Without kisses, hugs or closeness between the actors due to fear of the coronavirus, soap operas were put on hold in Latin America, a major producer of melodramas, forcing the industry to redefine its future in the new era of social distancing.
With actors, scriptwriters, directors, costumes and stage machines in their homes, the main television stations in the region stopped the recordings of their soap operas, some to be broadcast and others already on the air. With little material already recorded, they removed screen productions, delayed ongoing projects and reprogrammed old soap operas to accompany millions of people forced to confinement.
“Our main concern was the protection and safety of our employees. After all, there is no novel without a kiss, a hug, a fight or a party,” the communications department of the Brazilian network TV O’Globo, told AFP, which at the time of stopping the recordings he had four new novels on the air and three more in production that would debut soon.
“We suspended them all. We closed one of the novels as planned, anticipated the end of another one that was in the final stretch and interrupted the exhibition of two stories that will return to the air as soon as the isolation phase ends,” adds this giant. of regional television, which now operates only with 15% of the employees in its studios.
In Colombia there are no ongoing productions or filming either. “The two private channels RCN and Caracol, which are leading the industry in open television, have stopped 38 productions, including reality shows, dramas and soap operas,” says Tulio Ángel Arbeláez, president of the National Association of Media (Asomedios) from Colombia.
The panorama is the same in the recording studios of Chile, Argentina and even Venezuela, a former powerhouse in the production of soap operas in the region and where the only series that was filmed stopped: “Intrigue after camera”, by the independent Quimera Productions, which although it was not on the air, would be sold to international television stations once it was finished.
“We were in the middle of recording,” Alexandra Braun, the protagonist of this novel, tells AFP, who fears that the impact of the stoppage will deepen the emigration process for soap opera actors, writers and producers, which has been massive in Venezuela.
– Industry on the way to transformation –
In replacement of soap operas, the channels increased the news slot and programmed old series to feed historical levels of audiences in the midst of confinement.
But in the cradle of much of the most popular melodramas, where generations grew up seeing hits like the Venezuelan “Abigail”, the Mexican “Rosa Salvaje”, the Colombian “Betty, la fea” or the Brazilian “El Clon”, how the future of the industry is visualized?
“The circumstance in which we live gives an opportunity for television, since people are at home and are informed and entertained through it. They are hungry for information and seek to entertain themselves in spaces of coexistence,” says María Eugenia Rencoret, director of the dramatic area of Mega, the leading channel in Chile.
The pandemic grew streaming platforms like Netflix to unprecedented levels, which gained 16 million users in the first weeks, while social distance measures should be maintained for a long time, putting a difficult obstacle to overcome for the return of the recordings.
“Storytelling is a cultural tradition of humanity; therefore fiction will continue to exist. The soap opera genre may undergo variations in the way stories are told, but it will always reflect its essence: romanticism, identity , human relationships, coexistence, culture, traditions, emotional connection and motivating conversations, “adds Rencoret.
The future will then depend on the creativity of screenwriters, producers and actors.
Mega has just successfully released “Quarantine Stories”, an unpublished series made by video calls. In it, the psychologist Pablo Ortega conducts virtual sessions with patients affected by the pandemic, such as a couple in crisis who narrates their burden due to the confinement or a nurse who reports the anguish and pressure of the health personnel who face the coronavirus.
But “going back to the air with something original I don’t think will happen before December if this doesn’t last much longer. In a filming of a soap opera where everyone is on top of everyone (…) when we really can starting to record is because everything happened, because there is a vaccine, “says Guillermo Restrepo, adviser to the presidency of the Colombian RCN, in a more pessimistic tone.
“We are sure that the soap opera industry will not end. Novels are part of Brazilian culture, of a great passion for Brazilians and the main entertainment product in the country,” says TV O’Globo, which increased by a 15% your audience during these weeks.
bur-pa / ll / lda