The North Americanization of Latin American TV

We have no idea why the people involved in this story think they’re telling us about a good thing. (But that’s how TVWriter™ rolls, or so it seems.)


Latin America remains a drama market, but the type of series that are resonating has changed, with new forms of novella breaking through. The traditional soapy drama remains a programming staple region-wide, but a shorter, punchier and grittier iteration of the form is gaining ground, data for January-October 2014 shows.

“In fiction, the telenovela remains a key genre, but to face competition in the TV environment and reach a wider market, it has been reinvented, both in terms of form and content,” says Julia Espérance, media consultant at Eurodata TV and service manager for the New on the Air (NOTA) programming service. “They focus on new themes, they’re not the traditional sentimental love stories, and there is a real effort to diversify the audience to bring in male viewers with more action.”

To win these male and younger viewers, crime and often drug-crime are central themes in the new, edgier novellas. The recent trend started a couple of years ago with Caracol’s Pablo Escobar: El Patron del Mal (Pablo Escobar: The Drug Lord), which went from TV in Colombia to sell into France and the Netherlands as well as Thailand. In the US, Univision’s Unimas has El Varon de la Drog (The Drug Baron), which is written by former cartel member Andres Lopez Lopez and is a more recent example.

Espérance goes on to identify a sub-category among the new crime novellas. “The current trend is for narco-novellas with strong female protagonists, with shows such as La Viuda Negra (The Black Widow), based on the true story of Griselda Bianco aka ‘the Cocaine Godmother’, and Dueños del Paraíso (Masters of Paradise, pictured) and Señora Acero (Woman of Steel),” she says. Several of these are in line for US remakes.

The US networks targeting Hispanic viewers are particularly tuned into the narco trend with Dueños del Paraíso and Señora Acero both Telemundo shows and La Viuda Negra made by Televisa and RTI for Univision.

Many of the new novellas are also shorter in form and the US Hispanic broadcasters are at the forefront of the shift in run-time, targeting Latin viewers in the US with shorter series under initiatives launched recently.

Telemundo calls its shorter action novellas ‘super series’. Examples include El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of Skies) and Dueños del Paraíso, which is a coproduction with Chilean network TVN. Univision has launched abridged versions of its novellas under a ‘Novelas Xpress’ banner and the 15-hours or less series are available on its TV Everywhere service UVideos as well as the Hulu catch-up and streaming service.

Streaming service Netflix is also getting into the drug trafficking game, with ten-parterNarcos set for 2015. The Gaumont-produced series will be largely in Spanish and is a fictionalised account of the most infamous drug boss of all, Pablo Escobar.

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