-President for NBC/Telemundo. 
Not only was the finale of “La Reina del Sur” the highest rated broadcast program regardless of language among key demographics in its primetime slot, but Telemundo is also looking to gain an Emmy nomination and compete amongst English-language television shows.  This move speaks volumes about the company’s belief that cultural lines are being blurred when it comes to who is tuning in.  In fact, 2% or 3% of Telemundo’s audience is English-dominant or bilingual. 
The reality factor
ABC has plans to replace “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” with a food-focused show hosted by Italian chef Mario Batali and another reality-based transformation show.  Soap operas are clearly not what advertisers or audiences are looking for as reality television continues to dominate airwaves while spending less in production costs.  It seems that while those stay-at-home moms were extremely loyal to their soaps’ characters, younger audiences gravitate towards equally entertaining and instantly gratifying reality programming.   
The Latino factor
Not only does a shift in generational viewership have a hand in the imminent doom of soap operas, but there’s also a cultural change in play.  Results from a 2010 U.S. census show that there’s huge potential growth for the Spanish-language sector, while more Hispanics are watching television and make-up the fastest growing segment of the population. 
And Hispanics have a strong connection to telenovelas.  Luis Fernandez, President of Entertainment and Univisión Studios, insists “telenovelas are a tradition that Hispanics of all ages and sexes have grown up with. Telenovelas are embedded in the culture.”  Univisión recently had great success with the finale of its own show “Eva Luna”, reaching 9.7 million viewers. 
America Ferrera in "Ugly Betty" / AP
America Ferrera in "Ugly Betty" / AP
The futuro
There’s no question about the possibilities of growth for Spanish-language programming.  Just ask Tom Hanks who couldn’t buy better publicity after his appearance at Univisión went viral.   Or ask the Big Four (CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX) who have been beat in the ratings by telenovelas. 
Can we expect another import a la Ugly Betty, which aired for four seasons on ABC after Salma Hayek adapted the original Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty La Fea, for an English-speaking audience? 

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