Remember the days when telenovelas were only watched by parents and abuelita? And when the ending was always the same — prince charming together at last with the poor but overly pretty girl?
Telenovelas are evolving. No longer is the traditional rags-to riches story the only formula working for TV networks.
The new trend seems to be the “narco novelas”— a new sub genre of soap operas originating in Colombia, which not only targets a younger audience but tells stories that seem literally ripped out of any news site of today.
"In the last 10 years, Colombia has become the most influential producer [of telenovelas] in the world,” Tomas Lopez-Pumarejo, a professor at the School of Business of Brooklyn College City University of New York, told Fox News Latino.
“There is this sub genre of narco novelas, of which “La Reina del Sur’ is an example, that is now becoming very popular,” he added.
Lopez-Pumarejo said Colombian networks such as Caracol TV and RCN – both huge players when it comes to dominating content and telenovelas – are selling their shows everywhere and countries are buying their scripts and imitating their style.
One of those emulating the Colombian formula is Telemundo, who ran the popular “Reina del Sur” soap opera with much success.
That telenovela starred Mexican actress Kate del Castillo and, according to published reports, took over the No. 1 slot in the 10 p.m. hour across the United States in all broadcast networks.
The soap opera debuted March of last year and Telemundo announced recently that a sequel will be coming soon. The network also launched "El Señor de los Cielos" on Monday, which is another narco soap opera.
“La Reina del Sur” was the first soap to feature a female drug lord and, according to Lopez-Pumarejo, its characters and plot had the right ingredients for success that relate to today’s ongoing Mexican drug war: gory executions, rich lifestyles and drug lords who earned global fame for their trade.
And this trend is something that Lopez-Pumarejo does not see going away anytime soon.
“I think it’s going to last a long time because Colombian telenovelas are very important to TV,” he said.
Dago García, vice president of production at Caracol TV in Colombia, told National Public Radio last year that a decade ago, when the drug cartels were at their peak in Colombia, many TV producers refrained from exploring the narco novelas as good content because they feared for their lives.
"The theme had been suppressed for different reasons, mainly because it was a topic that couldn't be discussed without having your life at risk," Garcia said.
Now, the tables have turned and Colombian producers are distributing these telenovelas throughout Latin America, affecting how other Latinos view the drug war in Mexico.
Lupe Gallegos-Díaz, who teaches at University of California at Berkeley, feels that the message of these narco novelas is not a positive one.
"Most of the time it's about a sexual objectification of women," she told NPR.
Besides Caracol TV and RCN, which distributed the successful narco telenovela “El Capo” –now distributed in the U.S. in the new Fox-affiliated network Mundo Fox – Telemundo is also leading the way in the narco novelas sub genre in the U.S.
Menawhile, Univision seems to be sticking to the traditional soap opera formula.
“It is strictly an economical [decision],” said Lopez-Pumarejo about Univision’s lack of "narco" content in their soap operas.
“Telemundo is the only full-time consistent producer of telenovelas in Spanish in the U.S.”, he added. “Univision is not that much into that because they get it [telenovela content] from Televisa.”
Telemundo and Univision did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
Another narco novela that has been successful is the life story of the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, also from Telemundo.
Garcia told the radio station that while television networks have tackled drug dealers and their lives, one aspect they have not explored – just yet – is the victims.
"The next dimension of what we're going to talk about ... is the dimension of the victims," Garcia said. "Up until now, all these productions have been taking a look into the reality of narcos and their relationships."
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