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Telenovela

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Cue wind machine.

Camila: Juan! How could you?! With my best friend, María [gasps] and the maid! [sobs]
Juan: [appearing from closet] Wait! [...] That is my twin brother, Rodrigo!
Rodrigo: It is I, Rodrigo! [smolders at camera]
Juan: [takes out a ring] I've been waiting for the right moment, for a long time...
— Intro to Camila Cabello "Havana" videonote 
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Latin America and the Philippines' answer to the Soap Opera, telenovelas (also known as simply novelas) are perhaps a mini-series version, not running more than five years — the current record is just over four years and the average is six to ten months — but they make up for this with ten times the drama and melodramatic acting and plot twists that would pain any drama teacher. If you want shouting, cheating, secret relatives, murder, faked deaths, and fainting in Spanish, this is where you should go. They're very passionate, which is likely why many have "Passion" in the title.

In some places the genre is referred to as "culebrón", which comes from 'culebra', a word for snake, alluding to their length. Of note is how the telenovela has influenced similar productions worldwide, with an Arabic genre arising that bears more than a passing resemblance, possibly because of many Middle Eastern immigrants in Latin America raving about telenovelas to their relatives, or the fact that their shorter run than soaps and high melodrama fit in better with pre-existing Eastern productions and Bollywood.

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The telenovela has two main styles: the classical, or "pink", and the "modern". The first style centers on classic and melodramatic pure love stories with poor, Naïve Everygirl heroines that are often Too Dumb to Live, while the second tries to use resources from other genres and explore modern social issues without neglecting the love story side. Stereotypically, the pink telenovela is a Mexican and Venezuelan staple, the modern style is predominant in Colombia and Brazil (though Mexicans and Venezuelans occasionally try their hand at it), and Chilean telenovelas are a mix of both. In the United States, the telenovelas brought over to cater to the large (and growing) Spanish-speaking population tend to be almost entirely of the "pink" variety. Curiously, a variant of telenovelas is also predominant in the Philippines that's partly influenced by Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean dramas.note  These historically tend to be similar to the pink style, though the current batch of series has experimented more towards the modern style, with emphasis towards class conflict, topics normally taboo to Philippine society, and an emphasis of teaching Christian values to the audience.

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Spanish and Portuguese speakers often run their soaps in Prime Time in countries where those are the major languages, like Commonwealth countries do of soaps. This is important compared to the US, where they won't make it to regular programming in daylight hours, let alone a good time slot. This means that Univision and other Spanish networks (e.g. Telemundo) can easily broadcast their novelas in the US whenever they want, which can include marathons all week if they so please, which understandably makes the target audience (supposedly elderly Latin American women with nothing else to do) very happy. This may also be helped by there being a significant US-led telenovela market, with many being produced in Miami. There's also a cable channel dedicated exclusively to showing telenovelas, Pasiones TV ("Passions TV"), which is broadcast in Latin America and the US.

Another odd fact is that there are often telenovelas produced that are aimed at a child audience, with the same drama transplanted onto (more) teenagers than the regular programming. There are also many shows that recognize the melodrama of the telenovela and play with the genre, including possibly having a Soap Within a Show.

The word "telenovela" literally translates as "TV novel(la)", but in Spanish "novela" is rarely used for actual novels (instead often used as slang for Harlequin/Mills and Boon-type novellas, which telenovelas share a lot of tropes with), which is why the 'tele-' can be dropped and not confuse anyone. In some countries, like Chile, they may be called "teleseries" (spelled "teleseryes" in the Philippines), which obviously shows how prevalent they can be.

Not to be confused with the TV series Telenovela.

See also: Soap Opera, Korean Drama, Turkish Drama, and Dorama.


