11/07/2013
How to make a primetime telenovela

First, make sure you have a captive audience. In this case, everybody will be tuning in no matter where they are. My whole office, for one, was tuned in, at least four computers (mine included) streaming the whole thing live, the constant buffering meaning what's said is repeated left and right, with a second-long delay or so. I had lunch at the carinderia nearby and all the seats were turned towards the lone television mounted high up against the wall. I was in a taxi cab this afternoon, and the driver was listening to the whole thing. Captive audience.

Second, have a relatively sympathetic protagonist. By that, I mean someone who you'll talk about no matter who you are, or what side you're on. Fans will exalt him to the heavens; haters will find the smallest fault and scream about it. Better be talked about than be forgotten. So we have, as our protagonist, a guy whose morals are good, for the most part; who finds himself in his position after a series of unfortunate events; and is generally loved by the people. Well, those in the drama, not those watching, not necessarily.

Third, have an antagonist who you will just hate. As in, really, really, really hate. Like, the sort that you'll hate so much that you'll have to accept the protagonist no matter what his faults is. The sort who you'll want dead at the beginning, no matter how tragic and inspiring her back story is, no matter how she went from rags to riches, no matter how the writers attempt to give her a sympathetic side. So, a businesswoman who made her way up, from high school - no college - to one of the most powerful women in the country, one with lots of cash and properties and whatnot, but is, deep inside, scared and forlorn.

Fourth, have a structure, one that the viewers who will tune in every day (and night) understand easily. None of the serialized Lost stuff - nobody can keep track of everything, and the bulk of your audience will likely watch your show after a long day's work, looking to get chilled. You know how the biggest television show in the United States is NCIS? Where every episode involves a team investigating cases within the military? Yep, that's the idea. Have a structure, and stick to it.

Protagonist: "Alam mo ba ang sagot sa tanong na ito?"
Antagonist: "Hindi ko po alam."
Protagonist: "Ikaw, hindi ba talaga niya alam ang sagot?"
Some Other Guy: "Nagsisinungaling po siya. Siya po nagturo sa akin ng sagot na iyan."

Fifth, know that the structure will get stale if repeated over and over again. No matter how many minor character you introduce, no matter how many catchphrases you make ("ewan ko sa kanila!") it will all get boring to the average viewer, and they will start holding everything in contempt - the antagonist, the protagonist, the writers, the rest of the staff, the whole production. To be fair, keeping everything fresh yet familiar is a tricky thing to do, but a surefire way to get everybody back is to introduce someone who will really shake things up. A big name, someone who has a lot of goodwill with the audience, someone who will infuse fresh energy to the whole thing. And make her play, say, a hotshot lawyer who takes a peculiar interest in the major plot line, a self-proclaimed bitch who's both acerbic and all sorts of concerned.

Hotshot: "Alam mo ba ang sagot sa tanong na ito?"
Antagonist: "Hindi ko po alam."
Hotshot: "Eh bobo ka pala eh! Hindi mo ba alam, ginagawang pulutan ngayon ang bobo?"
Antagonist: "Alam ko po."

Sixth, promote the hell out of it. Actually, that can be the first step, and in most cases it should be the first step. Heighten the stakes. Make it a do-it-or-die kind of thing. The sort of thing everybody should do because it appeals to the good inside of them. Pass ownership to them. Ang telenobela ng bayang uhaw sa pagbabago. And keep up the hype. Expose the underbelly. Elevate gossip into actual news items. May namamagitan ba sa pagitan nina Protagonist at Antagonist? Bring down those who don't want to watch, maybe those whose allegiances lie in other networks. Or, maybe, pretend they don't exist. Ito ang natatanging telenobelang pinag-uusapan ng buong bayan! You get the idea.

Seventh, watch the ratings rise. Remember that, no matter how frustrating the show gets in the long run, you still have a captive audience. They will rant online and offline about how terrible and repetitive and clich├ęd it all is, but they will still watch, perhaps because there's nothing else good on, or because they need to look cool to their crushes who can't stop talking about the show. But remember, this is the tricky part. You have to look after the whole thing meticulously, like a guy with OCD, only worse, or something. Do every reveal, every introduction, every twist, at just the right thing, and your audience will buy it, hook, line and sinker. Just remember to stick to the script. And don't do anything outrageous. Don't do anything not expected of you. Do all that and everything will be fine.

Eighth, know when to end. Running for over a quarter of a century is a sign of longevity, sure, and it gets you called "the most successful television program ever" in some quarters, but your audience will get tired. Your audience will grow old. Your audience will find something new, elsewhere, and you will be a has-been.

And your responses...

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