Not unlike fairy tales, the stories frequently feature wholesome but incredibly naive poor people being set upon by rich and immoral ne'er-do-wells. But in Latin America, where the vast majority of people live in poverty, those fables have resonance. And KVEA's Dominguez is anticipating that "Al Norte del Corazon" will strike a chord with his viewers despite its serious story line.
"We're betting that we're going to get good ratings with it," he says. "Almost anybody in Latin America--especially Mexico and Central America--has a relative, family member or someone they know that has crossed over to the north. It's part of our reality."
By filling their cast largely with unknowns, the Galindos are challenging the conventional wisdom that says big-name stars are necessary for a telenovela to succeed. The Galindos, in fact, left most of the story in the hands of a couple making their acting debuts: Michel and Jorge Luis Pila, a Cuban model and singer who plays Jose Francisco.
"Do people want more from novelas than pretty women and stars? I think so," says Ruben Galindo. "And I think the ratings show that. Right now we're competing against other novelas that are traditional in every way, and people want to see better stuff."
Televisa, TV Azteca's chief rival in the Mexican television market, apparently agrees: The network is reportedly working on an immigration-based telenovela of its own, to be titled "Los Que Se Van" (Those Who Leave).
The Galindos have also broken precedent by leaving their studios in Mexico City and returning to northern Mexico to film, shooting scenes in Hildalgo and Laredo as well as across the border in San Antonio and Brownsville, Texas. ("We used American technicians," Ruben Galindo says.) The crew had also planned location shoots in Los Angeles, where much of the story takes place, but problems with visas reportedly derailed those efforts.
"In Mexico," Santiago says, "we have a system that is centralized in all aspects: politically, socially and economically. Part of the motivation that we had was . . . to tell stories not from the belly button of the country, but also from the periphery. Evidently, since the project started, it has raised consciousness."