Nothing is more quintessentially “Latin American” than telenovelas: those swoon-inducing, drama-filled, Spanish-language soap operas found everywhere from Patagonia to the Rio Grande (and they’re pretty keen on them in Brazil too). But despite their regional ubiquity, some of the most ardent telenovela fans are actually found north-of-the-border in the US, whose lucrative, 50 million plus Hispanic market is helping to redefine many of the genre’s core components.
Chief among them is the Spanish language itself, which for the first time has been joined by English dialogue in the new show RPM Miami. A half telenovela/half urban-action programme set in Miami’s street-racing scene, RPM Miami debuted in America yesterday with characters speaking Spanish, English or a hybrid of both.
Developed by mun2 – the bilingual arm of Spanish-language broadcasting giant Telemundo – the 13-episode series hopes the unprecedented embrace of real life vernacular will result in unprecedented numbers of real life viewers.
“The US is a unique market where bilingual programming can actually work,” explains Flavio Morales, senior vice president for production and programming at mun2. “With Spanish-to-English ‘back-and-forth’ [use of language] accepted here, RPM Miami presents us with an opportunity to expand beyond conventional segment-specific audiences.”
As the nation’s fastest-rising minority group, the Hispanic audience is expanding in both economic and demographic clout. Indeed, US-made Spanish-language programmes such as Telemundo’s La Reina del Sur, Eva Luna from Venezuelan-owned network Venevision and Univision’s Triunfo del Amor regularly beat the Anglophone networks for prime-time ratings. By adding English – along with multi-lingual subtitles – into the production mix, mun2 hopes to lure Latino audiences traditionally excluded from Spanish-only programming and perhaps a few English-only speakers as well.
Although Spanish-language purists may scoff at the idea of mass-market “Spanglish” media, some analysts suggest the bilingual format could actually strengthen the Spanish language’s role in the US. “Because there will be subtitles, this kind of programme could be viewed as a form of linguistic education,” says Dr Mark D Szuchman, professor of Latin American history at Florida International University. “This is a natural evolution of the [Hispanic] demographic in the United States; I’m surprised a show like this hasn’t already appeared.”
For most of its 10-year history, mun2 has produced game shows, music video programmes and reality TV, often with both Spanish and English elements. But with its larger budget and fully-scripted format, RPM Miami serves as an experiment of sorts for the limits of bilingual broadcasting.
“RPM Miami opens up all kinds of possibilities for us,” Morales says. “We have so many stories to tell, so much talent to work with – perhaps we’ll make a made-for-TV movie next.”