Yes, I'm still going on about Brazilian television programs. After yesterday's entry where I pretty much tore apart O Cassino do Chacrinha, I think now would be a good time to offer up some praise for the good stuff, which in Brazil is the soap operas. Last night I did the caffeine thing again (four liters of cherry coke -- I may never sleep again.) and watched more than ten hours of soaps. Right now my head is so full of Portuguese (and caffeine) que tô meio desorientado.
I've always found it hard to tell other Americans about how great the Brazilian soap operas are, since all they know are the American ones, which are complete garbage. A few Americans have been exposed to Mexican soap operas, but that is possibly an even less appropriate comparison. To truly get an idea of the difference, it helps to look at the history.
The Portuguese word novela, a shortening of the earlier term telenovela, reflects the literary roots of the genre. A hundred years ago, it was common for novelists to write their books in instalments in literary publications. Typically they would write and send in one chapter a week. That is how Dickens wrote most of his novels. In Brazil, but for some reason not in the US, this tradition continued with the advent of radio. Novelists began writing for radio rather than periodicals. Chapters were presented on the air by professional actors, and these works became known as radionovelas. Once television was introduced in Brazil, many of the same actors and writers went on to produce telenovelas. So there is an unbroken continuity of literary tradition in Brazil, starting with the great literary novelists and continuing on in the great soap opera writers of today (as well as in the modern Brazilian novelists). Today the word novela in Brazil nearly always refers to a soap opera.
Besides the literary background, Brazilian soap operas have a lot going for them. One of their great advantages over American soap operas is that they are not endless. They run for between six months to a year and begin with an ending already in mind. Generally, the better the ratings, the longer a story is allowed to run, but I don't think they ever run as long as a year.
Also, the acting is extremely good. In the US, most of our great actors go into film and avoid soap operas like the plague. In Brazil the reverse is true (although I hear that Brazilian cinema has improved by leaps and bounds since the 1980s, when all the movies featured Xuxa and/or the Trapalhões).
Brazilian soaps all run in prime-time. If I remember correctly, there is usually a lighter, humorous one, followed by another that is much more dramatic. They last for about 50 minutes and run six days a week. It's astounding how much actual content gets packed into every episode. In the US you can sometimes miss an entire month of a soap and get back in the swing of things in a couple of days. In Brazil, just missing one episode can leave you in the dust.
One interesting characteristic of Brazilian soaps is that they each have a soundtrack. Popular music is incorporated into each episode, and each soap opera has its own collection of songs that are exclusive to it and not played by the other soaps. Each soap has two CDs that you can buy. One contains the Brazilian hits (versão nacional), and the other is comprised of American music (versão internacional).
I'm fairly certain that Brazil makes the greatest soap operas in the world, and that comparison includes all the other countries in Latin America. I consider it a tragedy of global proportions that not a single one, to my knowledge, has ever been released on DVD. Perhaps we (the US) could launch an invasion of Brazil and call it "Operation Soap Opera Liberation". (Okay, perhaps I'm starting to suffer sleep-deprivation.)