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Ay Dios Mio: Why Are Telenovelas Booming While U.S. Soaps Are Being Killed Off?

Following the crushing blows being dealt the U.S. daytime soap opera industry closely, while occasionally peeking at news about the seemingly-unstoppable cash cow of Spanish language telenovelas right here in the good ol' U.S. of A., can be like watching an episode of the old Superfriends cartoon, where the Man of Steel is forever trapped in Bizarro World.


In the past few years we've watched Passions, Guiding Light and As The World Turns be canceled, All My Children packed up on the back of a truck and jostled across country to L.A., like that family on The Beverly Hillbillies—with poor Thorsten Kaye falling off somewhere around about Albuquerqueand now both AMC and One Life to Live are rumored to be canceled soon.  So, riddle me this: How have Univision and Telemundo been able to make such successes out of the genre they essentially borrowed from the U.S., yet our soaps are being killed off one by one?

As fans of ABC Daytime soaps frantically beg Anne Sweeney not to cancel our beloved, long-running—and once insanely-profitable serials—Univision is in talks to create three new channels, one of them a 24/7 soap channel. Wow, a channel that airs serialized drama content around the clock! Doesn't that sound like a novel concept? Something tells me Univision's TELENOVELAnet, or whatever they choose to call it, won't have nary a Southern Belle running amuck in Louisville—or Tijuana for that matter—not to mention any bargain basement 80's movies like Clue.

Now granted, we all know the telenovela isn't exactly a clone of her English-language cousin. Telenovelas are reportedly much cheaper to produce, and they generally only run for 3 to 6 months, before an entirely new "novela" begins.  They also air in primetime—where they often win their timeslots here in the U.S. Telenovelas also target the fastest growing minority in U.S. history, Latinos. Still there has to be a way for the struggling U.S. soap industry to benchmark from the success of such shows as A Corazón Abierto or Eva Luna.

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Speaking of Eva Luna, the sudser set in the world of advertising, has an arc featuring real-life automobile brands like Buick, which also serves as a branded content sponsor. Uh, hello? That's exactly the business model Irna Phillips and Procter and Gamble built on radio in the 30's. How on Earth, in the mad dash to appeal only to women with 49 candles-or-less on their birthday cakes, did the U.S. soap biz forget how to do what they did best for so many decades?

 Here's a radical thought, instead of meddling in storytelling decisions at his three soaps, why hasn't ABC Daytime Chief Brian Frons been busy coming up with similar out-of-the-box strategies for General Hospital, One Life to Live and All My Children? No, I don't mean simply booking another soaper on Dancing With The Stars. Thanks.

While I'm no big fan of David Kreizman, I hear he didn't know whether he was coming or going during his time co-writng All My Children with Donna Swajeski, because of Frons' alleged continual rejections of his story ideas.  How will a writer ever sink or soar on his or her own merit if the boss man fancies himself a scribe? And if Frons forces his writers to tell the stories he wants, then why are the writers the only ones who keep getting fired? Shouldn't it be a network exec's job to just make sure the shows are turning a profit, and the lights stay on? Why isn't Frons being held accountable for the state of his lineup, as opposed to possibly being turned lose on new multi-million dollar play toys? 

Not that this industry's writers get a pass. When are they going to forego pitching ridiculous, unrelatable storylines about Balkans, DNA switches, electroshock therapy and evil doppelgangers, and start paying attention to life outsde the soap bubble?

The writers of the new "Narco Novelas", are exploring the dark world of the Mexican drug trade, with ripped-from-the-headlines serials which are proving extremely popular. No, I can't say I relate to that world, but a good portion of the people watching those shows no doubt can. If you look at all of the reports of Mexico being overrun by drug kingpins, it's likely many of the Mexicans who've immigrated to America no doubt wanted to escape such a climate, and can relate to—and even be comforted by—a fictional, 13-week fairy tale where good triumps over evil.  It's called knowing your audience. Daytime soapers used to get that concept.

All I'm saying is there's a reason Telemundo's La Reina del Sur is No. 1 in its timeslot across all U.S. broadcast networks. Maybe it's time Brian Frons, Ken Corday and the Bells at least attempted to  figure out what that reason is?   

Photo credit: Telemundo