As the semester starts winding down, one of the things that I've learned from this course that sticks out to me the most is how drastically different every aspect of telenovelas (or their equivalent in other parts of the world) are depending on where they are made.
For the most part, the discussions both in class and in the readings have centered around Latin American telenovelas and the processes in place in those countries. It speaks volumes that there are only a few countries who produce valuable content- mostly Mexico, Brazil, and some in Venezuela- in the region and yet it is still a major part of the media culture all throughout Latin America. In countries like Brazil, production values are extremely high with fast-paced output and huge revenue coming from exporting their shows worldwide. This is true at least marginally for most shows with a high production value, but it becomes an issue in places like Venezuela that have serious censorship and have a hard time competing with much more 'free' industries like Brazil. The highest budgets on a per episode basis are around $300,000. An example of this level would be La Reina del Sur.
In the United States, Telemundo and Univision are constantly fighting to be at the top of the enormous market available in the country. The hispanic market is the fastest growing in America, and the increasing amounts of money being put into production reflects both the amount of spending power that this subset possesses and how integral it is to the culture. Viewership is not limited to Spanish speakers, however. It is also interesting to note that Telemundo gets lots of its programming from Televisa in Mexico. This raises questions about whether or not it is more fiscally responsible to make your own content or to buy it and not have to pay for the labor, creative, etc. As of late, the two have been neck in neck as far as viewership goes in several time slots. The methodology in American-based production firms is similar to mainstream US TV in that a full season has been filmed before any of it is aired.
One of the newest- and certainly one of the most important- players in this international entertainment contest is Turkey. Their popular shows that are similar to telenovelas are known as 'dizi', and are as important in Turkish culture as telenovelas are in Latin America. Production values are so high that these shows have attracted attention from parts of the Middle East and Latin America, which has led to about $250 million in exporting the show abroad. A factor that has set the bar so high is the 'cutthroat' nature of the market. Episodes- if they can be called that- are typically over 2 hours long and filmed on a weekly basis. In other words, an episode that was aired on Monday was filmed and produced the week before. The budget for one episode can be up to $1million, as was the case with Magnificent Century. A rule of thumb is that if a show is not displaying signs of success after 5 episodes, it is scrapped and pulled from the schedule entirely. That would leave the team of actors with no jobs since contracts are on a show by show basis.
Shows from all of these places have enormous international popularity despite their differences in production, plot, style, and culture. It is fascinating to see that there is no rhyme or reason to how consumers choose shows to watch. If there is good plot, production, and acting it is likely to be a success. That is not always the case, though. There is some indefinable element that makes for a truly captivating telenovela, and it isn't limited to any one show or country.