Half Century in the Tube

Half Century
    in the Tube

Brazilian TV will be celebrating its 50th birthday on September 18,
2000. Despite of what many people think, TV in Brazil started in São Paulo and not in
Rio. "The Globo network came later," says Yara Lins, 68, the first face to air
on Brazilian TV saying Tupi’s call letters.

The first station was PRF3-TV Tupi, channel 3, belonging to the Diários and Emissoras
Associados (Associated Dailies and Broadcasters), then a powerful media conglomerate owned
by legendary and folkloric Assis Chateaubriand (1892-1968), Brazil’s own citizen Kane.
Rio’s branch of Tupi was born four months later in 1951. Only in 1953 would appear the
first competition to Tupi, TV Record, also in São Paulo.

Imagens do Dia (Images of the Day), the first news show on Brazilian TV,
premiered the day after Tupi broadcast its first images. By 1953, Repórter Esso started
a brilliant career as the main news program in Brazil, a position it would keep until the
end of the ’60s, when under pressure from the military dictatorship the program lost its
independent voice and gave place to news shows more to the taste of the generals who
governed the country. Globo’s slick and offend-no-one-in-power approach would thrive and
reign supreme during the next three decades. The powerful network has been criticized for
being a mouthpiece for the military during the most repressive times of the generals’ stay
in power. The Jornal Nacional, Globo’s prime-time news show, created in 1969, is the
station’s most enduring first-place winner on its time slot.

Chateaubriand brought the RCA TV equipment from the US that started television in
Brazil more as a curiosity. It is believed that only five people had a TV by then and
everything was improvised at the beginning. As in the U.S., television in Brazil started
by imitating radio. There was no videotape, and programs as well as ads were shown live.

Initially some of the successful live programs were famous plays and educational and
kids shows. The videotape would be introduced only in 1962 in Brazil. It took a little
more than one year after the 1950 start for a kiss to be shown on the little screen. It
was an exchange between Vida Alves and Valter Foster on the teledrama Sua Vida Me
Pertence (Your Life Belongs to Me). It was a scandal.

By 1961 Tupi was producing a series called Vigilante Rodoviário (Highway
Patrolman), which obtained better ratings than Yankee enlatado (canned stuff) like Rin-tin-tin
and I Love Lucy. It was also Tupi, which revolutionized at the end of
1968—the novela premiered on November 4—the language of the soap-opera
with Beto Rockefeller in which Beto, the main character, was a contemporary
scoundrel who drew more laughs than sighs from an audience that knew only syrupy,
melodramatic soaps up to then.

Curiously some of the people who were part of the first TV images aired in the country
are still on the top. Hebe Camargo, then a popular radio singer, was turned into a TV
hostess. She has become and still is up to this date the queen of live TV interview shows.
After being featured on different TV networks through the years she is now a fixture and
one of the leaders of audience at SBT. Lolita Rodrigues, a ballerina and soap-opera
heroine in the pioneer days, and a colleague of Hebe, still works in novelas
although in smaller parts. As for former radio presenter Lima Duarte he is still today the
star of the Globo novelas he works in.

For all its power, Rede Globo only joined the competition late on the game. The network
started small in Rio in 1965. In the ’60s it was TV Record that became the catalyst for a
revolution in the MPB (Música Popular Brasileira—Brazilian Popular Music) promoting
extremely popular song festivals that launched singer-composers like Caetano Veloso,
Geraldo Vandré, and Gilberto Gil.

It was in 1973 that playwright Dias Gomes authored for Globo O Bem Amado (The
Well-Beloved One), a classic of soap that introduced memorable characters with a
distinctive language and touches of fantastic realism. The revolutionary novela
also became a microcosm and sounding board of the world. Soon after the Watergate scandal
broke in the news, the mayor in the novela wired the local church confessional for

Dias Gomes’ Roque Santeiro (Roque the Saint Maker) was vetoed by the military in
1975 and only had a chance to be aired in 1985 with the end of the dictatorship. In 1976,
prolific Gomes, who more than anyone used the concept of novela as an open work to
introduce characters, situations and dialogues reflecting the news or the public’s
reaction, went even further with Saramandaia. He incorporated here a series of
elements from the Latin-American magic realism including a man who sneezed ants, a fat
lady who exploded, and a werewolf.

In 1992, author Gilberto Braga in recreating the past in the miniseries Anos
Rebeldes (Rebel Years) inspired a new generation of students to go to the streets and
demand the resignation of then President Fernando Collor de Mello, who had won the
election thanks to the personal commitment of Roberto Marinho to this candidacy.

During these five decades, among the most celebrated novelas there were O
Direito de Nascer (The Right to Be Born), Tupi, 1964-1965; Redenção (Redemption),
Excelsior, 1966-1968; Beto Rockefeller, Tupi, 1968-1969; Irmãos Coragem (Brothers
Courage), Globo, 1970-1971; Selva de Pedra (Stone Jungle), Globo, 1972-1973; O
Bem-Amado (The Well Beloved One), Globo, 1973, the first novela in color; Mulheres
de Areia (Sand Women), Tupi, 1973-1974; Gabriela, Globo, 1975; Escalada
(Escalating), Globo, 1975; Saramandaia, Globo, 1976; Escrava Isaura (Slave
Isaura), Globo, 1976-1977; Dancin’ Days (original title in English), Globo,
1978-1979; Roque Santeiro (Roque, the Saint Maker), Globo, 1985-1986, and Pantanal
(Swamp), Manchete, 1990.

According to the 1996 yearly book Grupo de Mídia, Brazil has 257 TV stations
that broadcast their own signal and 7,497 that only rebroadcast other stations’ material.
Rede Globo has the most extensive number of repeating stations, placing the TV network in
99.84% of the county’s municipalities. Then comes SBT covering 81.74% of the territory,
Bandeirantes (62.99%), Manchete (45.80%), Record (22.42%) and CNT (Central Nacional de
Televisão—Television National Hub) (6.61%).

The total hegemony of Globo TV during the ’70s had a few cracks—nothing too
serious—during the ’80s and 90s, challenged—not to seriously—by
Bandeirantes network (created in 1969), SBT (1981), Manchete (1983), and CNT (1993). Pay
TV started in 1990, but instead of making room for more participants at the media’s table
it has simply distributed the new reaches to the already powerful players. Globo became a
major stockholder on Net Multicanal, and publishing giant April has joined American ABC
and Hearst media conglomerates to launch TVA.

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