Hey, soap fans! Have you ever wondered whether American soap operas were and/or are popular overseas? Well, wonder no more. Here is one example, written by a LTAS contributor “Lidia”. She is a young Spanish woman and has a fascinating story to tell about the popularity of American soaps overseas. Read on, fans!
I was born at the beginning of the 90s.
TV series are something I’ve grown up with. Personally, I am a huge fan of Xena the Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I’ve also consumed an endless list of series and I’ve enjoyed them greatly.
I’ve always lived surrounded of a TV culture that, daily or weekly, allowed me to visit for a while someone else’s life, and usually that someone else was American. And these series that surrounded me were of all kinds and genres, Family, Comedy, Action, Science Fiction, Horror… and also of course Soap Operas.
All these series have made me and people very different than me, people that may never set foot in the USA, become strangely familiarized with the American lifestyle, culture and even history. With the curious and strange (for us) American high school hierarchy, with American dollars, with American presidents, with Thanksgiving… through our TVs, American culture entered our homes, and it was very welcome!
But, even though I’ve always lived surrounded by all this, even in the 90s this was a pretty new situation in Spain.
It may be strange to read this for an American, because you’ve been enjoying a great variety of TV shows for decades (even from the 50s and 60s, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch… and I’m not even sure all of them were aired in Spain! Talk about how strong American culture is), but in Spain, when we look back with TV nostalgy… we don’t have to look back much, because it’s all pretty recent in comparison.
Because in Spain, back then, we only had two networks (although, ironically enough, in some aspects they were much more productive than nowadays). I was born at the same time as channel plurality in our TVs, in 1990.
I tell you all this because it’s important to keep it in mind to fully appreciate how big of a deal it is that Spanish audiences keep some things, certain soap operas, certain characters and moments, so close to their hearts.
All these was important because in the years that followed this birth of multiple TV channels, in these first decades of TV in Spain, what was aired was carefully chosen, and it was supposed to be a big hit for the audiences, it became part of our popular culture.
These decades gave us shows that had their golden age in our TVs and endure in people’s memories as fantastic products that made us love the small-screen. American cop shows, family sitcoms… and Soap Operas.
A huge and very beloved part of these TV revolution were those great series about wealthy families and colossal financial empires, with archetypical characters, fabulous openings… the 80s was a glorious moment for American Soap Operas. Those were dramas starred rich and powerful families, where its members hate each other for their wine or oil businesses, and they ruled TV audiences for years and won their hearts with those wicked villains, those love triangles—and even quadrilaterals–those mansions and those stories full of secrets and unexpected twists.
For the audiences, the characters, their lives full of luxury and intrigues, the whole package was just fascinating.
A great example of all this was “Falcon Crest”, which apparently was more successful in Europe than in the United States. In Spain, people loved how very involved the wine culture was on a story level. Even just the opening theme is one of the most famous from TV shows history. An everyday conversation back then might probably include some references to certain character who became part of our TV culture… because Angela Channing was a celebrated villainess par excellence. “Falcon Crest” was one of the firsts Soap Operas to arrive on Spanish TV. Here, it truly became a social phenomenon. Each new chapter made thousands of homes stay paralyzed, everyone looking at the screens, tuned to the wine/love stories of those characters.
Speaking of TV villainesses becoming popular icons… if “Dynasty” had an added bonus, it was Joan Collins, another great wicked villain: Alexis stole the scenes every time she appeared. And, even though the show was famous for the incoherence in its scripts and the apparitions/disparitions of characters, in a sense, it also laid the foundations of the genre in our screens, and “Dynasty” is still a synonym of glamour for us.
Another great Soap Opera to arrive here was “Dallas”, of course, the show that made the breakthrough. It was the first luxury saga, set on a Texas ranch, that told parallel stories of several families whose members were by no means moral exemplars, to the point that “good” characters were a rarity. What the Spanish audiences enjoyed was its narrative structure: several entwined plots giving us a story about a Texan family, the Ewings, millionaires from the oil and cattle industries. And also, once again, people loved the unforgettable villain: J.R., another villain that would influence greatly our popular culture, even being named and referenced in a lot of programs and pictures by comedy actors such as Lina Morgan on Spanish TV.
Dallas also paved the way for other classic shows to try to make a comeback. In summer of 2012 it was on the news that TNT Spain would air the “Dallas” revival, to the joy of the online community of fans of the show… even though a couple of months ago we learned about its cancellation after three seasons. Fans wondered, is this the destiny for the Soap Opera genre?
Spanish network la Sexta announced in 2011 plans for having its second channel completely devoted to Soap Operas and telenovelas, making a profit from its association with Televisa.
This genre is so beloved in Spain that our studios have tried to replicate the success with some projects hugely inspired by the classic American productions. One example would be “Herederos”, in 2007, a production that followed the line of the great American Soap Operas and told the story of a wealthy family from the bullfighting scene, the Orozcos, living under the scrutiny of the press and fighting internal disputes, with intrigues, the fights between classes, double morals and plenty of betrayal. The main character was played by a very well-known Spanish actress, Concha Velasco, and it was impossible not to see references to shows such as Falcon Crest, Dynasty, or the recent Brothers & Sisters.
The problem for the Spanish audience of today, young people like myself that were born after the successful era of this genre, is that first of all we would have to learn to differentiate two different genres that are seen as one and the same nowadays: Soap Operas and telenovelas. This confusion is, in this case, damaging the Soap Opera genre because young audiences are not very keen of Latin American telenovelas (although this genre also has its own audience and tends to be successful in terms of numbers).
Meanwhile, we are living with a trend in which everything “retro” is fashionable, a trend driven by nostalgia that makes young people want to experience everything that made a hit decades ago (remember the “A-Team” movie, for example…). Just mentioning any of the great American Soap Operas evokes the idea of those popular TV shows that we’ve heard about so much, but in most cases never had the occasion to watch.
I should say the confusion between Soap Operas and telenovelas in Spanish audiences’ minds is not damaging at all in the case of American audiences. Univisión is huge in the USA thanks to their telenovelas. We learned, much to our surprise, of the cancellation of classic Soap Operas such as “All My Children”, “One Life to Live”… while each new Televisa or Telemundo production is sold to an average of 20 countries.
Some people think Soap Operas today would be almost obsolete formulas for being “serialized dramas that require a hard loyalty that nowadays would be difficult to get”. But actually, that hard loyalty from audiences is today much easier and normal than it used to be before the Internet. Online communities of fans have had a huge impact on shows such as “Lost”, “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones”. The only difference would be the genre, it might be that the audience’s taste has changed… but even that would be arguable.
If “Grey’s Anatomy” still works, it is thanks to its distinctly Soap-Opera-esque quality, very much in the tradition of shows like “General Hospital” or “Days of Our Lives”, that allows them to keep, through thick and thin, a large number of captive audiences that have endured ups and downs and some very bizarre moments.
TV business has changed. We are living a new golden era for TV shows. In foreign countries like Spain we can enjoy an endless amount of American shows, for all kinds of tastes, being aired with less than a week of difference than in the USA. Now there are very different kinds of creators, genres, broadcasting…
Then, why would it have to be the end of ANY genre? Especially given how much television owes to THIS genre. Right now, there is an audience for pretty much any genre you can think of, and definitely there is an audience eagerly waiting for the great return of Soap Operas.
Then, what are networks waiting for?
As always, soap fans, stay soapy! And don’t forget to comment. And subscribe to our blog (upper-right-hand corner of the main page).