Without kisses, hugs or closeness between the actors due to fear of the coronavirus, telenovelas across Latin America have been put on hold.
The region, famed as a great producer of melodramas, has forced the industry to redefine its future in the new era of social distancing.
With actors, screenwriters, directors, costume designers and stagehands locked up in their homes, the region's major television stations stopped recording their telenovelas, some of which were due to be broadcast, while others were already on the air. Given the short lead up time to episodes, and with little material already recorded, screen productions have been withdrawn, ongoing projects have been delayed and re-runs of old episodes and soap operas have been aired to accompany the millions of people who have been forced to remain in their homes.
"Our main concern was the protection and safety of our employees. After all, there is no novela without a kiss, a hug, fights or parties," a spokesperson from the communications department of Brazilian TV station O Globo to AFP.
When the recordings stopped, the company had four new novelas on the air and three more in production that would soon be released, the individual added.
"We suspended them all. We closed one of the novelas as planned, brought forward the end of another one that was in the final stretch, and interrupted the showing of two stories that will be back on the air as soon as the isolation phase is over," said the regional television giant, which is now operating using only 15 percent of its studio employees.
There are no ongoing productions or filming in Colombia either.
"The two private channels, RCN and Caracol, which run the industry on free television, stopped 38 productions, including reality shows, drama and soap operas," says Tulio Angel Arbeláez, the president of Colombia's National Media Association (Asomedios).
The scene is the same in the recording studios of Chile, Argentina and even Venezuela, a former powerhouse in the production of soap operas.
A mutating industry
Instead of soap operas, channels have increased their news content and programmed re-runs and older series in the midst of the confinement. But in the birthplace of many of the most popular melodramas, where generations grew up watching hits like Venezuela's Abigail, Mexico's Rosa Salvaje, Colombia's Betty, la fea and Brazil's El Clon, the future could also be an opportunity.
"The circumstance in which we live gives an opportunity for television, since people are at home and are informed and entertained by it. They are eager for information and seek to be entertained in spaces of coexistence," says Maria Eugenia Rencoret, director of the dramatic area of Mega, a leading channel in Chile.
The pandemic has caused streaming platforms like Netflix – which in the first weeks of lockdown gained 16 million users worldwide – to grow to unprecedented levels/ This adds uncertainty for producers, who don't know when they will be able to return to work/
"Storytelling is a cultural tradition of mankind; therefore fiction will continue to exist. The genre of the telenovela may suffer variations in the way stories are told, but it will always reflect its essence: romanticism, identity, human relations, coexistence, culture, traditions, emotional connection and motivating conversations," adds Rencoret.
The future will then depend on the creativity of screenwriters, producers and actors.
Mega has just successfully launched Quarantine Stories, a series made by video calls. In it, psychologist Pablo Ortega conducts virtual sessions with patients affected by the pandemic, such as a couple in crisis who tell of their anguish over the confinement or a nurse who recounts the pressure on health personnel facing the coronavirus.
A long road lies ahead. "Going back on the air with something original I don't think will happen before December. In a telenovela shoot where everyone is on top of everyone else (...) when we can really start filming again it'll be because everything happened, because there is a vaccine," explains Guillermo Restrepo, presidential advisor to Colombia's RCN.
by Paulina Abramovich, Agence France-Presse