In the U.S. we have soap operas and sitcoms, but nothing quite like the Latin American produced telenovelas. In fact, telenovelas comprise the majority of productions by South American and Mexican television networks whereas in the United States, other formats such as sitcoms or reality shows are more popular.
Considered a mainstay of Spanish-language entertainment, telenovelas run five nights a week and run for a predetermined duration, usually for 70 to 200 episodes. American English language soap operas can continue indefinitely. In the 1950s and early 1960s, telenovelas were primarily adaptations of novels and other literary forms, and only a few Latin American scriptwriters constructed original narratives. By the late 1960s local markets started producing their own stories, bringing in local influences, and shaping the narratives to particular audiences.
As the leading Latin American TV genre, novelas run in the prime-time schedule. In the United States, soap operas air in daytime programming, leaving prime-time slots to sitcoms and reality shows or talent contests. Unlike U.S. soap operas that tend to rely on the family as a central unit of the narrative, many Latin American novelas focus on the relationship between a romantic couple as the main motivator for plot development. The novelas utilize conventional melodramatic narratives in which the romantic couple confronts opposition to their staying together. As well, the three-way love triangle is still a main story for many modern novelas.
In general, telenovelas tend to fall within these six categories: Working-class melodrama, Historical romance, Teen drama, Mystery/Thriller, Romantic comedy or Pop band story.
American-made soap operas will sometimes include social messages about issues that disproportionately affect Hispanics like diabetes; the importance of a college education; and generational gaps between assimilated Hispanics and their more traditional Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents.
It is not uncommon in many Latino households, in both the U.S. and Latin America, to gather with the family to tune in to watch the novela drama unfold onscreen. The phenomenon of novelas is that often times they are multi-generational. The grandchildren watch a story come to life with their abuela.
As telenovelas become more popular they also have become more technologically sophisticated and have evolved to transmit sociocultural messages by incorporating them into storylines. For example, novelas will include social responsibility messages written into the scripts and plot lines to educate young adults on issues that most affect them.
The telenovela genre will continue to be an important avenue in which to find and connect with the U.S. Spanish speaking audience, regardless of age. There are many novela options these days with a variety of themes catering to a diverse Spanish-preferred audience. Marketers and advertisers have plentiful choices with which to create brand awareness.
Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, Museum.tv, New York Times, Tr3s