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Tuning In The Global Village : Steamy Soaps a Hot Property for Brazilian TV

October 20, 1992|WILLIAM R. LONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIO DE JANEIRO — Diogo loves Betina and is about to run off to Rome with her, but he can't quite bring himself to leave Antonia, his rich wife. For one thing, a scandal would probably destroy Diogo's successful career as a judge.

Poor Betina, overcome with disappointment, has a fatal car crash. Then her family donates her heart, and the transplant saves Paloma's life. Well, Diogo starts feeling this strange need to know the recipient of Betina's heart, and before long he becomes obsessed with Paloma. She is a nice girl, surely not the kind to take up with an older judge. Besides, she is fascinated with Juca, who is working secretly as a male stripper.

Anyway, Diogo and Paloma. . . . But this could go on and on, as Brazilian TV novelas do. Not as long as American soap operas, but maybe for 200 daily chapters or so.

Brazilians won't find out how everything turns out for Diogo, Paloma and Juca until sometime next year. Television viewers overseas will have to wait a little longer, but millions of them eventually will also see "De Corpo e Alma" ("With Body and Soul"), the current 9 p.m. novela on Brazil's Globo TV Network.

Globo novelas, packed with passion and slickly produced at the rate of six a year, have become popular television fare in dozens of countries, including the United States, where they are shown on Spanish-language TV. Carla Prado, an international sales executive for Globo TV, declined to reveal exactly how much the network earns yearly from novela exports. But other sources say the novelas constituted the bulk of more than $20 million in foreign sales of programs by Globo last year.

In Latin America, only the Televisa network of Mexico can boast of comparable soap opera exports, Prado said. "Televisa is our nearest competitor."

The four dozen countries outside Latin America where Globo has sold soap operas in the past three years include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. A 1988 novela called "Vale Tudo" ("Anything Goes") "was an enormous success in Europe," Prado said.

"Cuba comes to a stop to watch Brazilian novelas ," Prado said. While one called "Roque Santeiro" was showing, she said, Cubans started calling President Fidel Castro "Beato Salu" after a bearded character in the soap opera.

"Roque Santeiro," featuring Afro-Brazilian religious traditions, currently is showing in the United States on the Spanish-language Telemundo network, owned by CNN. Prado said she has yet to sell a soap opera to the English-language market in the United States, but she hopes to someday.

"De Corpo e Alma," the creation of contract writer Gloria Perez, explores the changing roles of men and women in modern society and depicts the confusion of men trying to adapt to new values in the face of the breakdown of male dominance.

How many chapters "De Corpo e Alma" will have depends on how it does in Brazilian TV ratings as well as how the twists and turns in the plot develop. It is normal for Globo novelas to draw more than 60% of all prime-time viewers in cities with several channels. Most novelas run more than 160 chapters, but some have gone to more than 240.

The novelas cost $5 million to $7 million to produce, said Roberto Talma, the director of "De Corpo e Alma." Globo has high fixed costs, including 400 contract actors in its stable who are reputed to be among the best in the country.

"We record an average of 30 or 40 scenes a day," said Talma, one of Globo's most successful directors, before filming began one recent day at the network's novela studio on the south side of Rio. The shooting is supposed to stay 12 days ahead of when the episodes go on the air, but sometimes the lead drops to six days. Globo constantly studies viewer reaction and modifies the novela 's action accordingly.

"If one character is simpatico for the public, you 'grow' that character," Talma said.

Suddenly it was time for the shooting to begin. Four cameras, a crew of two dozen people and Talma moved from room to room throughout the afternoon, shooting scenes out of sequence, as many as three or four in a room.

In a bedroom decorated in black, actor Eri Johnson prepared to play a young man who has taken up the practice of black magic. Talma coached him on his lines, and Johnson practiced making ominous flourishes with his fingers and uttering anguished groans.

You see, the black magic fits in. . . .

Well, it's hard to explain.

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