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Telenovelas Get Trendy in Germany

Mathis Winkler, DW-WORLD.DEMarch 1, 2005

As German TV viewers are tiring of reality shows, broadcasters are re-discovering a format that's promising to glue people to their screens on a daily basis: the kitschy world of telenovelas.

Will David notice Lisa's inner beauty?Image: Sat1

Having just spent four years in prison after a wrongful conviction for arson, Bianca meets Oliver, the handsome son of a rich banker. She immediately falls in love with him only to see him marry another woman. Lisa, an ugly duckling, adores David, her boss at a Berlin fashion label who barely notices her existence.

Things don't seem to go too well for the women at the center of the most recent format to hit German television -- the telenovela, a concept that's been hugely popular in Latin America for decades. But viewers can rest assured that Bianca and Lisa will eventually get their men -- even if they have to watch about 200 episodes to see the happy ending.

Fictional bliss

The latter is what many Germans seem to be looking for as bleak economic times make reality TV shows less appealing and instead nurture a longing for -- albeit fictional -- bliss.

Erste deutsche Telenovela Bianca - Wege zum Glück
"Bianca Berger" and "Oliver Wellinghoff" are the stars in ZDF's telenovelaImage: dpa

Last November, German public broadcaster ZDF launched the first German telenovela, "Bianca -- Wege zum Glück" (Bianca -- Paths to Happiness).

The show found a dedicated -- mainly female -- audience, prompting private broadcaster Sat1 to follow suit this week: "Verliebt in Berlin" (Smitten in Berlin) aired for the first time on Monday, attracting almost a third of viewers aged 14 to 19.

"People in Germany aren't doing too well -- that's maybe why they want less reality and enjoy life's nicer moments instead," said Rainer Wemcken, the managing director of Grundy UFA, which produces both "Bianca" and "Verliebt in Berlin" along with several successful German soap operas.

Rehashing old concepts?

Joan Kristin Bleicher, a professor at Hamburg University's Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, agreed that telenovelas showed Germans were increasingly interested in fiction rather than court and talk shows, which lack an "ideal world" aspect.

Telenovela Verliebt in Berlin bei Sat 1
Mathis Künzler and Alexandra Neldel play the lead roles in "Smitten in Berlin"Image: dpa

But the concept of long-running fictional shows with a limited storyline is not completely new to German television, Bleicher said.

"It's an attempt to rehash a trend from the early 90s," she said, adding that "Verliebt in Berlin" was similar to other popular daily soaps already on TV.

Keeping things simple

Wemcken countered that while soap operas stayed closer to real life, telenovelas were less "down to earth." By focusing on a single character, keeping the story line simple and limiting the duration, the format also required less of a commitment from increasingly busy viewers, he said.

"That means viewers are more likely to watch it," Wemcken said, adding that his company is already in discussions with ZDF as well as German public broadcaster ARD to produce additional shows.