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United States: Spanish TV Series on Pablo Escobar Breaks Ratings Record

Last week Telemundo premiered a new series “Escobar: The Evil Patron” [es] about the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, produced by the Colombian network Caracol. During its first days, the series rated an average of 2.2 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 becoming the second most watched production in the history of the second largest Spanish-speaking TV network in the United States.

In the producers’ opinion, “The Evil Patron” is one of many productions based on Pablo Escobar which are close to reality. The story tells us about his childhood, teenage years, his fast promotion from smuggler to drug lord, his gut hatred for the state, among other details. The script re-enacts the high profile assassination of the neoliberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán; the murder of the Justice Minister, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla; and the attack on the newspaper El Espectador (The Expectator) [es] with a car-bomb in which its General Manager died; among other crimes against humanity.

Pablo Escobar comes back to life, this time in a soap opera. Picture by Pablo Manriquez/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The series has sparked lots of comments, in favor and against, on social networks. In a press release, Telemundo said that its Twitter account registered close to 5.8 million comments, while on Facebook they tracked 1 million. Even though it has proven to be an overwhelming success in Colombia and the US, many are not happy with the story, like Leonel Buelvas, who commented on his blog [es]:

Mucho de qué hablar está dando la telenovela ‘Escobar, el patrón del mal’. Me incluyo dentro de los que hablan sobre ella. Y seré sincero y directo: no me gusta… El formato de telenovela no se presta para contar una ‘verdadera historia”’de Pablo Escobar. Si la intención es “mostrar lo que pasó”, se debió haber producido un documental, incluso uno dramatizado. Pero en una televisión privada, dónde el rating prima, y el espacio comercial se valoriza y se vende a buen precio, no interesa mucho que le queda al televidente, sino el margen de ganancia.

There's a lot of buzz around the soap opera “Escobar, the Evil Patron.” I include myself in the group who's talking about it. And I'll be honest and straight-forward: I don't like it… The soap opera format does not allow telling the “true story” about Pablo Escobar. If the intention is to show “what happened,” they should have produced a documentary, even if it was a drama documentary. But in private television, where ratings rule, the commercial space is valued and sold well, there's not much left for the viewer other than the profit margin.

On the other hand, Mario Mantilla Barajas‘s [es] blog states that even making it into a documentary would not bring it closer to reality, and calls TV viewers to inform themselves on this painful matter:

Aún, si fuera un documental tampoco es la ‘verdad revelada’, sino un punto de vista, por eso insisto en que el televidente debe estar informado, leer periódicos, libros, charlar sobre esos temas y con argumentos valorar lo que ve, diferente a juzgar como lo hacen ciertos autodenominados críticos que se quedan enredados en la forma y sentencian con palabras vacías como: ‘bueno o malo’ el producto, porque le gusta o no tal o cual interpretación,  porque el personaje real se ponía el saco de tal manera, o si la voz es igual o no al real, o si los créditos les parecen feos y no van al fondo de los temas.

Even if it was a documentary, it wouldn't be the “truth revealed” but just a point of view. That's why I insist TV viewers should be informed, read papers, books, talk about these issues and value what they see with arguments, all which is different than what some self-proclaimed critics do, who get entangled with the form and declare with empty words: a “good or bad” product, because they like or dislike an interpretation, because the real person used his jacket in a certain way, or because the voice resembles the real one, or if the credits look ugly; and they don't dig deeper into the subject.

Also, Juanita Riveros [es] says that the story does not bring anything different to what is known and criticizes the screenwriter, Juan Camilo Ferrand, for his lack of accuracy, particularly with the names of the characters:

Ferrand habla de la construcción del personaje: ‘De lo que movía a este hombre, el alma de este hombre’, y de explicar el auge del narcotráfico. Es decir, nos vende la idea de un personaje profundo, y de una serie que ofrecerá muchos elementos al espectador, no solo sobre la reciente historia de Colombia, sino sobre un drama con pasiones humanas. Vamos, que ya nos sabemos esa historia. Ojalá sea cierta tanta belleza. Eso si, opino que es una gran tontería cambiar los nombres menos el del protagonista: Si van a ser fieles a la historia patria, no se pongan a medias tintas.

Ferrand talks about building the characters; ‘What moved this man, the soul of this man,’ and tries to explain drug trafficking boom. That is, he is selling us the idea of a profound character, and of a series that will offer many elements to the viewer, not only about Colombia's recent history, but also about the drama of human passions. Come on, we already know that story. Hopefully, all that beauty is true. Also, I think it is very foolish to change all the names except the one of the leading man: If they are going to stay true to the country's history, they can't go halfway.

The series has been so successful that Telemundo opened a Twitter account @PatronDelMalTV and created the hashtag #PabloEscobar. The account offers small reviews of what people say about the drug lord:

 #SabiasQue ‪#PabloEscobar construyo un sistema de túneles para huir de la policía?

#SabiasQue (Did you know that) #PabloEscobar built a tunnel system to run from the police?

Finally, some users like Ronald Revelo (@Ronald_Revelo) [es] reply to such comments:

@Ronald_Revelo: ‘Si va a hacer algo, hagalo bien echo [sic], para que no lo pillen’ pablo escobar el patron del mal

@Ronald_Revelo:”If you are going to do something, do it right so you don't get caught pablo escobar the evil patron

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