Examples:

Argentina

  • BIA
  • Botineras, about the wives and girlfriends of soccer players.
  • Esperanza Mia
  • Los Exitosos Pells, about an actor who, because his extremely similar looks to a famous newscaster, is roped into secretely substituting him while the latter is in a coma.
  • Floricienta is an Argentinian telenovela focused on teenage girls with a Fairy Tale touch to modern times, being The Protagonist a kind of modern Cinderella. It has various remakes in various countries, some of them with the names changed ("Floribella" in Portugal, Chile, and Brazil; "Lola, Erase Una Vez" in Mexico.)
  • Graduados
  • Herederos De Una Venganza
  • Malparida
  • Patito Feo
  • Pobre diabla ("Poor She-Devil") (In Spanish "poor devil" means "loser"), an Argentinian classic from the 1970's, made internationally famous with a 1990 version (it also has a Peruvian and a Mexican remake). A young poor woman falls in love and marry with an older, richer gentleman. The guy was secretly dying, and manages to die just before introducing his new wife to his family, but not before changing his will to leave her half of his fortune. The other half he left it to an illegitimate son he had with a servant a couple of decades ago, and the condition for themn to receive their inheritance is that both inheritors must live together for a year. You can see where this is coming.
  • Rebelde Way, a Teen Drama in soap opera clothing, which spawned a musical group.
  • Los Ricos No Piden Permiso
  • Solamente Vos
  • Son De Fierro
  • Sos Mi Vida
  • Soy Luna
  • Valientes
  • Vidas Robadas
  • Violetta is the Disney version of telenovelas, focused on teenage girls and made completely in Argentina. The story is about this girl, Violetta, who came back to her hometown Buenos Aires and discovered a talent for music. It was so successful that Disney later made another telenovela after this one: Soy Luna.

Brazil

  • Alma Gêmea: An audience phenomenon at the time of the exhibition. It tells the story of Rafael, a man who suspects that his new and beautiful maid is the reincarnation of his late wife Luna. His second chance at love is at stake when jealous Cristina, responsible for the murder of her cousin Luna, decides to separate the new couple.
  • Anjo mau / Angel malo: Another telenovela which has a Gold Digger Anti Heroine, but now set in Brazil (or Chile, if we see its remake).
  • Bela, a Feia
  • Chocolate com Pimenta ("Chocolate with Pepper"), famous Brazilian soap taking place in the 1920's.
  • O Clone ("The Clone"), Brazilian soap about a guy, his twin brother and his clone, along with some stereotypes of Arab culture and very narmy soundtrack.
  • Da Cor do Pecado ("Shades of Sin"), one of Rede Globo's most successful productions, just coming after Avenida Brasil (from the same creator), in terms of viewership and worldwide exhibition, as it been sold to close to 100 countries. It tells the story of a love triangle between a botanist son of a millionaire, a poor black woman, and a rich and racist white woman.
  • Escrava Isaura ("Isaura the Slave"), a late 1970's soap about a white slave in Colonial Brazil. Exposed the Eastern Bloc to Latin soaps. It is based on a book by Bernardo Guimaraes.
  • Força de um Desejo (The Strength of a Desire). A 1999 historical drama and a pretty impressive production of Gilberto Braga, already creator of the period telenovela Escrava Isaura in The '70s. The telenovela is inspired by La Dame aux Camélias: the son a wealthy plantation owner falls in love with a courtesan, but the pair is divided by the scheming of his haughty grandmother. The heartbroken courtesan goes on with marrying a wealthy baron older than her...her lover's father as it turns out. Other than dealing with the main couple, the telenovela focuses on the condition of slaves, with some of them being the main characters. Other subplots are a string of murders that happens in the protagonists' small town.
  • Gabriela: A 2012 soap, the second adaptation of Jorge Amado's classic book, this time written by Walcyr Carrasco and starring Juliana Paes.
  • Laços de Família ("Family Ties"): A young man falls in love with a beautiful woman 20 years older than him. Although their families and friends are against the relationship, the couple's relationship seems perfect ... until he falls in love with his girlfriend's beautiful young daughter.
  • Malhação ("Young Hearts"): A telenovela with more than 20 years of existence, and known to have been the first work of many Brazilian actors and actresses that would become famous years later. At first there was a continuity, but over the years, the locations and characters have changed each season, and now it's turned into an anthology.
  • Novo Mundo ("New World") is a Brazilian telenovela based on the Italian immigrant wave at the beginnings of 19th century, some time after Brazil got independence from Portugal.
  • Roque Santeiro: An small town in northeastern Brazil worships the titular character, a man who according to the urban legend was killed while defending the local church from bandits; what they doesn't know is that Roque is actually alive, just waiting to strike his revenge on the people who betrayed him and the ones who are profiting on his image. Originally conceived (and canned by censorship) at the height of Brazil's military regime, this one got a new version in the mid-80's, achieving ratings close to 100% in Brazil and some other countries. The largest open-air market in Africa is named after it.
  • Terra Nostra, a 1999 telenovela set in The Gay '90s in Brazil, where after the abolition of slavery the plantation employ mostly Italian immigrants. Many An Immigrant's Tale are featured: the protagonists are a couple of Italian youths that are accidentally separated and go on marrying Brazilian upperclass people before reuniting and get back together. It's noted to have been a great success both in Brazil and (unsurprisingly) in Italy, and to be very historically accurate.
  • Trail of Lies
  • Vale Tudo ("Anything Goes"), famous '80s Brazilian soap. Raquel, an incredibly honest woman, is the mother of Maria Fatima, an unrepentant Gold Digger who runs out of home after selling the family house behind her mother's back. The plot runs the parallel stories of Fatima trying to get her Meal Ticket thorough betrayal and backstabbing, and Raquel's reinvention and success thorough hard work.

