Evolving news coverage, new lifestyle shows and perennially popular soaps; it’s impossible to take your eyes off the Portuguese-language television that’s emanating from Brazil and taking the world by storm. Do not adjust your set…
It was the best of times, it was the best of times. That’s what you’d think on hearing about Brazil’s brave new media world and its tale of two cities: São Paulo providing old-school business shrewdness and Rio with its fresh-from-the-beach creative snappiness.
It’s a good time to speak TV Portugese – and that means TV Brazilian because that’s where the numbers are, the viewers sit and the money’s at. There’s so much demand for the stuff. The fast-growing middle class demand news and analysis, while famed telenovelas (soaps) sweep all before them in the schedules and in the affections of almost everyone with a screen in the corner of their living room. Then there’s the new breed of lifestyle and magazine shows commissioned for housewives, yet increasingly – and fascinatingly – watched by the nannies employed by working mothers. A prime example of the television acting as both projector and mirror.
“I was a journalist in a suit and tie talking about Barack Obama,” says Celso Zucatelli, co-host of Record TV’s sofa-cosy morning show Hoje em Dia (Nowadays). “Now I do this in an open-necked shirt, talking to the audience more than reading to them – and sometimes it’s a better way of getting the news across,” he says, fiddling with the radio mic in his jeans pocket. Zucatelli and toothsome female couch-mate Chris Flores are both journalists who have gravitated from TV news or newspapers to present lighter fare. The show is first in the ratings for its time slot, but the ratings vary wildly even between here in São Paulo (where it’s huge) and Rio. “São Paulo’s normally seen as more important for advertisers,” says Chris. “Ratings mean more here because it’s considered that there’s more money to spend.”
How does that extra cash betray itself onscreen? Chef Edu Guedes was part of the show’s start-up team seven years ago. After cooking 3,000 dishes to camera, does he think viewer’s tastes are changing? “It’s tough to say, but don’t forget that we speak to all of Brazil, not just the big city,” he says as his assistant un-plates the rack of lamb he has made with the celebrity assistance of Olympic silver-medal-winning swimmer Thiago Pereira.
Hoje em Dia is the sort of morning show broadcast from a set that employs a clutch of on-screen techniques familiar to viewers in almost every TV territory in the world: sofa, kitchen, banter and actorly changes of tone and attitude for each subject (family, telenovelas, news, food, sport, education, betterment). Hoje em Dia seems to exactly portray what urban Brazil is like – or likes to think it’s like – nowadays: confident, professional, confessional and going live.
The show is beamed from Record’s huge production headquarters in the Barra Funda end of São Paulo. The site, like a film lot, is the real deal of tele-recognition. All required shorthand for “media bustle” is here: researchers and floor managers march from office to studio; scene-shifters lug gameshow paraphernalia; novela furniture is fork-lifted off for a respray; make-up girls rustle blusher brushes as cheerleaders jazz-hand pom-poms. It’s very telly.
Of the 12 Brazilian newsrooms that Record keeps, this one – that rubs shoulders with lifestyle twinklers and drag-queen chatshow hosts – is the hub of the network’s news wheel. Flagship current-affairs show Fala Brasil and the international rolling Record News channel are beamed from the Barra Funda satellite farm. This is also where the coordination for Record’s grabbing of the London Olympic coverage took place, right from the usual pocket of Brazil’s biggest broadcaster, Rede Globo. Record is impressive, professional and friendly but it is rarely ahead in the ratings. Anyone with a toe dipped in Brazil’s media waters will make a face when you mention Record, too. It’s a bit odd, they say; despite being, at 60 years of age, the oldest network in the country, the company’s cash comes, at least in part, from the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. You’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of hardcore proselytising on the box, but Record still has a slight reputation among the cognoscenti of being a hip-seeking hick.
Across town is Brooklin, the part of the city that serves as São Paulo’s new butch-glitz skyscraper enclosure. As the red lights glow on the early-morning cameras of Bom Dia São Paulo (Good Morning São Paulo), Globo’s citywide news show, the winter sun gleams on the Ponte Estaiada, the landmark bridge that is the station’s main studio backdrop and de facto news logo. Beneath the shimmering metal of the structure sit the simmering highways, smoke and clogged river – São Paulo’s city chaos. It’s a view that Globo wanted for its morning show; that mirror element of TV again. For a news show about a city to use the townscape as its backdrop, warts, billionaires’ choppers and all, is the best sort of verité.
Globo’s Brooklin tower is home to all the channel’s serious stuff: the two big news shows, Globo Repórter and Jornal Nacional (National Newscast); all of the administrative staff for its labyrinthine network of local stations; and powerful channels that range from pure entertainment to Globo Rural, a seed catalogue of shows tailored to Brazil’s massive farming community in the huge inland away from the beaches and towers.
Ricardo Scalamandré is the head of Globo International. When not on planes to places that want to buy Globo’s gear, he’s based high in one of those São Paulo towers. “Our international channel goes all over the world to 620,000 Portuguese-speaking subscribers – it’s like Brazil is the new motherland,” he laughs.
Selling Globo International the channel and selling the formats, shows and co-productions is big business – and serious stuff. “Forty years ago, we started licensing novelas all over the world in three main groups,” says Scalamandré. “Now we do it in three ways: international viewers subscribing to the channel; licensing shows; and co-productions.They’re all good for us, but people choosing to eat in our a la carte restaurant [the Globo International channel] is the most satisfying.”
