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Univision, Telemundo lead transformation of America's telenovelas

Rose petals
Photo: Manuel Medir/Getty Images

Two of America's largest Spanish-language broadcasters rolled out fresh new slates of scripted programming at this year's UpFronts, including more minority characters and shorter formats.

Details: Univision unveiled a new series titled "El Corazón Nunca Se Equivoca" (The Heart is Never Wrong) about a gay couple making their way in Mexican society. Telemundo announced a new series called "Operación Pacífico" starring a female lead, based on themes about federal agents chasing after drug lords.

Between the lines: Telenovelas, born decades ago as a staple of Latin American and Spanish culture, have since evolved to become shorter and less reliant on the "damsel in distress" romantic melodrama theme than they were during their peak in the 1990s.

  • "We have evolved the genre significantly with high quality, edgier action-packed contemporary stories ripped from the headlines and presented in shorter formats and over multiple seasons," said Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises.
  • "Today, our dramas are diverse, inclusive, authentic, and contemporary and our casting and storylines reflect our community's world in vivid, compelling ways. We challenge gender stereotypes, and feature a broader mosaic of talent, addressing important topics, that inspire thoughtful dialogue that continues long after an episode airs," said Jessica Rodriguez, CMO & President of Entertainment, Univision.

The big picture: While the past few years have seen breakout moments for Hispanic music and movies, TV is still waiting for its breakout IP moment, argues Alejandro Uribe, CEO of Exile Content Studio, a premium content studio for Hispanic content.

What's next: Uribe argues that the Hispanic content world has yet to fully explore formats like comics and anime, and in the future, studios and networks will begin to harvest a wealth of untold stories into two main scripted formats:

  • The tele-series: This heir of the telenovela will continue to be popular on linear TV and with older audiences. It will continue to be the main stay of broadcasters/traditional Spanish-language producers (similar to the sitcom phenomenon of U.S. broadcasters).
  • Premium series: These series will likely garner more attention, especially for younger generations, and will be the mainstay of tech platforms like Netflix and some local cable channels.