Chile

  • ¿Dónde está Elisa? ("Where Is Elisa?") is a Chilean night telenovela (a new telenovela format in which the series is aired around 10 PM so it can be Darker and Edgier/Hotter and Sexier than the standard) about what happens when the daughter of a powerful family disappears. Includes actress Paola Volpato's incredibly scary Yandere Consuelo, bringer of a HUGE twist: Elisa was not only was kidnapped by a lover who is also her uncle as well as Consuelo's husband, but she actually gets shot to death.
  • Machos is a 2003 Chilean telenovela about the Mercader family, a patriarchy of only men with seven sons and a father who's the Villain Protagonist of the telenovela. It's considerated one of the best Chilean teleseries of all time and was emitted in Latin America, USA, Central Europe, Spain and even Israel. As other telenovelas, it has a Mexican remake made in 2005.
  • Los títeres ("The Marionettes"). Classic Chilean telenovela from The '80s in which a Greek girl named Artemisa Mykonos gets thoroughly broken and humiliated by her evil cousin Adriana and her friends in The '60s, and returns twenty years later as a Broken Bird — both to have revenge on Adriana and to face her own ghosts. Famous due to the incredibly well-done script (written by Chilean playwright Sergio Vodanovic), the Shocking Swerve of an end that the Big Bad lost her mind when her plans failed, and then mentally reverted to a childish mindset, and the enormously creepy OP sequence.

Colombia

  • Café con aroma de mujer ("Coffee with scent of woman"), which claimed the title for most successful soap before Yo soy Betty, la fea (see below) and a classic of The '90s, set in Colombian coffee plantations.
  • Cartas de amor ("Love letters"): A Colombian telenovela, recognizable for its comedy and salsa-based soundtrack. Sweet Polly Oliver Cupido is called to a small Barrio to help people with their love lives but ends falling in love with local ladykiller and owner of "El buen catre" (the good bed), Manuel Tirado, who doesn't love any woman but struggles with his attration towards Cupido.
  • Doña Barbara: The Venezuelan novel (as in the literature sense), which was already adapted into a 1943 Mexican movie starring iconic Mexican actress María Félix, was adapted into a telenovela three times, in 1967, 1975 and 2008 (the first two made in Venezuela, the third in Colombia). The 2008 Colombian version is perhaps the most famous, starring Edith González of Corazón salvaje and Salomé fame.
  • Pasión de gavilanes ("Passion of the Sparrowhawks"): The three Reyes brothers, first looking Revenge against the Elizondo family for their sister's death, end falling in love with the three Elizondo sisters. Complications ensue thanks to the sisters' very uptight and classist mother and Fernando Escandón, the ex-husband of the elder sister who holds a grudge against the Reyes. A Hotter and Sexier remake of Colombian soap Las aguas mansas, this particular version itself got several remakes.
  • Simplemente Rita: A particular take on a telenovela, not only in that it was mostly a parody of telenovela tropes, but was also animated.
  • Sin senos no hay paraíso ("Without Breasts There Is No Paradise"): The series is based on investigative journalist Gustavo Bolivar's debut novel "Sin tetas no hay paraíso" which has the same title except using a more vulgar expression; it features an attractive young prostitute who desires to have massive breast implants in order to attract a rich cocaine smuggler. It is based on a true story.
  • Yo soy Betty, la fea, a Colombian soap, later remade in Mexico and again revamped in America as the Dramedy Ugly Betty; THE most successful soap in history, it's been imitated all around the world.
  • Zorro: La espada y la rosa ("The Sword and the Rose"). Yes, Colombia made a Zorro telenovela (loosely inspired by Isabel Allende's Hotter and Sexier version).

