Can Telenovelas Save English-Language TV?
She wants to be supportive. Really, she does.
But Katie Barberi has appeared in 13 different Spanish-language telenovelas since 1994 (Alguna Vez Tendremos Alas, Traviesa and El Privilegio de Amar among them). And she's not quite sure what mainstream network TV executives mean when they say the want to clone telenovelas for English-speaking viewers.
She has high hopes for Ugly Betty, ABC's attempt to turn the popular Columbian telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea into high TV comedy, for one reason. Salma Hayek, a veteran of Mexican telenovelas, is producing Betty. It debuts tonight on ABC's already-crackling thursday night -- thanks to the success of a transplanted Grey's Anatomy.
"The telenovela is usually the story of a fish out of water or the Cinderella-type story," said Barberi, 34, calling from her apartment in Los Angeles (she's got apartments in Miami and L.A., along with a house in Vero Beach; telenovelas have been very, very good to her). "Salma formatted this for American television -- like a series. America Ferrara is a young Latina actress with a tremendous amount of angel -- heart. I think she has it right."
But Barberi has less kind words for two other shows which claim to clone the popular Spanish-language soap opera form: MyNetworkTV's Desire and Fashion House. Noting the irony that neither show features any Hispanics, she wonders what exactly these programs have in common with the shows she's appeared in -- besides airing five nights a week for 13 weeks before concluding.
"I'm confused about which demographic they're going for," said Barberi, noting that these series could have tapped an audience of English-speaking hispanic fans, if they had only cast some actors from traditional telenovelas. "American producers might not be able to understand that these telenovelas actors, who they don't know, can walk into any store, any restaurant, any place where there are hispanics and get treated like Jennifer Aniston or Brad Pitt. These actors get tremendous ratings for (Spanish-language channels like) Univision. these people the studios are trying to attract would watch these stars in american shows."
Unfortunately for Barberi -- a native of Mexico who speaks both English and Spanish flawlessly -- MyNetworkTV has mostly cloned the production technique of the telenovela, using a cadre of neophyte writers to crank out acres of forgettable stories that makes Dynasty look like Shakespeare.
And while the mountains of hype for Ugly Betty may be enough to win audience attention, it remains a flawed project -- not quite sure if it is a comedy or drama, saddled with a too-predictable story and mostly unlikeable characters. It is a Latino-tinged, absurdist take on Cinderella that faces tough competition from Survivor and My Name Is Earl.
"These shows have been around for 50 years...it's a genre than has been perfected," said Barberi, who would like to see Hollywood use establsihed telenovela producers and stars the way some action film directors turn to Hong Kong martial arts directors and actors to emulate their genre form. "Using actors whose last name is Mendez or Mendoza who have never been in a telenovela won't do it. I don't know why an actor who has proven themselves in the genre can't be considered for these projects."
Hannity Finally Gets an Audience on Tampa Radio
Continuing the unrest underway at Clear Channel Radio stations, WFLA-970 AM (NewsRadio 970) began airing Fox News Channel pundit Sean Hannity's radio show Wednesday night at 6 p.m. -- the first sign that WFLA has taken the Fox News Radio alliance from WWBA-1040 AM. Hannity's place on WWBA has been taken by none other than Brian Fasulo, the guy who used to co-host WFLA-Ch. 8's pay-to-appear morning show, Daytime.
(In keeping with Clear Channel's tradition of open communication, WFLA sent out the press release confirming the switch at 6:08 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 10 minutes after Hannity's first WFLA show had already started)
I never understood why the local radio powerhouses let the Fox News shows land on WWBA anyways. It's bad for Fox -- stars like Hannity and Bill O'Reilly air on an AM station much of the Tampa Bay market can't even receive clearly -- and conservative talk radio powerhouse WFLA was clogged with the likes of Phil Hendrie.
Just one question left: When will O'Reilly come over from 1040 AM?
Woodward Turns on Dubya
Further proof that GOP dominance of the country's political culture is slipping: Bob Woodward, the legendary investigative reporter who some accused of serving as a stenographer to the Bush administration, now says the Bush administration hasn';t been honest with the level of violence in Iraq.
“The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon [saying], ‘Oh, no, things are going to get better,’” he tells Mike Wallace in a story for Sunday's 60 Minutes. “Now there’s public, and then there’s private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know,” says Woodward.
CBS released excerpts from th Wallace interview today, including Woodward's belief that claims of the press emphasizing violence in Iraq aren't the real story -- he says the violence reported has actually been understated by the press and the government.
“The insurgents know what they are doing. They know the level of violence and how effective they are. Who doesn’t know? The American public,” Woodward tells Wallace.
Woodward also reports that the president and vice president often meet with Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, as an advisor. Says Woodward, “Now what’s Kissinger’s advice? In Iraq, he declared very simply, ‘Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.’” Woodward adds. “This is so fascinating. Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will.”
According to Woodward, insurgent attacks against coalition troops occur, on average, every 15 minutes, a shocking fact the administration has kept secret. “It’s getting to the point now where there are eight, 900 attacks a week. That’s more than a hundred a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces,” says Woodward.
Bush is absolutely certain that he has the U.S. and Iraq on the right course, says Woodward. So certain is the president on this matter, he says, that when Bush had key Republicans to the White House to discuss Iraq, Woodward says Bush told them, “ ‘I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.’”
CBS says Woodward reported for two years and interviewed over 200 people, including top officials in the Bush administration, to learn these and other revelations that he makes in his latest book, State of Denial. Of course, his book is published by Simon & Schuster, which is owned by the CBS Corp.