What the viewer desires in a telenovela
Eneida Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018) remarks that stations invest a significant amount of money on research to create linear programming. Mirian de Icaza Sanchez, also interviewed for this book, worked for 26 years at TV Globo Quality Central. She analyzed products according to their respective slots in programming until 2016. She worked alongside her late husband, I lomero Icaza Sanchez, called “El Brujo” for anticipating trends in the 1970s and 1980s. She revealed that the department’s research budget was, on average, US$ 2 million annually at that time. “He - I lomero Icaza Sanchez - even knew how long gossip took to go from Copacabana to downtown Rio de Janeiro” (Svartman and Sanchez, 2018).
According to Eneida Nogueira, 6pm is a time of transition. Different generations coexist there: the young have just returned from school, or have finished their homework and other activities, and that is the time that adolescents spend with their mothers and grandparents. “So, Malhaqdo/Young Hearts - various seasons - was perfect because it fell well into their routine and the mothers’, a time of conviviality with teenagers.” Malhagao/Young Hearts' story, cast and scenarios change every year, always approaching the young universe. This narratives’ vocation fosters a great interchange between the women who are at home and their children, but at the same time, the content cannot embarrass either audience. Eneida (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018) exemplifies pondering a theme, such as sexuality. For mothers and grandmothers, sex is a health issue, and for adolescents, it is not. Besides, the young prefer to talk about sex with their peers and friends, not with family.
Mirian de Icaza Sanchez observed that the quality research department worked with vectors raised by the research to determine if a programme would be popular. “Homero said that when we received the audience rates, it was already too late. You need to know first what the trends are” (Svartman and Sanchez, 2018). It was Homero, with the certainty that they would be successful, who advised Jose Bonifacio de Oliveira Sobrinho, nicknamed Boni, then head of TV Globo, to produce period plots for the 6pm , nowadays 6:30pm, telenovelas. Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018) comments that 6:30pm is when the woman is at home alone, either because the children and grandparents are busy with other activities or because the husband has not yet arrived home. It is a moment of intimacy in which this woman feels she can live inside herself. Narratives are fanciful and emotional, making room for period and romantic telenovelas. Eneida ponders: “Of course women change over time, and the telenovela has to change along with them. 6:30 p.m. is a time where she’s making food, or preparing a snack, but it’s a time of individualisation” (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018).
At 7pm , the house has a hectic dynamic: the husband arrives, the children and teenagers finish their activities, dinner is prepared and served. Therefore, the telenovela needs to follow this rhythm. “The telenovela sits at dinner table with the people,” says Eneida Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018). Moreover, because at 7pm a telenovela is seen by many children and teenagers, there can be no excessively violent or eroticized scenes.
Larissa Perfeito Barreto Redondo (2007) notes that, when addressing a mass audience, the 9pm telenovela seeks controversial themes and taboos that disturb emotionally and morally and that generate media about its themes. For Eneida Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018), however, the 9pm telenovela has had the vocation to discuss society’s great themes for the last 20 years. Nowadays, however, adults, children and adolescents are “in the room.” Nogueira (ibid.) explains that one of the consequences is that the narrative can no longer be so dense. Through research, Nogueira concluded that this was a time for decompression for women who work outside the home and for homemakers. At 9pm they are exhausted. The researcher ponders, “This woman wants to reconnect with herself. It is the first moment she sits down and can afford to think something for herself. Learn, reflect, live something else” (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018).
Finally, the 11pm telenovelas are shorter, have more adult themes and more potent scenes. At this time, children have already gone to bed, adolescents prefer to be alone and adults watch these telenovelas in their bedrooms. According to Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018), that is why authors can address topics such as violence and politics, and there are also more sex scenes. Because these are telenovelas that consider a more adult audience and, therefore, are less diverse, these works are the most similar to television series for a segmented audience. “11 p.m. is the time slot of intensity, and this can be in many ways. Women say it has to be something that the husband also likes to watch” (ibid.). Almeida (2002) notes that only a few telenovelas - usually those shown after the 8pm news slot - are considered relatively legitimate programmes for male audiences.
At first glance, Nogueira’s analysis appears to take into account only the “traditional Brazilian family,” which seems to be disintegrating today, along with other major political, social and cultural institutions. Muanis (2018) notes that historically networks organized programming according to an arbitrary, bourgeois and middle-class family model: conservative, white and heterosexual, ideally composed of a couple and two children inserted socially. He considers that this model gradually weakened in the United States as society transformed, women began to work outside the home, the pace of everyday life increased and, consequently, day-to-day schedules destabilized. According to Muanis (ibid.), another business model has emerged, with flexible schedules and diverse content for niche audiences - if we consider the new forms of hyper-segmented consumption and video-on-demand television.
However, what happened to broadcast television in the United States was not the same as in Brazil. Brazilian networks, as Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018) observes, continues to adapt to the transformations of the Brazilian “model family.” The objectives of broadcast television, when it elaborates audience research and fine-tunes its programming accordingly, is not to judge or impose a uninucleate family model, but, for economic interests, to please and conquer a massive audience. According to Martin- Barbero, “If television in Latin America still has the family as a basic unit of audience, it is because it represents for most people the primary situation of recognition” (1997). Even though there is ample content on different media platforms, the telenovela continues to attract millions of viewers, who engage, identify and are inspired by it; a different phenomenon from what occurred in the United States.
