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The Reach of the Telenovela--MyNetworkTV

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This piece originally appeared on June 10, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

2006 appears more and more to be the Year of the Telenovela in America, as network executives have already turned their eye toward the power of telenovelas and soap operas to garner a continued audience. The American soap industry has had a fall from grace and dwindling ratings due to the increase of so many new programming choices over the past 20 years, but few--if any--types of programming are better at garnering continued viewing from its ardent fan base. And few programs are more ripe for timeshifting of various sorts. After all, a whole cable channel--SoapNet--is currently being powered by providing nighttime viewing of daytime soaps, and many of today's soap viewers--for instance, me--are timeshifting soaps using digital recorders because they are working during the time they officially air.

Telenovelas are an interesting branch from the soap opera, as short-term soaps that examine one particular storyline with a smaller cast and then end when that storyline is over.

News came out earlier this week that Lifetime has ordered a 20-episode run of the telenovela Bianca, based on a popular German program that had the same name.

This comes on the heels of the development of a sixth broadcast network called My Network TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The network, which is planning to pick up many of the stations that are losing network affiliation in the fall with the merger of UPN and The WB into the CW Network, will be powered, at least initially, on soap operas and telenovelas.

The network launched from several FOX-owned UPN affiliates who were losing their network and has expanded into various other major markets already; New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Antonio and many others. Overall, the network already has 150 affiliates or more at this point.

Right now, programming will focus on only two shows, airing 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. EST, but the two soaps will air six days a week. The stations will fill up the rest of the day with syndicated programming. Both soaps will be telenovelas, named Desire and Secret Obsessions. After 13 weeks, each soap will begin a new story unrelated to the prior focus. Therefore, the overall program is just a blanket name for the telenovela series, while each 13-week show will have its own title.

While my home city of Boston has yet to find an affiliate, FOX is going to carry the network from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. so that Bostonians do not miss out on Desire and Secret Obsessions. (Thanks to the Wikipedia page for providing some of that information.)

How powerful will the telenovela form be? Because of its 13-week structure, the shows may be able to garner a powerful audience during each 13-week run. However, unlike American daytime soap operas, the storylines from one 13-week arc to the next will be unrelated. Will Desire and Secret Obsessions carry any long-term vitality without that ability to depict the lives of characters on a daily basis over a number of years?

My Network TV seems to be banking on it.

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