Globo’s products fly off the shelves of Scalamandré’s TV superstore. Novelas, entertainment shows and formats (but mostly novelas) are licensed to over 100 countries. Co-productions, too, make up a whack of business. In Portugal – once the home of the licensed Brazilian novela – the locals are fighting back and producing their own soaps, but Scalamandré is still satisfied that Globo currently sits at one, four and seven in the Portuguese ratings with licensed or co-produced output. “The news is at three and four,” he shrugs.
Projac is probably the most well organised, efficient, clean and self-sufficient city in Brazil; the best city, in other words. The lawns are manicured, the ponds are clean, rare dragonflies dart from branch to bloom on the roadsides and people in electric vehicles purr their way to work. Alas, Projac is a fake: it’s Globo TV’s gargantuan soundstage city in Rio. It consists of seven large studios and hundreds of square metres of outdoor sets, ranging from false favelas and footballers’ mansions to conquistador-era Latin America and big bits of the Ottoman Empire, all rendered in plywood, plaster and paint. Projac also boasts landscaped production offices, its own saw mills, swathes of salvaged and protected rainforest and its own power plant, after the government’s supply was deemed too unreliable in the 1980s and TV was not made on time.
Projac also happens to be the home of one of the biggest, baddest and most successful novelas in television history. Shot everyday from lunchtime into the evening in Projac’s Studio 3, Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue) is currently the most popular show on Brazilian television, a monster hit for Globo with a sometime 65 per cent audience share at peak time and serpentine plotlines that bully viewers to stay glued to know what’s afoot. The show’s central character, Carminha, a cruel wife with a terrible secret, is a modern-day Lady Macbeth, Cruella de Vil and footballer’s wife rolled into one bewitching creation.
It’s an intense piece of work and the creation of novela wunderkind João Emanuel Carneiro, described as the “saviour” of Globo’s soap outputs. “Avenida Brasil is the new novela, a new type of novela: fast scenes one after another,” says Globo executive Monica Lucia from her spookily calm office in Projac’s Westworld atmosphere. “And Carminha: there are more people in Brazil like her, there’s a faster pace of consumption and if the stories didn’t work, we’d change them.”
What? Change storylines by popular demand? “We want to give the best product to the people that watch,” says Lucia. “Most of the story is written, of course, but it’s our job to adapt it so we’ll have a better chance of a hit.”
The idea of a focus group of viewers dictating the plot might seem artistically flawed. However, the programme plays such a huge part in its viewers’ lives that it would seem callous not to include them: middle-class dinner parties are halted while it airs, drinks called “post-Avenidas” are served in bars and two news anchors (Record employees, pointedly) fell out on air over a detail from Globo’s best-loved novela.
Back in his office in Globo’s São Paulo tower, Scalamandré has all the justification he needs in black and white on balance sheets – and in the form of an unequivocal anecdote. “Sure we research the plot and the audience,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, we had a story that was doing really bad – people didn’t like a shopping centre in a certain novela. So, what did we do? We blew up the shopping centre and killed 50 per cent of the cast – it became a massive success,” he laughs. “The backbone is there but we move the rest a bit – it’s the Brazilian way.”
Encontro com Fátima Bernardes (Meet Fátima Bernardes) is Globo’s mid-morning show that showcases the more sympathetic talents of Brazil’s hugely respected former night-time anchor. That Fátima Bernardes should turn to a public forum-cum-chat show format is seen as a sign of the times: the Voice of God newscaster is giving way to conversation.
Still, this isn’t Oprah or Springer; Bernardes rules over a respectful hour and a half of topical TV. “I was a news journalist for 25 years: a reporter then an anchor on Jornal Nacional. After 14 years, I felt like doing something different. I wanted to have a conversation with viewers so I wrote a pitch, Globo commissioned it and here we are, still very new. “I wanted a mix of the public, specialists and stars sitting next to each other to show that people share opinions, problems, solutions. In Brazil, over 80 per cent of people get their news from TV – it’s much bigger than radio or papers. So if you are on the TV, you are really part of the conversation of Brazil. I can be more natural with my viewers: we can discuss the news, we can discuss Avenida Brasil.
“The advantage is that Globo has always been free and talked to the middle class, where cable TV needs to shout to attract viewers. People who pay for the TV want better, but they know they have an information gap. They know they’re better than their parents but there’s still a lot to learn – or so they think. I still work as a journalist because I’m still thinking about the stories that people are talking about.”
- Avenida Brasil Telenovela, 40% audience share: 2.41 million households
- Cheias de Charme Telenovela, 30%: 1.81 million
- Jornal Nacional News, 28%: 1.67 million
- A Fazenda Reality show, 10%: 618,000
- Domingo Espetacular Variety show, 9%: 554,000
- Repórter Record News, 8%: 490,000
- Avenida Brasil Telenovela, 45%: 1.63 million
- Cheias de Charme Telenovela, 37%: 1.34 million
- Jornal Nacional News, 36%: 1.30 million
- A Fazenda Reality show, 11%: 417,000
- Balanço Geral News, 10%: 348,000
- Legendários Variety show, 9%: 317,000
Source: IBOPE; Share of viewers/number of households, 06/08/12 to 12/08/12