Globo’s Guel Arraes on ‘Jailers’ and the Brazilian TV Giant’s ‘New Age of Series’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Broadcast behemonth's chief content officer for series analyzes its latest short-format series and innovation in TV drama production

Courtesy of Globo

Globo’s “Jailers,” the sole Latin American series selected for next week’s MipTV Drama Screenings, is more than a gritty Brazilian penitentiary-set thriller.

At just 12 episodes, and already renewed for a second season, it forms part of Globo’s drive into new fiction formats, subjects and characters as the Brazilian TV powerhouse grapples with the same challenge as other free-to-air broadcasters: how to maintain traditional linear TV audiences while appealing to cord-cutting millennials.

Globo’s answer, like many other TV networks’, is robust diversification. It has most certainly not given up on its famous telenovelas. But it is leveraging its production expertise, studio muscle and zeal for technological innovation to create what it hopes are event novelas, similar to the event programming increasingly being touted by other free-to-air networks.

Exhibit A: “Novo Mundo,” an 186-episode telenovela set in 1817, which began airing on Globo’s main channel Wednesday. For the series, Globo built a rigged sailing ship and hired Hollywood action-scene director Andy Armstrong to tell the story of Archduchess Leopoldina, the wife of Brazil’s Dom Pedro, who sided with the country’s liberals to wrestle independence from Portugal.

Globo is also diving into much shorter formats, digital distribution, new fiction scenarios, more experimental structures and genres, and even new languages. Short-format “Above Justice” (pictured below), launched at Natpe, focuses on four characters who were all arrested on the same night in the seaside city of Recife, and who emerge from prison seven years later feeling that they’ve been treated unjustly.

Fátima ( Adriana Esteves )

As the story shuttles between past and present, it returns repeatedly to the same scenes, but with a different focus. The intensity and structure of “Above Justice” required “a short narrative,” writer Manuela Dias said.

“Above Justice” aired last August and September, with each day of the week devoted to one character. It scored an average 41 million viewers. Four episodes were pre-broadcast on Globo SVOD service Globo Play to hook audiences.

“Supermax,” also launched at Natpe, is Globo’s first Spanish-language drama out of its Rio de Janeiro studios. It was produced with Oficina Burman and TVP (Argentina), Mediaset España (Spain), TV Azteca (Mexico) and Teledoce (Uruguay). The showrunner is Daniel Burman, a leading light of the New Argentine Cinema (“Lost Embrace”).

Perhaps the most unlikely move came in the fall of 2015 via the musical sitcom “Mister Brau,” which starred a black couple who, in another major departure, are stinking rich. The couple were played by stars Lázaro Ramos and Taís Araújo, a real-life couple talked up as Brazil’s Jay Z and Beyoncé. The series was a hit with critics and audiences alike.

“Jailers,” world-premiering at MipTV, adapts a book of the same name by Drauzio Varela, an author and volunteer prison medic whose writings inspired “Carandiru.” Showrun by Guel Arraes, Globo’s chief content officer for series, it turns on the moral qualms of a principled prison officer, Adriano, whose private life poses him as many problems as combating jailhouse crime and violence.

Arraes chatted with Variety as Globo prepared its presentation of “Jailers” at Cannes.

“Jailers” is only 12 episodes long and you are already writing a second season. How much of a departure is that for Globo? 

That’s the trend. We are trying to enter a new age of series, emulating international standards, themes, story lines, the concentration of ideas and number of episodes. It’s one line of series we have, seen with “Under Pressure,” a hospital series set near the favela slums of Rio, which is urban, contemporary, close to the reality of Brazil. It’s about “war medicine,” treatment given to people in a conflict zone, a classic hospital format series about a Brazilian reality.

When and how will “Jailers” be broadcast?

It will certainly be on Globo’s linear channel in 2018. But all the episodes of ”Jailers” may well be offered first as a binging opportunity to paying subscribers on Globo Play, Globo’s SVOD service.

Gullane, one of Brazil’s top film producers which is increasingly making TV, is credited as a co-producer of “Jailers.” What was its role in the series? 

Gullane was hired to produce a documentary based on the life of the real people running the prison, the jailers themselves. This documentary came out six months ago and served as a basis for research for the film. In the end, it proved so positive that some of the experts in the documentary were inserted in the series, playing themselves or general prison staff.

How strong are episodic elements in “Jailers”?

The lives of jailers [are] highly singular. They spend about 80% of their time inside the walls of a prison, 20% with their families. They call themselves prisoners due to the time they spend in the prison. This is reflected in the series in the way the conflicts in the prison are wrapped up in each episode, but there’s a continuity in the other 15%, dealing with family and personal dramas on the outside.

Adriano, the central character in “Jailers,” is described as “upstanding.” I wonder if that’s just a coincidence when Brazilians are engaged in a national ethical debate about what’s right and wrong in Brazil. 

It is very intentional, a key choice from the writers who decided that, because of what Brazil is going through, they wanted to portray an ethical individual. In this case, they didn’t want to follow the trend of creating an anti-hero. Although Adriano is an ordinary man, it’s very important that he represents our moral conscience.

Is your drive for innovation affecting other lines of TV fiction? 

We are trying to renew other formats such as sitcoms and comedies. One example: “Mister Brau,” a comedy close to the sitcom format but with twists: The lead couple is black, it’s a musical sitcom, and it has a social critique. It’s fresh air. We also have a second production, “Vade Retro,” which we call a metaphysical comedy. It has a lot of humor, a mystery narrative, and the antagonist could be the Devil.