Cuba

  • El derecho de nacer ("The Right to Be Born"), which was born on the Cuban radio and has had countless TV remakes in several countries. The plot is centered in Alberto Limonta, a young doctor, and the complications that ensue when he unknowingly becomes closer to his very rich biological family.

Mexico

  • Amigas y rivales
  • Las Aparicio
  • Carrusel
  • El corazón nunca se equivoca ("The Heart Is Never Wrong") the first telenovela to focus on a same-sex couple, it follows its protagonists, Ari and Temo, as they struggle with college, the different family dynamics they encounter and the prejudice of Mexican society.
  • Corazón salvaje ("Wild Heart"), a Historical Fiction-based novela about a sensual and rebellious man named Juan, nicknamed "Juan del Diablo" ("Juan of the Devil"), and his relationship filled with Belligerent Sexual Tension with Mónica, a countess. It has seen a lot of remakes ever since it was made.
  • Cuna de lobos ("Den of Wolves"). Another eighties classic made in Mexico about an aristocratic family fighting among themselves over inheritance (name and money) rights.
  • Deceptions (original title: La usurpadora, "The Usurper"): A rich woman tricks a poor lookalike into taking her place so she can be free to have an affair.
  • La doña, better known as Lady Altagracia in English. Yet another Mexican revenge story, this time revolving around a rich powerful lady who seeks to avenge the abuse she suffered as a young lady. It is a loose adaptation of the Venezuelan novel Doña Barbara (which, as mentioned above, was already adapted into a telenovela several times). A joint American/Mexican production.
  • The House of Flowers ("La casa de las flores" in Spanish, which is also its original title), a Mexican Netflix original.
  • Imperio de cristal
  • La intrusa ("The Intruder"). Roberto, about to die after a long illness, decides to ask Virginia, the babysitter of her youngest son, to agree to marry him secretly so that she can take care of his children after he dies and so that they cannot fire her. Virginia is in love with Roberto's eldest son, Carlos Alberto, but when the marriage is discovered, Roberto's children, Carlos Alberto himself included, accuse Virginia of of having married him for ambition. Things get further complicated with Virginia's poor twin sister, Vanessa, arrives. At this point it should be no surprise that it stars the same actress who starred in Deceptions, another telenovela featuring a protagonist with a doppelgänger, although here the twist is that, whereas in Deceptions one lookalike was good and the other evil, here Vanessa is just a good person as Virginia.
  • Lo que la vida me robó
  • La madrastra ("The Stepmother"), yet another Mexican remake of a Chilean soap, about a woman who, while attempting to solve the Miscarriage of Justice which left her in prison for two decades, ends becoming the stepmother of her own children (who were told she died and were too young to remember her when she was sent to jail). And that's before the plot becomes truly convoluted. Famous in the United States for being comically recapped by The Soup.
  • El maleficio ("The Curse"). A Mexican production from the Eighties. This one is notable for its STRONG supernatural elements.
  • The "Marías Trilogy" (María Mercedes, Marimar, and María la del barrio), a group of soaps with "María" in some part of their title with plots based in their titular characters' Rags to Riches, that catapulted their shared main actress, Mexican singer Thalia, from mere local fame to international superstardom.
  • Nada personal ("Nothing Personal"). Made in The '90s. Noteworthy only because it was the first Mexican soap to try and deal with then-current national politics.
  • La otra
  • La patrona ("The Boss"). A Mexican telenovela which is the remake of the Venezulean telenovela La dueña. A revenge plot revolving around a single mother who happens to be the only woman working in a gold mine. Naturally she goes through so much abuse at the hands of some of her co-workers and her evil boss. Both La patrona and La doña ironically share the lead actress who happened to provide the theme songs of both shows.
  • Por ella soy Eva
  • El privilegio de amar
  • Rebelde ("Rebel"), the Mexican remake of the aforementioned Argentine Rebelde Way, a Teen Drama telenovela, which also spawned a musical group.
  • Los ricos también lloran ("The Rich Also Cry"), which was the first soap opera that Televisa exported to countries outside of the American continent. It became very famous in the ex-USSR countries and brought fame to Verónica Castro, the actress who played the female lead. María la del barrio is technically a remake of this one.
  • La rosa de Guadalupe is a religious-themed Mexican novela with An Aesop learned in every episode. The storylines last one or two episodes and it follows a format that resembles more of a drama series, but it's still called and considered a telenovela.
  • Rosa salvaje ("Wild Rose"), which also featured Verónica Castro, and also brought back the two actors who played her children in Los ricos también lloran (albeit one was later recast) as her love interest and rival. (Hey, Castro was in full Dawson Casting here.)
  • Rubí: One of the few telenovelas in which the main character is also the villain, as she's a huge Gold Digger.
  • Senda de gloria ("Path of Glory"): A historical soap opera. It was one of the first telenovelas that did not shy away from showing how brutal The Mexican Revolution was, and how it shaped modern Mexico. Notable also for the fact that Televisa took a lot of pains to ensure they got everything right. It was Screwed by the Network due to a political problem between the ruling party and the son of one of the presidents shown there.note 
  • Salomé. A Mexican remake of the 1977 Chilean telenovela La Colorina, which was previously already remade in Mexico in 1980 as Colorina. A cabaret dancer has an affair with the son of an affluent family and ends up pregnant with his child. His overbearing mother proposes to pay her for giving them her child, but after at first reluctantly agreeing, she decides to keep the baby and runs away; years later, the couple rekindles their relationship. One of the most famous roles of Edith González, the actress who played the title role, and who was also in Corazón salvaje and the 2008 version of Doña Barbara.
  • Teresa: Another Mexican telenovela where the main character, desperate to leave a life of poverty, becomes a manipulative Gold Digger. The original story, aired in 1959, has had one film version and four television remakes (the latest and most popular remake was aired in 2010).
  • Triunfo del amor ("Triumph of Love"). A Mexican remake of the Venezuelan telenovela Cristal, the second one after El privilegio de amar. It concerns the love story between Maximiliano ("Max"), the stepson of the owner of a major fashion empire, and María Desamparada (literally "María Forsaken"), an orphan. Max's stepmother disapproves of the relationship... before realizing that María is her long-lost daughter whom she got separated from against her will many years ago. Famous in the United States for being the telenovela The Soup comically recapped after finishing La madrastra. (Both telenovelas actually share several cast members — Max's stepmother is played by the same actress who played the lead in La madrastra.)
  • ¡Vivan los niños!

