"Betty en NY": Telenovela Lessons Learned

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
Cover image for  article: "Betty en NY":  Telenovela Lessons Learned

At various points throughout this decade, Telemundo has introduced nightly hour-long telenovelas that push this staple of Spanish-language television into groundbreaking territory. The lessons learned from each of these series has, to the credit of telenovela creators everywhere, resulted in greater diversity of subject matter — way beyond the standard "boy gets girl, loses girl, both find each other for good" plotline — and higher production quality.

Betty en NY (Betty in New York), a Telemundo weeknight novela that concluded last month, carries on this blossoming of what a telenovela can be. The lessons learned are just as crucial to the genre's future as those from 2010's Donde Esta Eliza? (Where Is Eliza?) and 2013's El Senor De Los Cielos (Lord of the Skies).  (Read Juan Ayala's review of Betty here.)

Donde Esta Eliza?examined how the kidnapping of a teenager impacted every member of a family unit and the community beyond. The programproved that, with good writing and sensitive performances, you can present a telenovela that doesn't always end on a happy note — and along the way, you can depict a mature, same-sex romantic relationship that doesn't titillate.  (If you can find the video, check out the final scene of this plotline, which takes place at an airport. It's thoughtful and moving.)

El Senor De Los Cielos, the controversial introduction of Telemundo's "super series" format, played out in 60 one-hour (or less) episodes, half the length of a typical telenovela. The lessons learned here: You can emphasize action-adventure storylines and have an antihero leading the way. Plus, you can end a novela on a cliffhanger, setting up more than one season of existence. Indeed, El Senor De Los Cielos will be back for a seventh season, either this fall or early 2020 on Telemundo.

The success of these telenovelas provides insight that media companies can adapt for their own future novelas. Here are four lessons learned from Betty en NY, which averaged between one and 1.7 million viewers each weeknight and attracted nearly 1.75 million for its finale.

You can create a telenovela with a contemporary vibe that's not tied to the drug trade.

From opening to closing moments, the series beautifully captured the New York fashion scene. Even though most of Betty was produced at Telemundo's Miami studios, this updating of both the 1999 telenovela classic You Soy Betty La Fea (I Am Ugly Betty) and the ABC English-language adaptation Ugly Betty (2006-2010) gave viewers impressive office spaces and fashion show runways. Thanks to the writing, directing, and performances, led by Elyfer Torres in the title role and Erick Elias as her boss, Armando, viewers were always given a "you are there" sense of fashionistas at work.

You can create a telenovela with a relatable, contemporary vibe in New York.

To everyone's credit, many of the early episodes featured whole sequences shot in the Big Apple, including the opening scene with Betty on a ferryboat, commuting into Manhattan, and several scenes produced inside actual Manhattan restaurants. Given the series is set in New York City, these numerous scenes brought wonderful creditability to the series and its performers. Frankly, as great as the entire series turned out to be on every level, you still wish every episode was produced in New York and could have taken advantage of the wonderful acting community and landmarks throughout the five boroughs. Someone at Telemundo, Univision, or the New York Mayor's Office of Media & Entertainment (under new commissioner Anne del Castillo) should take the lead in generating Spanish-language TV production there on an ongoing basis.

You can be bilingual and family-friendly in primetime.

Every episode seemed to have one crucial scene or plot twist where the characters mixed English and Spanish in a natural manner. Again, these were crucial scenes, not throwaway moments — another avenue for the series to generate credibility. When the actors spoke English, Spanish-language subtitles were flashed at the bottom of the screen. As for the family-friendly nature of the episodes, that came out of both the writing and characterizations of Betty's parents and close friends. It was yet another way to be contemporary and also feel natural.

You can do original music for telenovelas and not screw up the scene.

For years, telenovelas had a formula for incorporating music into their format: Every scene — every single scene, no matter the plotline or actors involved — blasted over-the-top, "end-of-the-world" tunes, 30 to 45 seconds in. Never mind if the scene was about someone getting mail, or a phone call, or receiving bad news. The music (acquired from outside sources) blared, often drowning out the actors. What came across was that the music editors had no sense of what was played out on camera and just slapped music in by rote.

By contrast, Betty's original music was urban and playful in flavor, inserted when necessary and never over-the-top. How refreshing was it to also watch extensive scenes without music, where good dialogue and acting carried the show. Telemundo's recent reboot of La Reina Del Sur(Queen of the South) followed this musical pathway in fine fashion.

To paraphrase another acclaimed New York-set TV opus, The Naked City, there are eight million stories in the naked city. Betty en NY has been one of them and, in many respects, is a well-done Spanish-language story that many more in the telenovela genre should look to when creating their own new shows.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal.

Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.

Copyright ©2024 MediaVillage, Inc. All rights reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.