by Gustavo Gonzalez
the ongoing Chilean television network wars, pitting dramas against reality shows against variety programs in which, critics say, vulgarity is the norm, the surprise hit this year has been the puppet-driven "31 Minutes" news show.
Created by journalists Pedro Peirano and Alvaro Diaz as a children's news program, it has been broadcast every Saturday noon for the past five months on the state-run Television Nacional de Chile (TVN) station.
The show's success prompted Peirano and Diaz to release an album, also titled "31 Minutes," in early July. Avid young fans snapped up the 10,000 copies within 24 hours, forcing a second edition of 20,000 copies.
The two creators are already working on "31 Minutes" for the next broadcast season in 2004, and are planning a film based on the show. And they are in negotiations with the U.S. children's cable channel Nickelodeon, which wants to include it in its international programming.
"It's a wonderful show. I love it! The design of the puppets is incredible. It is well produced and the show's content is great," Tatiana Rodriguez, vice-president of programming and acquisitions for MTV (holding company of Nickelodeon), recently told the Chilean press.
And the praise keeps coming. The president of the Chilean Association of Advertising Agencies, Henry Northcote, wrote that "31 Minutes" is "an innovative, intelligent, educational program that is ultra-creative in its production and, most surprisingly, relevant for child and adult audiences alike."
Peirano and Diaz began with an apparently simple idea: create a television news production team using puppets, which in many cases look like familiar objects or well-known personalities.
Then they added the all-important ingredient of a satirical look at "real world" news production.
But they did not stop there. The two journalists also introduced segments aimed at the younger viewing audience, issues that "adult news" tends to brush over, such as the environment and the rights of children.
Juan Carlos Bodoque, a red rabbit puppet, is the reporter who from the initial broadcasts of "31 Minutes" has reported "green news." In one of the first editions the rabbit presented "The Poo-poo Road," a parody of "The Silk Road," a series on exotic lands that TVN broadcast in 2002.
Bodoque reported in a simple and educational way on what happens to "poo-poo," how a sewerage system works, including an explanation of treatment systems and a warning about the risks of contaminated water supplies.
"Sock-with-checkers Man" is the television name of Cesar Quintanilla, a puppet made from a plaid stocking. He is a mild-mannered office worker who transforms into a superhero to defend and promulgate the rights of children.
Among the team of 14 puppets who make up crazy-named "staff" of news anchors, field reporters, commentators and studio technicians, Policarpo Avendano is the standout. As entertainment reporter each week he presents the "Top Ranking," with songs performed by his relatives or friends.
It was Avendano's spot that led to the idea of putting out the 11-song album, which was a success thanks to a combination of original titles and lyrics and the quality of the performances, in some cases involving some famous Chilean musicians who are listed on the album under some ingenious pseudonyms.
"Yo opino" (In my opinion) is performed by Joe Pino and his Manic Depressives. Pepe Lota sings, "Ma'am, give me my ball back or I don't know what I'll do." Chascoberto performs "They gave me a bad haircut," and Joe Quijada sings "White tooth, don't go.."
"With '31 Minutes' Peirano and Diaz have breathed new air into Chilean television, which is increasingly mediocre and shallow, only interested in ratings, so that it ignores quality," Monica Cevallos, 22, a university student and declared fan of the show, told IPS.
The two journalists, graduates of the University of Chile, made their TV debut six years ago with "Plan Z," a show on the now defunct youth channel Rock and Pop that featured audacious parodies and impertinent interviews.
Then they created "The Human Factor," with a more journalistic bent, setting the example for a new television idiom in Chile, through images and protagonists that spoke for themselves, with minimal intervention by the producers.
"Never Ever Say Never," a report on the reactions of supporters of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when the British House of Lords ruled in November 1998 that the general should remain under arrest, is considered one of the best in "The Human Factor" series.
And set a new standard. Their keen eye for satire has ensured success for Peirano and Diaz, allowing them to create their own company, "Aplaplac Producciones," and in turn, "31 Minutes."
August 20, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.