Spain

  • Amar en tiempos revueltos ("To Love in Turbulent Times") is considered one of the most successful Spanish culebrones ("big snakes" — that's slang for a soap... on account of their being as long as snakes.)
  • Calle Nueva ("New Street"), the other successful Spanish culebrón.

United States

Venezuela

  • A Todo Corazón: A Teen Drama.
  • Cristal: Two women who raised themselves out of their Cinderella Circumstances, mother and daughter, cross paths; tragedy ensues as the former ruins the life of the latter while unaware of their real relationship. Remade several times, said remakes include the Mexican telenovelas El privilegio de amar and Triunfo del amor.
  • Juana la Virgen: A virgin woman ends up pregnant after receiving an artificial insemination by mistake. Nowadays best known for being the basis for Jane the Virgin.
  • Kassandra, a classic tale of Switched at Birth which become the most famous telenovela in the world during the early Nineties.
  • Por estas calles ("In These Streets"). A telenovela with social issues about poverty, corrupt government and murders in a poor "Barrio". Almost all the lead characters are poor and struggle for reach a good living way, but the criminality and the corruption don't let them progress. The longest Telenovela in Venezuelan history: Almost three years of duration.
  • Topacio (and its similarly-titled imitators Esmeralda and Ruby): all are about poor, blind women named after gemstones.

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