Audience surveys have as one of the vectors the number of connected televisions minute by minute. The share is the percentage of televisions tuned to a show. Research also points out the number of people who are at home, their gender, age, economic class and the percentage that watches the programme. According to Oguri, Chauvel and Suarez (2009), the National Television Panel (Painel Nacional de Televisao, PNT), used by research institute Kantar Ibope Media, employs the installation of people meters. This sample of the population is determined statistically according to sociodemographic parameters: “The main purpose of the PNT is to offer a description of TV consumption in the Brazilian market translated into information about tuning to different shows, home and individual viewing, penetration, profile, reach, and frequency of the exposure to the media” (Oguri et al., 2009).
At the end of the first month of a telenovela on TV Globo, the author and the director attend the first focus group an opportunity to fine-tune the dialogue with the audience. The researcher makes sure the group understands the plot, the characters, approves or not of love affairs or narrative tracks, understands or criticizes moral and aesthetic aspects of the story and aspects of production like costumes and sets.
The research company assembles groups that mirror the diverse audience at home during the time the telenovela airs. This group does not know what product they will review. The focus groups take place in Sao Paulo, not only because it is the largest advertising market in Brazil, but also because the average audience rates in the city are usually equivalent to or close to the average audience rates in the country. The researchers divide the audience between assiduous and sporadic viewers in addition to age, socioeconomic group and gender. The objective is to understand what pleases the faithful public and what is missing in the plot to attract the sporadic audience. When the audience of a telenovela is below expected, the station may decide to do more than one focus group, but usually one is enough to build a perspective of how the audience absorbs the narrative. After the qualitative research, it remains for the station executives, author and director to monitor the quantitative numbers daily and also the repercussions on social media - which do not mirror the total audience of the telenovela.
As an author, I have participated in four telenovela focus groups. Through a one-sided mirror, it is possible to see groups discussing the telenovela without being seen. To achieve the group’s trust and complicity, the mediators talk about various subjects before entering the telenovela: daily life, children, work. In general, there are four groups per day for three days. In the groups of assiduous spectators, there is a greater desire to discuss minutiae of the plot, characters and romantic couples. In groups of sporadic viewers, it is more difficult to extract what they think, because they often only remember the plot in general lines and with various gaps. These groups know little about the narrative of the telenovela and prefer to watch something else, but they are the most important groups. They are potential viewers who are at home at the time of the teleno vela, and we need to draw them in to watch the narrative.
The research experts will then elaborate, in detail, with the data collected, what pleases the viewers, what they dislike or even reject, including secondary plots. However, it is possible to get an idea of the results by watching the discussion groups - especially when there is rejection or affection for a plot or character.
Nogueira ponders: “It is rare for us to go to a focus group and find the author is surprised. They always have a slight idea of what is going on. I think it helps to organize the sensations, perceptions of the artists” (Svart- man and Nogueira, 2018). Personally, I have never had a plot rejected, but some characters needed adjustments. For example, in one of the telenovelas I wrote, there were two best friends in love with the same character. However, the audience did not think he was worth it. We chose to bring qualities to the character, such as responsibility and solidarity, but we also created another male protagonist that entered the love triangle. In another telenovela, the adjustment was in a female character relevant to the plot, but with whom the women of the focus group did not identify; on the contrary, they found her harsh, very cold and arrogant. We then made her suffer all sorts of setbacks in a tide of bad luck and then transform because of this. The ratings rose significantly.
The author and the director are not obliged to modify the telenovela according to the research, but on commercial television low rates may mean that a telenovela will go off the air ahead of schedule or suffer from the intervention of an artistic supervisor; therefore, qualitative research can be a significant influence. It is also important to take into account that the Brazilian telenovela has commercial characteristics that permeate its production. Gilberto Braga ponders: “We do what the public wants if we agree with that” (Fiuza and Ribeiro, 2008). As an example, the author cites the research of Vale Tudo/Anything Goes (1988), in which the public asked that the character played by Regina Duarte, the heroine Raquel, not be so perfect. According to Gilberto Braga, the actress herself also wanted the character to have a slip. He attributes this desire to the Manichaean trait of the telenovela and the popularity of the villain, Maria de Fatima, daughter of Raquel, played by Gloria Pires. Gilberto Braga says that he met with the other authors of the plot, and together they decided to keep the character with its original characteristics. “We let the public complain to the end because Vale Tudo/ Anything Goes was based on this opposition: honest mother and dishonest daughter” (Fiuza and Ribeiro, 2008). Gilberto Braga maintained the author’s hierarchy as the base of the creative and power chain of a telenovela. The audience’s acceptance or rejection is responsible for the transformations that the telenovela has been undergoing during the past seven decades. Nevertheless, the public expects a story well told by someone - the author - and not themselves. However, the relations between the telenovela, the author and the viewer have been changing along with society and access to new technologies, social tools and interactive platforms.