Cuban Soap Opera Falls Flat

New tale of rural life has yet to win over audience addicted to racier foreign imports.

In an attempt to lure viewers back from satellite channels, Cuban state TV has launched a new soap opera. So far, though, it has only a lukewarm response.

“Tierras de Fuego” (“Lands of Fire”) debuted in early June to much fanfare. Aired in the primetime 9 pm slot on TVC, it is a complex tale of love triangles and socialist zeal centred around a collective farm chairwoman.

Despite attempting to incorporate topical storylines and realism, it has yet to grab viewers. The acting, script, set design and locations have all come in for criticism.

The series was commissioned by the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. A former staff member at the institute’s social research centre, who asked not to be named, said Cuban soap operas had lost ground to foreign programmes, which people watch via illegal cable connections or on pirate DVDs.

He added that TVC was often criticised for focusing too much on Havana and ignoring life outside the capital. By contrast, “Tierras de Fuego” is set in the countryside and deals with rural concerns.

TVC’s last attempt to make a ratings-winning soap opera, “Santa María del Porvenir”, was launched with similarly high expectations, but it enjoyed little success.

The channel currently has one Cuban-made soap opera on the go alongside three foreign ones.

Serials are hugely popular in Cuba, in part because many people have neither the money nor the opportunity to go out much. Or as columnist Paquita Armas puts it, “major problems with [public] transport, too little purchasing power to pay for a night life, and an aging population”.

Because domestic soap operas are produced by the state, they are seen as presenting the official line. When a TV serial in 2005 featured a fictional lecturer at Havana’s Higher Institute of Art, a director of the college publicly protested because he felt the portrayal of a character with a sexual dysfunction appeared to cast a slur on the real-life academic staff.

Although Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela are the leading producers of Latin American soaps these days, Cuba is credited with pioneering the genre. In 1952, the CMQ consortium premiered a TV show called “El Derecho de Nacer” (“The Right to be Born”), adapted from an earlier radio series.

Nico Cervantes is a Cuban journalist and photographer.

This article first appeared on IWPR's website.